Swedish hunk Joel Kinnaman – who first shot to fame on The Killing and is currently killing it as Rick Flagg in Suicide Squad – is in the new issue of Mr Porter talking about his difficult early years, and how Hollywood turned it all around for him.
Mr Kinnaman wasn’t born into acting. He doesn’t have one of those Mickey Mouse Club stories. Twenty years ago, when he was 16, he dropped out of school and was hanging out with a gang of petty criminals in what he jokingly calls “southside Stockholm”. His American father was a military deserter in the Vietnam War, who sought refuge in Sweden, where he had a number of children by a number of women. Mr Kinnaman grew up with five sisters.
It was tough. Growing up, he had a difficult relationship with his father. “We’re good now. I’m working on a film about his life with a Swedish director. I’m going to play him. But see, he was beaten by his parents. And in my teenage years, I was definitely testing the boundaries, so…” He shrugs. “You know, hanging out and smoking weed. I had a lot of anger in me, and I was insecure. I was really skinny and I used to get bullied, so it felt good to bully other people. That made me feel stronger.”
I hate hearing victims of abuse say “I deserved it”… “I was testing them”… or “I was a difficult child”… and I hate hearing the excuse that the abuser was once abused…. but…
The problems at home were the reason he gravitated to such a rough crowd at school. “I wasn’t afraid of getting hit, because my head got rung at home,” he says. But his friends were serious about crime in a way that he wasn’t. And when he wanted out, they wouldn’t allow it. “Every time I saw them on the street, I had to fight them,” he says. “And if they saw my new friends, whom I played soccer with, they would rob them and beat them up, but leave me alone. It was really hard. I had a lot of anxiety. I couldn’t eat.”
He was sent to Texas for a year as an exchange student, which wasn’t much better.
His new school, outside Austin, was “pretty ghetto, like 10 per cent white and lots of gangs”. And his host parents were a peculiar couple in their late fifties. They had 11 sausage dogs and a bizarre marriage. “They never spoke to each other,” says Mr Kinnaman. “And Tina was like, ‘We got a whole cabinet full of movies over there.’ When I opened the cupboard, I’ll never forget. There were like 150 films, but they were all cartoons.”
Nevertheless, his year in Texas kept him out of trouble (his old Swedish friends, meanwhile, ended up in prison). And a few aimless years followed. The plan was to do mindless factory jobs in Norway, save his cash and travel the world for seven years before figuring out what to do with his life. He lasted two-and-a-half years before the money ran out. “Mostly chilling on the beach in Southeast Asia, you know, smoking weed and eating these tasty little mushrooms.”
When Mr Kinnaman got home and gave acting a shot, it was a revelation. He had talent. He won a place at the prestigious Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts and quickly, his shiftless, loafer life found direction and focus. Through his twenties, he shot to instant stardom in Sweden, scooping lead roles on stage and screen. And when he threw his hat in the Hollywood ring, he came awfully close to doing the same. Months after he sent a smartphone video of himself to the Thor auditions, he got a call from his sister. “She saw my picture in The Guardian,” says Mr Kinnaman. “I got down to the last four. That’s how I found out.” He came similarly close to playing Mad Max in Fury Road. “So I was like, ‘This Hollywood shit is easy. You just go there and get jobs.’”
Currently Joel is working on Altered Carbon, Netflix’s answer to Game of Thrones.
Altered Carbon is a hard, R-rated sci-fi set 500 years in the future. Bodies are dispensable, our personalities are held in microchips and the rich are crushing the poor. A classic dystopia. “A lot of comparisons with Blade Runner,” he says, “but with lots more sex, violence and dismemberment.”
Joel is bulking up to play the part.
“I need to make 215lb by November,” he says. “That’s when we start shooting Altered Carbon. It’s Netflix’s biggest show so far. I have to be ready. In my opening scene I come out in a loin cloth and fight six people.”
Um, hell YES. Count me in!
Read the rest of the interview here.