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Joel Kinnaman gets outside himself for 'The Killing' on AMC

He is the typical dashing Hollywood leading man — off the show. On the show, he is the twitchy detective Stephen Holder.

May 26, 2012|By Lisa Rosen, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Joel Kinnaman stars on The Killing."
Joel Kinnaman stars on The Killing." (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

Detective Stephen Holder is a twitchy mess. As played by Joel Kinnaman on the AMC crime drama"The Killing," he's pale, skinny as a waif, all dark circles and nervous energy — you could catch something just from looking at him.

On the show, now in its second season on AMC, Holder and detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) try to solve the murder of a young girl while keeping their own demons at bay — in Holder's case drug addiction. AMC has promised to serve up the murderer by the Season 2 finale, but it's not clear how the detectives will survive the ordeal.

In person, sitting on the patio of a West Hollywood cafe, Kinnaman bears only a passing resemblance to Holder. At 6-feet-21/2 , he is every inch the leading man, with expressive hazel eyes and an easy manner. His costar says that whenever she sees him for the first time after the show wraps for the season she can barely recognize him.

"I'm like, 'Who are you, pretty man? You're so shiny now!'" Enos says. "As Holder he allows himself to be unattractive and vulnerable and awkward and not have the right answers."

Born to a Swedish mother and American father (which explains his pitch perfect American accent in "The Killing"), he made his stage debut in Stockholm as Raskolnikov, in an acclaimed production of "Crime and Punishment."

From there, he worked on nine films in 16 months. One film, "Snabba Cash," earned him the 2011 Guldbagge Award, the Swedish equivalent of the Academy Award, for lead actor. The Weinstein Co. is releasing it in Los Angeles on July 13 under the title"Easy Money."He plays Johan, a man so desperate to fit with the in-crowd that he will go to terrible ends to acquire access.

Kinnaman moved to Los Angeles three years ago in search of bigger challenges. He found them.

"In my first four months here, I got more rejection than a regular person does in two lifetimes," he points out. Asked to put himself on tape to audition for "The Killing," "I had fun with it. I improvised a little bit." "Killing" creator Veena Sud immediately knew he was Holder.

"He accidentally knocked over a box of files and it was so funny — and so like Holder to do something like that, to make a mess in Sarah's carefully controlled world — that I rewrote the scene to incorporate this action," she recalls.

Holder does add some comic relief to the proceedings, but it's "tiny, a crack of the door," Kinnaman concedes.

The series centers on the investigation into the murder of teenager Rosie Larsen, with repercussions that reach all the way to the mayor's office. Set in Seattle (by way of Vancouver), the skies pour down so much rain it's as if the entire world is crying.

The Season 1 finale caused its own storm. Expecting to learn the killer's identity, viewers instead saw an innocent man framed in a cliffhanger. The resulting outrage may have led to lower viewer numbers this season; last year's finale garnered 2.3 million viewers, and the Season 2 premiere hit 1.8.

AMC has not yet revealed whether the show will be picked up for a third season, but everyone involved swears that the killer will be revealed by the June 17 finale.

Holder's gone through a lot of abuse this season, but the worst moment was when his friend, former boss and Narcotics Anonymous sponsor Gil Sloane (Brian Markinson) called him "a lowlife tweaker." Holder's reaction is so painful, so small, it's almost unbearable to watch. "That sent Holder off the rails," Kinnaman says. "That was the worst thing that could happen to him."

During the conversation, Kinnaman draws on an electronic cigarette. He first got hooked on dipping tobacco, he explains. "Then I quit that and started smoking, and I quit smoking and then I started chewing gum instead, but my jaws would get all clenched up and I'd wake up with headaches." He smiles. "I've always had an easy time quitting. I'm just really good at starting up again."

Not shocking, then, that Kinnaman felt his way into Holder's character was through addiction. His research included visiting NA and AA meetings, and meeting people who struggled with meth.

"He's got this restlessness within him that comes from this void that he has, that he's tried to fill with drugs," Kinnaman notes. "I wanted to feel that restlessness in his body language, that he's never standing still." It's something else the actor shares. He's in constant motion, tapping his foot against the table leg for the entire interview.

Kinnaman mentions that in European theater circles, "there's this romanticizing about the wounded artist; you have to be in pain to be able to portray pain," he says. He waves that off as nonsense. Preparing for Raskolnikov, he set out to be as positive and happy as possible in his real life. That translated to the role in ways he didn't expect.

"Nobody wants to be depressed — everybody's trying to feel better; when they strive and fail, it's all the more poignant." The audience response was overwhelming. "That made me feel very confident that I could be who I am. I think Mireille comes from the exact same perspective. She's a bubbly, happy person on-set, because she knows she has complete access to any depths of darkness."

Kinnaman had a chance to access his lighter side in a supporting role in "Lola Versus,"coming out June 13 from Fox Searchlight. His first romantic comedy was "very relaxing," he says. He's also landed the lead in the "RoboCop" remake, due out next year.

"With this script and this director, it's a very challenging acting piece," he says, before delving into director José Padilha's talents. "Yes, I'm going to ride these incredible motorbikes and have guns coming out of my legs, but at the core, it's a very existential story about what it is to be a human."

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