LA Confidential Magazine
Joel Kinnaman Conquers Hollywood
Talented actor transforms himself from gritty TV cop to RoboCop.
SEPTEMBER 05, 2012
Joel Kinnaman is living the dream. His performance as the scruffy yet shrewd Detective Stephen Holder on the AMC drama The Killing has put him on a short list of Hollywood’s leading men. And, in a move that will forever cement his status as movie star, he is about to headline the 2013 remake of RoboCop. Looking at the past year, it seems the 32-year-old actor’s rise to fame has been nothing short of meteoric.
But for the native Swede, the path to stardom has been decades in the making. Kinnaman was raised in Stockholm by a Swedish therapist mother and an American father who came to Sweden after deserting the US Army during the Vietnam War. When he was 10, he landed a part on a soap opera, but gave up acting a year later when the show was canceled. Kinnaman was inspired to finally pursue acting as a career when, at 20, his best friend from high school, Gustaf Skarsgård (Stellan’s son, Alexander’s brother) got into theater school.
“[Acting] was the first thing in my life that I felt I was good at,” admits Kinnaman, who was accepted into theater school on his fourth try (this is typical in Scandinavia, where most prestigious art programs accept no more than 10 students annually) and quickly established himself as a working actor. “I felt I’d always been mediocre at everything else. This was something I could do.”
When Kinnaman wants something, he is nothing if not determined. In person, he can come across as a no-nonsense kind of guy, brightening up noticeably when discussing Sweden, where he lives when not in Los Angeles or Vancouver, where The Killing films. But he quickly realized his straightforward demeanor wasn’t working for him at American auditions. “I thought, ‘Oh, this Hollywood thing is going to be easy. I got this!’ But, no, no, no,” he says, laughing. “It was months of constant rejection. The note I was getting for everything was, ‘Very intense.’ Or, ‘For this romantic comedy, we don’t want a psychopath.’”
It’s easy to joke about it now, but the experience almost kept him from auditioning for his current role. “I was dragging my feet,” admits Kinnaman, who by the time he received the script had already returned home to Sweden to promote Easy Money, a film he starred in. “I was sick of all the rejection. But I finally manned up and put myself on tape.”
As Holder, the narc-turned-homicide detective who battles demons from his own substance abuse, Kinnaman’s intensity has finally found its perfect outlet. His slightly misspent teenage years hanging with the wrong crowd and getting into brawls in pre-gentrified Stockholm served as great research for a character far more comfortable on the streets than behind a desk. “That’s the beauty of acting,” he says. “You can really use the negative experiences you’ve had in your life and make them into something positive, creative, and possibly beautiful. As an actor, the most ugly moments of life are the most interesting to explore.”
The challenge he now faces, as he prepares for the RoboCop reboot, is bringing humanity to a movie that is expected to be an action spectacle of massive proportions. Not that Kinnaman is turning his nose up at being an action star. The actor, who now spends most of his days in arduous training, is clearly psyched about what’s ahead. “I’m boxing and weight training, getting licensed to ride a motorcycle, and shooting rifles out in the desert,” he says, with boyish glee. “Life is pretty f—-ing awesome.”