Glen Powell and Adria Arjona laugh together against a light gray wall.

A Toast to Adria and Glen

Adria Arjona and Glen Powell discuss working with Richard Linklater on the seductive thriller Hit Man.

5 June 20248 min read

It was at around 3 p.m. one Dry January afternoon in 2022 at West Hollywood’s famous-face-friendly San Vicente Bungalows that Glen Powell and Adria Arjona first met up to talk business over a couple of glasses of water. For 30 minutes they discussed Hit Man, a script that Powell had co-written with five-time Oscar-nominated director Richard Linklater, based on Skip Hollandsworth’s Texas Monthly article about a professor pretending to be a killer-for-hire in order to entrap the money-for-murder set. If this professional date went well, the two would unite to star as Gary Johnson, the would-be hit man, and Madison, a woman who almost hires him to kill her husband. “This [casting] is fully [dependent] on chemistry,” Linklater had warned Arjona over Zoom before the meeting with Powell.

Somewhere after minute 31 it became abundantly clear that more than sheer hydration was needed. Arjona recalls them deciding to have some mezcal. “I was like, ‘But we’re not going to tell anyone we cheated on Dry January,” she says. Four drinks and five hours later, Powell says, “It felt like we had been old friends . . . like I’d known her forever.” He and Arjona took a sloshy selfie and sent it to Linklater. The director needn’t have worried; the chemistry was fully on.

Somewhere along in the evening, they talked about times in their lives when they had put on a facade, whether in a business setting or when meeting a partner’s parents. It’s what had drawn Powell, who’s featured in films like Anyone But You and Top Gun: Maverick, to the story to begin with. “The universal emotion that’s the undercurrent of this entire movie is this idea that we kind of know who we are, and [there are] some things we like about ourselves and some things we don’t,” he explains. 

Adria Arjona wears a gray vest and trousers outfit and Glen Powell wears jeans, a white tank, and a brown suede jacket.

Glen Powell and Adria Arjona

Pretending to be someone else comes easily, at least at first, to Powell’s character — Gary Johnson, a divorced, nebbish psychology professor who lives alone with his two cats, named Id and Ego — as he falls into a gig channeling multiple pretend-murderer alter egos. When the actor wrote the script, he wasn’t entirely sure he’d star, but he knew he wanted to team up with Linklater, who’d first cast 14-year-old Powell in Fast Food Nation and later gave him a starring role in Everybody Wants Some!! “There’s no one [like him] that can get inside the skin of someone and really understand authentically what moves that person. Dazed and Confused is a seminal movie for me,” says Powell of one of Linklater’s most beloved films, “one of the ones that made me want to do this.”

Initially, Linklater wasn’t convinced there was a movie buried somewhere in the Texas Monthly piece. “We kept talking around it, where he was like, ‘Yeah, maybe this and maybe this.’ We found this one little line in the article about this woman who was meeting Gary Johnson to kill her husband, and Gary didn’t go for blood,” Powell recalls. “That was the basis, Okay what if we took that kernel? Then you have this great story built on a lie that we get to mine." 

Linklater was intrigued. “I always approached it as a film noir or a little bit of a sexy thriller,” he says. “We’re just a mix of genres and I think it’s an attribute of the movie, but it’s not a short sound bite. On a plot level, it’s just a guy who gets in a little too deep. His passions lead him in a direction where he’s deceiving someone he’s in love with while being someone else.”

Glen Powell wears a white tank and a brown suede jacket.

Glen Powell

Figuring out Madison, who initially wants to have her husband offed but then falls for Powell’s fictitious hit man, wasn’t as easy. “The thing that Adria has to pull off in this movie is knowing the audience is looking at her, thinking, ‘Okay, she was capable of murdering her husband’ but slowly over the course of the movie, [making them] fall in love with her,” Powell says. “You have to buy into her humanity first and foremost. Otherwise this movie doesn’t work at all. When we met Adria, it was so clear that the heavens had opened and we had found our person.”

Powell and Linklater found out a lot more about their person when the three gathered at Powell’s New Orleans house for three weeks of marathon 10-hour days of rehearsal. Arjona, who’d previously starred in action films and series like Morbius and Andor, as well as fantasy series like Good Omens, loves certain types of chocolate (Powell brought in her favorites), but she loves dad jokes even more. So much so that before sitting down every morning to dissect each line of the script, Arjona insisted that each of them deliver their best chuckle. “That was our morning coffee,” she recalls. “Rick would say it, I would say it, Glen would say it, and we would all die laughing. And that’s how we would set the tone of the day, just the three of us saying ridiculous, stupid dad jokes.” (Wondering what her favorite is? “What’s a ghost’s favorite fruit?” “Booberries!”)

Jokes aside, the sessions further revealed the characters to the actors and their director. Sometimes someone would pitch a winning flourish (It was Arjona’s idea for Madison to dress up like a sexy flight attendant in one of the steamier scenes) and other times Linklater would warmly shoot them down with, “That’s a horrible idea!” “Failing with two people makes you really close to them!” Arjona says.

Adria Arjona wears a vest and runs her hand through her hair.

Adria Arjona

Powell is the first to acknowledge just how much Arjona enhanced both her character and the script. “She is a very smart writer and filmmaker in her own right,” he says. “[Madison] could have fallen into genre tropes, but she never let it go there. Making movies is tough, but [I] realized some of the bullets [I] may have missed if we missed out on that casting.”

Within seconds of seeing Powell and Arjona onscreen, the audience knows exactly what Powell is talking about. Madison first arrives at the “Please U” diner to meet Ron, Gary’s very suave persona, and though she doesn’t move forward with a murder, they kill it in the romantic sparks department.

Facing one another across a well-worn table, the two characters quickly launch into wordplay and somehow the silliest feline puns become sexy. Don’t miss the moment Arjona says in Madison’s best (or worst) British accent “It’s a cat-astrophe!” because she almost did. “I couldn’t say that line because every time I would say it I couldn’t look at Glen because I would die laughing,” she says. “Even in rehearsal, I was like, ‘Glen don’t look at me; just please don’t look at me.’”

Adria Arjona sits on a Glen Powell's lap.

Adria Arjona and Glen Powell

And when it came time for the steamiest of scenes, the dread level wasn’t nearly as high as it had been in other projects because of all the time the three had spent together. “People don’t realize those scenes aren’t the [most fun] scenes to film,” Arjona says. She claims she felt self-conscious because of her scene partner (“He has 14 abs!” she laughs), but needless to say, any insecurities were unfounded. As Powell says, “She’s not hard to have chemistry with.”

Before anything came off on camera, Arjona made an inspiration board of images including Rio de Janeiro beach scenes to stills from films like Cruel Intentions and The Affair. “They’re two Southern men so they’re respectful,” she says. “And I showed up and I was like, ‘Okay, we have to throw the respect to the side and we have to make it sexy.’” 

Arjona wrapped her scenes before Powell’s seemingly endless parade of wigs, wardrobe, and accents emerged. On her last day, Linklater gifted her the two pairs of boots she wears in the film before sending her off to film Season 2 of Andor in London. “I couldn’t stop crying,” she recalls. “I kept saying, ‘I just need to be back on set with you guys.’”

We’ll drink to that. With mezcal, of course.