‘Hit Man’ Stars Glen Powell and Adria Arjona Used a Pinterest Board to Plan Their Steamy Sex Scenes: ‘Everyone Finds Different Things Sensual’

It’s a “Hot Glen Summer” at the movies.

Just like the immortal words of Megan Thee Stallion, who’s billed every summer since 2019 the perfect time to do “hot girl shit,” Glen Powell is heating up movie screens. Summer 2024 firmly establishes him as a power player with Netflix’s “Hit Man,” the Prime Video documentary “The Blue Angels” and Universal “Twisters” dropping in rapid succession.

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In the words of Retta — who first met Powell on the 2014 indie rom-com “Sex Ed” before they reunited for “Hit Man” — “Homie is a straight up movie star.”

“This is the summer of Glen,” director Richard Linklater concurs. “They’re all ‘Johnny come lately’ to the Glen Powell thing. Anybody who’s known Glen for the last 10-plus years knows that he’s a star. He’s smart. He’s funny. He’s hard working.”

Like Retta, Linklater has had a front row seat to the actor’s glow-up, going from casting a teenage Powell in 2006’s “Fast Food Nation,” then reuniting for 2016’s “Everybody Wants Some” to co-writing “Hit Man” together.

“The industry doesn’t really have a place for that the way they used to; they don’t make adult films that require that they’re making such juvenile material, that his kind of performance doesn’t always have a place in,” he notes. “It’s fun to see it align. It’s overdue, but it’s good that it’s happening.”

Powell chuckles at the hashtag-ready phrase, but he’s quick to put his recent hot streak in perspective.

“What I would say to anybody that really, wants to do this job is that anything that’s worth it sometimes takes time, and in hindsight, all the failure on the way to this moment has been so important,” Powell says. “Getting to watch how people develop movies and learn from my heroes and learn from people that are doing it right and learn from people that are doing it wrong, on and off screen, I’ve really had the benefit of a lot of education. And that comes from failure.”

His advice to young actors is simple: “Run your own race.” It’s a piece of wisdom he learned from his “The Great Debaters” director Denzel Washington. “And you can run it at your own pace,” Powell adds. “But I’m feeling very, very grateful for this moment. It’s surreal — especially when you put it like that. I mean, I’ve dreamt about ‘Hot Glen Summer’ my whole life.”

“HIt Man” asks Powell to use all those abilities Linklater and Retta call out – hard work, humor and a good, old-fashioned bit of charm — to play Gary Johnson, a strait-laced college professor who works part time with the New Orleans police department as a fake hit man. But the hottest thing about “Hit Man” is Powell’s chemistry with Adria Arjona. She plays Madison, a woman who’s looking to have her abusive husband killed but instead steals Gary’s heart (though he’s in character as as a suave, devil-may-care hunk named Ron).

Hit Man, (L to R) Adria Arjona as Madison, director & co-writer Richard Linkletter, co-writer Glen Powell as Gary Johnson, and director of photography Shane F. Kelly.
Cr. Brian Rondel / Courtesy of Netflix
Richard Linklater (center) on the set of “Hit Man” with stars Adria Arjona and Glen Powell.

The movie is inspired by the unbelievable true story of the late Gary Johnson, a Texas man who worked for the Houston police department posing as a contract killer; Johnson’s story was captured in a 2001 Texas Monthly article. As adapted for the screen by Linklater and Powell, “Hit Man” is a noir romantic comedy that plays up the slapstick humor when Powell transforms into a slew of hit men customized for each client — among the internet’s favorites include killer who’s a dead ringer for “American Psycho’s” Patrick Bateman, as well as Powell’s best red-wigged Tilda Swinton impression and a Russian killer who is basically Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh from “No Country for Old Men” with a splash of “The Room’s” Tommy Wiseau.

Arjona — who is sitting beside Powell with his dog Brisket on her lap — says she liked “Tanner,” a skeet-shooting redneck who’s missing a few front teeth, best. “There’s just something about him; you want to get to know him,” she jokes.

