Joel Kinnaman never needed to leave Sweden to become a movie star. In 2009—the year he moved to the United States—he appeared in eight films in his home country. One of them, the first installment in a straight-to-DVD series, would earn him an unprecedented nomination for Sweden’s prestigious Guldbagge film award. Another, Easy Money, shot for early 2010, would go on to win him the award for Best Actor. Kinnaman was carving out a niche for himself; he could play the bad guy and make you root for him—and he did it well. One Swedish critic called him a “natural and convincing” scene stealer. But as anyone who’s ever met the street-smart upstart from innercity Stockholm can tell you: This isn’t the kind of guy satisfied by a Guldbagge Award. And when a half-assed cameraphone audition nearly landed him the lead in Thor, he couldn’t turn back. “My impression was, this Hollywood thing doesn’t seem too hard,” Kinnaman says. “I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’ll give it a shot.’”
Kinnaman, 34, is a lone wolf. Raised in what he calls “lower-middle-class inner-city Stockholm” by a Swedish mother and an American father, the only son of four children attended an English-speaking public high school. There, his classmates—often the spoiled kids of diplomats and wealthy expats—would come and go with the seasons. Attempts at attachment were futile. Those on whom he could count to stay, a raucous local crew, were unpredictable in other ways.
“It wasn’t a band of brothers in any way,” Kinnaman says. “It was always a case of somebody getting picked on within the group, and you never knew if it was you.”
He tells me about how one day he suddenly found himself on the defensive after the ringleader of the group accused Kinnaman of stealing somebody’s watch. Kinnaman insists that it was “bullshit.” He stood up for himself and the situation quickly escalated. “I don’t really remember the actual fight,” he says. “But I know that I knocked him down. Then all my other friends pulled me to the ground and started kicking me while I was down.”