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Joel Kinnaman: Bad Boy, Lone Wolf, RoboCop

Follow the Men's Fitness cover guy's journey from Hell Valley to Hollywood.

He learned to keep his guard up, and it appears never to have dropped since. Even in team sports, he found ways to single himself out from the pack, playing goalkeeper on the soccer field and, later, placekicker for his football team during a yearlong cultural exchange to the United States when he was 17.

When I meet Kinnaman for the first time, on a gray November day in New York City, he’s sitting on a black leather sofa in an otherwise bare, white-walled Brooklyn photo studio. He’s just wrapped a photo shoot for the foreign press, to meet the inevitable demand for photos that is sure to surge once this year’s RoboCop reboot is released—Kinnaman’s biggest role yet. The actor doesn’t look quite like his character in The Killing, AMC’s critically acclaimed crime drama that has been cancelled as many times as it has been renewed—twice—and is now entering its fourth and (apparently) final season. Kinnaman plays the male lead, detective Stephen Holder, a drug-addicted cop-turnedhomicide detective, who ups the entertainment value of the show with his snappy comebacks and a blatant disdain for police dress code. Today Kinnaman gets to wear whatever he wants, and his style is simple but tasteful: blue jeans, a gray knit sweater, and a muted pair of casual Valentino sneakers. He’s traded Holder’s signature messy hair and goatee for a close buzz cut and a clean shave, too, and his accent is slightly different as well—distinctly Nordic with hints of American influence creeping in.

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Kinnaman’s arms are stretched out along the sofa’s back rest with his lanky legs out in front of him—his left shin teetering atop his right knee like a piece of contemporary Swedish architecture. He’s relaxed, but his gaze is focused and present. He rarely breaks eye contact, and it has the almost unsettling effect of making him appear skeptical of every question I ask. When he speaks, every word that comes out of his mouth seems loaded with heavy, somber undertones.

“A lot of the friends I had went on to become criminals,” he says. Kinnaman was able to avoid a similar fate. Reinvention is a theme that comes up often during our conversation. Kinnaman never wanted to be like the friends he had in high school, but getting far enough away to truly start over was challenging. “The new friends that I was making after that, when they would meet my old friends, my old friends would pick on them,” he says. “They’d rob them and take their stuff and their money. The new friends I was making didn’t want to hang out with me because they didn’t want to get picked on or robbed or beaten up. It was a really difficult time.” It’s interesting, I tell him, considering that his two most critically acclaimed roles in Sweden were criminals, and since moving to the United States to start a new life he’s chosen to play cops, primarily, most notably in The Killing and RoboCop. He waves away the observation, but I suspect he just hasn’t thought about it. 

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