But all the disguises and the sexy role play that becomes a big part of Gary and Madison’s relationship are part of a deeper theme Powell and Linklater aimed to explore about the concept of identity and how one can become one’s best self.

“When Rick and I were breaking this movie, we talked about the tropes of thrillers and noir movies, and how some will have these nihilistic bummers of an ending. [We thought,] ‘Okay, what if this was actually the beginning of a family? What if this was the beginning of a beautiful love story?’” Powell says. “This concept of identity and self is so interesting, because as you move through life, so often people describe us as an identity that we almost feel stuck in. We almost become derivatives of those labels. This movie is really saying, “Hey, become the label you want you to put out there. Own your identity. Seize that identity.”

Take Gary and Madison’s “meet cute,” for instance. They meet at a diner to discuss arrangements to kill her husband, but quickly fall into familiar and flirty banter.

“These are two people that are putting forth an identity of how they want to be seen. It’s the essence of dating. It’s the essence of love,” Powell notes. “At that moment, you have two people that are not only just falling in love with each other, but falling in love with themselves and how they want to be seen. That’s the beautiful part about this movie: it’s a universal feeling that that you’re never stuck. There’s an identity that you want on the other side of choice.”

But for all these weighty ideas to work, there had to be crackling chemistry between the two leads — and thankfully Arjona had a great idea for developing that. The actor pitched Powell and Linklater on a Pinterest board where they could share images from their favorite movies and art to get a sense of each other’s tastes while writing the script.

“Everyone finds different things sensual,” Arjona explains. “It was interesting to see both of our perspectives, hone in and start molding it from that sense. It sparked conversations that you wouldn’t normally have, because we were in the process of creating it.”

Powell agrees, saying the unique form of collaboration helped the intimate moments feel more integrated into the story, almost as if storyboarding the emotional journey the characters would take.

“So often, sex scenes feel almost divorced from the movie, like a marketing play or it feels icky,” he says. “In this movie, those scenes are crucial in the changing and seizing of identity. You have to see a guy who sees the world in such a binary, stale place checking logic at the door and becoming a whole new person. This romantic relationship is really expediting it. It’s the catalyst for everything.”

The only thing Arjona didn’t really factor in was having to play out those fantasies. “It was three brains working, and then it was like, ‘Oh, wait, I’m the one that has to put the flight attendant outfit on now.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, God, I did this to myself,’” she laughs. “It was beautiful and intentional. It didn’t feel like we were just doing sex scenes just to do sex scenes; it came from a creative place.”

For as artistic and well-conceived as they were, filming the movie’s sex scenes did prove complicated. Arjona and Powell ended up “with a crazy rash” after filming in a bathtub, because someone added Dawn dish soap to the water and it stripped their skin of its natural oils. Then there’s the scene where Madison pours wine down her naked body and “Ron” kisses it off. That one came from an image Arjona posted on the board and pushed to have in the film.

“There was something about the silhouette and the wine on her neck and him drinking it that felt so sensual and beautiful,” Arjona says recalling the image of a woman in a strapless dress in an intimate embrace with her lover. “We were like, ‘How can we bring that to life?’”

So, at three in the morning on a hot New Orleans night, Powell and Arjona embarked on that task as their final setup of the day.

“We were on this little balcony, which I’m pretty sure fell off a couple months later — it was sturdy of course, but we’re on this ledge — there’s minimal crew, but we’re butt naked pouring wine all over each other. Then we finish, like ‘Goodnight Glen,’ ‘Goodnight Adria,’ and we’re sticky and covered in this wine,” she says, giggling as Powell adds, “But you know what, the shot’s worth it. Pinterest really saved this movie.”

Hit Man. (L-R) Adria Arjona as Madison and Glen Powell as Gary Johnson in Hit Man. Cr. Brian Roedel/Netflix © 2024
Adria Arjona and Glen Powell in “Hit Man.”

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