‘Hit Man’s’ Adria Arjona On Being The Killer Rom-Com’s Wild Card

Glen Powell may be the headliner of Richard Linklater’s killer Netflix rom-com, Hit Man, but Adria Arjona is it’s secret weapon. While her co-star tries on caricatures like clothes, swapping wigs and accents, donning fake teeth and artificial scars to earn his “last great movie star” status (he does and is, by the way), she’s got the more difficult job. As Madison Masters, an alluring young woman trapped in an abusive marriage, Arjona slyly winks at that most recognizable of noir tropes: the femme fatale. She’s not the first bloodthirsty client to enlist the services of Powell’s Gary Johnson, a philosophy-teacher-turned-undercover-fake-hitman, but she is the most hopeless amongst the line-up, so sympathetic and morally grey that audiences will likely spend the near-two-hour film questioning her true motives.

“I wanted her to be this woman that you didn’t really know what she was going to do next,” Arjona tells UPROXX. “When we first meet her, she’s in this really dark place. She doesn’t really know where she stands or who she really is.”

It’s that ambiguity that makes Arjona’s scenes with Powell so electric. Well that, and the pair’s undeniable on-screen chemistry. Once Gary – who dons the suave exterior and deep V-necked uniform of a hit man named Ron for his first meeting with Maddy – convinces his mark to give up the murder-for-hire business and simply cut ties with her toxic ex, lines are quickly crossed. Meet-cutes turn into smoldering hook-up montages that singe the screen and bare-bodied bathtub soaks that double as romantic confessionals. Every seduction is tinged with deception, no one’s motives are completely pure. And yet, while it’s easy to root for Gary (and Gary-as-Ron) because the veil has already been pulled back on his id and ego, Maddy is a glaring unknown. She see-saws between desperation, terror, and a morbid curiosity about her new boyfriend’s chosen profession.

“She’s constantly reinventing herself and creating a fantasy, for herself and also for Ron,” Arjona explains. “She’s like, ‘I wonder what he likes.’ I think that makes her very unpredictable because that can shift, you know? When you read someone, you’re like, ‘Oh, he doesn’t like that, he likes this.’ It’s not stemming from a place of security, it’s very dependent on somebody else, and it just made it so much more fun to film as well.”

Arjona isn’t new to the expectations of Hollywood. She’s enjoyed the highs and lows that come with starring in everything from star-studded heist flicks – Triple Frontier and 6 Underground – to Marvel bombs (Morbius) and Star Wars success stories (Andor). She judges every potential project based on how nervous it leaves her. The more she questions if she can do a thing, the greater the possibility she’ll say yes. Whether it was a coffee meeting that went hours overlong or simply the thrill of working with one of her idols in Linklater, the actress was drawn to the questions the Netflix comedy mulls. Are our personalities set in stone? How well do you really know a person, or even, yourself? It’s something Arjona’s faced often, in her life and line of work. When she was younger, she traveled constantly with her dad, Guatemalan singer-songwriter Ricardo Arjona, growing up in Mexico and Miami, staying close to her mother’s Puerto Rican roots before moving to New York.

“You’re constantly sort of shifting,” she says. “When I go home to Puerto Rico, it’s very different than when I go home to Guatemala. It is a different accent. Your body moves differently. You do have to sort of mold yourself. I am so grateful that I had the childhood that I did. I think it’s the reason why I’m an actress. I got the gift of being able to meet and have memories and experiences with so many different people from all over the world, different social classes and economic backgrounds and different languages. That really helped me.”

Maddy is a bit of a chameleon as well, soft, meek, and scared one minute, urging her lover to gun-down her ex in the middle of the street the next. She’s flawed, maybe even a bit unhinged, and when Gary begins to suspect her ulterior motives, Arjona’s comedic timing is unleashed. Powell might ooze charisma, smoothly commanding the screen, but Arjona is a live-wire, constantly throwing curveballs with her facial expressions and physical mannerisms that hint at the wild animal caged behind the persona Maddie’s presenting – to Ron, to the police, and maybe even to herself. These two, as Twitter would tell you, match each other’s freak, an easy thing to do when you’re acting opposite Powell.

“You just want to watch him,” she says of her co-star. “He’s incredibly talented and charming. He’s a writer, he’s a producer, he’s smart, he’s intentional. He shape-shifts and creates different characters and they’re all believable. I think looking at him, people think, ‘Oh, this is who Glen Powell is,’ and everybody is so wrong. He could be just about anything. I really don’t think there’s anything Glen Powell can’t do.”

She quickly amends that statement though, pointing out a gag early in the film that pokes fun at his character’s fashion sense.

“I do know. Wear jean shorts. Not his thing”

Hit Man is streaming on Netflix now.