- Niclas Gillis
- Photography by
- Aaron Stern
It seems like Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman has been in everything we’ve liked this year. From David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to AMC‘s The Killing, Kinnaman now stars in the big-budget reboot of RoboCop. We caught up with the breakthrough actor as he was becoming a household name.
It’s a sunny day in New York and Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman is at a Soho café. A pack of smokes and snus lie on the table in front of him. He takes a sip of his coffee. A tattoo peeks out from under his sleeve. It reads “One Life.” To most Americans the name Joel Kinnaman does not yet ring a bell, but to fill you in, he’s the latest Swede to make it to Hollywood.
With the recent depravity of originality in the US film industry—much brought about by the recession that knocked out most indies for sequels of remakes—Sweden has somehow emerged as an oasis of creativity. Titles like Let the Right One In, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Easy Money (Snabba Cash) have proven that Swedish auteurs can tackle high-concept genres in a completely new way. And Hollywood has noticed. Each one of the aforementioned titles has been bought for an American remake, and Kinnaman has been involved in two of them.
Kinnaman, 31, broke through as the smoldering antihero in Easy Money, which earned him the Swedish Guldbagge Award for Best Actor. “Sweden’s greatest export,” the hostess Petra Mede called him at the ceremony, noting that he had already landed a starring role in the AMC TV series The Killing, which just aired its first season and left viewers aching for the unresolved mystery to be continued. “I think Bergman needed to die,” Kinnaman says of the iconic director when contemplating the reason for the new interest in Swedish film. “This is a few years after he passed and we now have a lot of second-generation immigrants who make films with a new perspective.” He adds, “But part of the reason why some of these movies have been successful in the US is the merging of Scandinavian storytelling with an American sensibility. Easy Money is a very American story.” Warner Bros. already has an American remake of the film planned with Zac Efron taking over Kinnaman’s role. It’ll be a tough act to follow.
A much more anticipated project is the David Fincher remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, coming to theaters this fall with Daniel Craig in a starring role and Kinnaman as Christer Malm. “David is one of the grand masters of the game,” Kinnaman says. “This version will be a lot more brutal, scarier, and psychologically more interesting. It will be ten times better. No doubt.” But will Rooney Mara live up to Noomi Rapace’s performance as the tormented antihero Lisbeth Salander? Kinnaman says, “Noomi saved the original ‘Millennium’ films with her mesmerizing performance, but Rooney has Fincher behind the wheel, so I have no doubt it’s going to be good.”
The crossover into American culture has been relatively easy for the Swedish actor. In fact, he’s half-American and holds US citizenship. Kinnaman’s father was an American soldier who deserted the army during the Vietnam War and lived on the run in Laos for five years before immigrating to Sweden. “I’ve always had a strange perspective of what it means to be Swedish. I grew up with a dad who constantly talked about what the Swedes were like, so I always had an outsider’s perspective,” he says. “I went to an English preschool where there were kids from a hundred different nationalities, so I’m very used to being around people from different cultures and it’s something I like. It’s always more interesting to talk to someone with a different background. They carry a perspective. That’s why I love New York. There are so many people here that are from so many different places and it’s very inspiring. I am definitely a citizen of the world and I feel most at home when I have such influences around me. To me, New York is the capital of the world.”
But Kinnaman’s not the only one whose international career was catapulted by Easy Money. He will be reunited with the film’s director Daniel Espinosa in the $100 million blockbuster Safe House, alongside Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds (and fellow Swedish actor Fares Fares), scheduled for release next February. “Daniel is a fantastic director. He’s absolutely world-class and he owned that film,” Kinnaman says. And working with Denzel? “I had a bit of first-date jitters when I met him. We did our scene on my very first day of shooting, but it went well and he gave me some nice compliments. He’d seen Easy Money since he wanted to work with Daniel, so he’d seen my work.” But the real joy was working with Reynolds. “Ryan is such a pearl. He is so much fun to work with. We all lived together in the same house there in South Africa”—where the film was shot—“me, Daniel, Ryan, and Fares, so we cooked together and partied and had a really great time. It’s very typical for Daniel. He really creates a family.”
With a background in theater, Kinnaman’s also flirting with the idea of trying out Broadway. Ideal project? “I would like to do A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, by Eugene O’Neill,” he says. “I want to be Edmund.” But for now that has to wait. He’s shooting The Killing five months out of the year and he wants to spend the rest of his time shooting films. He just wrapped his biggest achievement to date, as the male lead in Lola Versus, scheduled for release in 2013—a role he won over his more famous contender, Orlando Bloom.
“To me, acting is a very fascinating way of life,” Kinnaman says. “It’s my way of staying interested in my personal growth and exploring what it means to live. I believe that this is the only life we have and it’s something I try to remind myself of, hence the tattoo. It makes it very important to live in the present and to not push living to after work or to vacation. I think it’s important to dare to take emotional risks, to be open to new relationships, and to live in a generous state of mind. In a future in which I have a greater selection of the work I do, I’d like to be part of projects that increase understanding and forgiveness, reminders that everyone can make mistakes and that change is always possible. It’s never too late to change and become a better person. I guess that’s what I would like to say.”
Coat by Prada. T-shirt by 3.1 Phillip Lim. Styling by Zara Zachrisson. Grooming by Erin Anderson.
- Niclas Gillis
- Photography by
- Aaron Stern