Mr Joel Kinnaman Has A Lot On His Plate
As he models the new collection from Ermenegildo Zegna, the Suicide Squad star explains what feeds his appetite for success
Mr Joel Kinnaman is hungry. As soon as MR PORTER’s photoshoot has wrapped, the 6ft 2in Swede jaywalks across Main Street in Downtown LA and straight into the first restaurant he sees. “Bäco Mercat? Fine. Table for two, please. And I’ll have the steak medium-rare, the Hamachi crudo, the shrimp and the lentil salad.”
The waitress smiles. “OK, then, that’s plenty for two. You know that everything here is meant to be shared?”
“No, that’s just for me,” says Mr Kinnaman, giving her a blank stare. “I’m really hungry.”
He’s not kidding. Mr Kinnaman is bulking up right now. So much so, that MR PORTER’s stylist had to go up a size on the Ermenegildo Zegna collection he is modelling to mark the brand’s arrival on site.
It’s 5.30pm, and time for his second lunch, just a couple of hours before his first dinner, which will be a pound of meat or fish. “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, its answer to Game Of Thrones. I have to be ready. In my opening scene I come out in a loin cloth and fight six people.”
So he’s shaving, presumably, like a serious bodybuilder? “Totally. All about the shaving. And baby oil. I carry a jug with me just in case.”
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.”
We’d never heard of Mr Kinnaman until his breakthrough role in The Killing in 2011. Movies followed, notably RoboCop, but also “a couple of others that didn’t pop”. And then last year, the tide turned. He made the indie thriller Edge Of Winter, in which he played an unstable and dangerous father. He joined the House Of Cards ensemble as the Republican candidate and biggest threat yet to President Underwood's ambitions. And this August, he’ll star in Suicide Squad, a DC Comics extravaganza with nine leads, including Messrs Will Smith and Jared Leto. Mr Kinnaman plays Rick Flag, the head of a team of villains, a part that was originally meant for Mr Tom Hardy, but he was too busy making The Revenant.
“I’m happy to take Tom’s leftovers,” he says, tucking in to the skirt steak. “There’s a lot of tasty food on that floor.”
It’ll mean global fame, action figures, little kids chasing him down the street. But Mr Kinnaman is hungry metaphorically as well as literally, and happy to take whatever comes with it. “Oh I’m ready,” he says. “I’m going to go full colonial, and start saving people by touching their foreheads. I’m going to wear long white robes.”
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”. He grew up in a sprawling, hippyish family. 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.”
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.”
His parents sent him to Texas for a year as an exchange student. He was out of the frying pan and into the fire in some respects. 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.’”
Cut to a small apartment in Koreatown, in central LA, where the phone hasn’t rung in four months. “Yeah, it’s not that easy,” says Mr Kinnaman. “But it’s cool. I’ve had a chance to mature. I know who I am much more now. And I can spot the fake-ass people better.”
LA was alienating at first – a common story. “Everything is a plan here, it’s not spontaneous, so I felt I was always visiting,” he says. But then he moved to Venice, and life started to fall into place. “I’m on foot, I got my bike, I got my spots, people know me at my favourite restaurant. It’s more like home.” So he settled. He quickly and quietly married Ms Cleo Wattenström, a tattoo artist, who is herself a work of tattooed art. And he spends much of his time at home.
He’s not shy on the red carpet. “I like to treat myself to dressy sneakers,” he says. “That’s my luxury. I just got some Valentinos for like $800, on MR PORTER actually. And fancy sweatpants. You know, leather ones?” Not usually a suits guy, then? “I only wear those if it’s disrespectful not to – like at custody battles.”
It’s a glamorous life, and a far cry from his roots, but Mr Kinnaman never forgets his misspent youth. He remains Straight Outta Stockholm at heart. “Those years play into every role I’ve done, no exceptions,” he says. “It was so much about power, insecurity, dominance and vulnerability.”
There is one period in particular that Mr Kinnaman credits for his entire career. He’d just returned to Stockholm from Thailand and had been accepted at drama school. It was the first time he’d found something he wanted to do. But there was a problem. His stage fright was so extreme that he would throw up every night and even black out on stage.
“My body was screaming, ‘No!’, but I just couldn’t accept it,“ he says. “Acting gave me confidence in my regular life. I wasn’t so insecure any more. I was devastated. I thought I would have to stop.”
Instead, he chose to perform a monologue of one hour and 45 minutes, playing 16 different characters. “It was a really high difficulty level,” he says. “And I didn’t stumble on a single word. The school had me do it twice, and the local theatre picked it up. My life changed that day. I got so strong from that. I never threw up or blacked out again.”
Mr Kinnaman pushes his four plates away, all polished clean, and stands up. “Sorry, got to run,” he says. “I’ve got dinner plans.”
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