Emma Jones, BBC Talking Movies,Reporter

Netflix Director Richard Linklater watching Adria Arjona and Glen Powell filming a scene playfully looking at each other across a bench at a dinerNetflix

Hit Man director Richard Linklater (centre), on set with stars Adria Arjona (left) and Glen Powell (right)

Adult stories in Hollywood movies are “out of fashion” according to five-time Oscar nominee Richard Linklater.

Linklater is the Texas-based filmmaker behind hits including 2003’s School of Rock and 2014’s Boyhood, as well as a trilogy of love stories starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, known as the Before series.

He says it was a struggle to get the “traditional” film studios interested in his latest project, Hit Man, despite strong critical and audience reaction when the film premiered last year. The movie is being released by Netflix.

Hit Man stars Glen Powell and Adria Arjona in a romantic thriller comedy about a stuck-in-a-rut professor, Gary, who starts moonlighting as Ron, a fake hitman for a city police department and who falls for a woman who tries to enlist his services.

The movie has its roots in a true story, of Gary Johnson, a community professor who worked as a fake ‘assassin’ for Houston police, and whose story Linklater first read about in an article more than 20 years ago. Johnson died in 2022, just before the film was made.

Netflix Hit Man's Gary, a disillusioned professor moonlighting as a fake hitman for a city police department, with Madison whom he falls for when she enlists his servicesNetflix

The film follows Gary, a disillusioned professor moonlighting as Ron, a fake hitman for a city police department who falls for Madison when she enlists his services

Linklater says that he and Glen Powell, who co-wrote the script, wanted to make the movie about “passion”.

“I said, it’s gonna have sex, it’ll be passionate, it’ll be carnal, the desire that drives everything,” Linklater tells the BBC.

“Glen’s character starts off very dispassionate, but by the end of the movie he’s a different guy, he’s discovered passion, and the movie has this strong chemistry and sexuality.

“I think what’s out of fashion, people say there’s no sex in movies anymore, but there isn’t ‘adult’ in movies anymore, as sexuality in movies equals adult,” the filmmaker continues.

“When I was 13 years old and looking at movies, I thought the adult world looked pretty interesting, it looked fun and I thought, ‘I can’t wait to get there!’ But it wasn’t just the sex, it was the adult situations they showed.

“But somewhere along the way Hollywood inverted that. It’s like they said, ‘we’re going to make films where you can stay 13 forever, you stay that little kid with little kid concerns’, so I guess it drifted away as its complexities weren’t the subject matter of mainstream cinema as it had been before.”

Zendaya at the Challengers premiere Zendaya at the Challengers premiereZendaya at the Challengers premiere

Audience interest in tennis drama Challengers, starring Zendaya as part of a love triangle, suggests support for what Linklater calls “sexy couple films”

Powell, who starred recently in Top Gun: Maverick and in romcom Anyone But You with Sydney Sweeney, has previously collaborated with Linklater three times, including first as a teenager in 2006’s Fast Food Nation.

He says in his opinion, “relationships don’t really crackle any more in movies” and that he, Linklater and Father of the Bride actor Arjona talked constantly “about what’s actually sexy” when they were making the film.

Although they worked with an intimacy co-ordinator, the sex scenes in the film were created from their own conversations.

“We asked ourselves ‘what is actually exciting to our audiences?’ What is new?’ And we had so much trust between the three of us, we could actually talk about his kind of stuff,” Powell says.

“We knew each other very well at this point. We had very honest conversations that I think made all those scenes in the movie. I really think viewers are emotionally invested in this in a way they haven’t been in a long time.”

Warner Bros Anya Taylor-Joy in FuriosaWarner Bros

Mad Max sequel Furiosa (pictured) underperformed at the box office

While stories centred around couples or even throuples have made a comeback in cinema – Kristen Stewart in bodybuilding thriller Love Lies Bleeding, and Zendaya, starring in tennis drama Challengers – Hollywood has had an anguished start to its mainstream summer blockbuster season.

Furiosa, George Miller’s lavish sequel to Mad Max: Fury Road underperformed to reach a box office of $144m (£97m).

The Fall Guy, a big-budget romcom about a stuntman, starring Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt, was also judged a flop after making $157m (£122m)

Hopes of success are now pinned on releases such as Marvel’s Deadpool & Wolverine or, later this year, Ridley Scott’s sequel to Gladiator with Paul Mescal.

“You don’t get fired for doing a sequel or an origin story, something that already exists,” Linklater comments, when asked whether studios fear risk-taking for commercial reasons.

“You don’t get in trouble for what’s obvious and commercial. What changed is that films got greenlit by the marketing department and then it’s become really safe choices.

“I think of Hit Man as a movie to have fun with, there should always be room for some sexy couple movies, these are standards in cinema of what people want to see quite often,” he adds.

Yet he says of the movie, which he and Glen Powell started writing during the Covid-19 pandemic, that “the industry really didn’t want to make the film initially.”

“It was done very independently, Glen and I wrote it speculatively and we didn’t get paid anything, we just tried to get the film made. We really felt we were onto something, we felt we had written a film noir, a crime film that’s also a screwball comedy about a couple that you’re rooting to be together, but I think they wanted it to be just one thing.

“Among the frustrating conversations we had with studios and people like that was they wanted Ron to be a real hitman, something they’d seen before. Anyway, then we made the film, and it got a wonderful response. Netflix was always passionate about it, but the others kinda weren’t, I think they weren’t sure if they could sell it to an audience.”

Netflix Glen Power as hitman Ron protecting Adria Arjona's MadisonNetflix

Linklater says Glen Powell, the star of numerous forthcoming releases, could dominate the summer film season

However, Hit Man has broadly gone down well with critics, with The Guardian’s Wendy Ide writing that the film “takes Powell’s amiable, supporting actor appeal…and hones it to a star quality of such laser-beam intensity, you start to fear for your eyesight.”

The Atlantic’s David Sims points out, though, that “the film’s spiral into romantic drama wouldn’t work without Powell and Arjona’s crackling chemistry.”

Linklater jokes that with Powell also starring in a 2024 update to the 1996 Twister action film (titled Twisters), audiences could have a “summer of Glen”.

“No one who’s worked with Glen would doubt he’s a star,” Linklater says. “The same movie industry that’s not showing sex also doesn’t have those adult breakout roles they used to that would introduce a new talent.

“It’s hard to do that out of Marvel-type movies as it’s a pre-established character within a comic-book world. Glen’s been really old school, he’s done some wonderful roles in supporting parts, but the roles just have to evolve and there’s just less.”

Hit Man is released on Netflix on June 7, 2024

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