I ask Kinnaman about a cultural exchange program he attended in the United States when he was 17. “Someone suggested it—it might have been my dad or my mom,” Kinnaman says. His parents had grown worried about him. He had started running away from home and was constantly getting into trouble. “I was an angry teenager trying out everything,” he says. “For me, the cultural exchange program was the perfect way to get out of Stockholm and dealing with all the bullshit that was going on.” He had always dreamed of packing his bags and traveling, maybe even leaving Sweden for good. Kinnaman had been to the U.S. before, briefly, to visit relatives on his father’s side. Now he would spend an entire year there, living with a host family and attending high school. The program wouldn’t allow him to choose the school, city, or even the state he’d end up in, but he was excited just to be going. He could, however, select a preferred region—he chose the West Coast—but even that would ultimately be out of his hands, as he would soon find out.
“My dad woke me up one morning and was like, ‘Joel, you’re going to Hell Valley.” I was like, ‘Hell Valley!?’ ” It turned out to be Del Valle, TX, a quiet town in Travis County, not quite hell, but not exactly Santa Monica, either. “I stayed with this really strange family, Bill and Sue Taylor*,” he says. “It was just this really odd couple. They said they had a 25-year-old son; I never saw him, never heard anything about him. They lived out in the boondocks in a house with 11 dogs inside of the house. They never spoke. They had nothing on the walls in the whole house. There was just white everywhere and red sand on the floor from all the dogs dragging it in. In the movie cabinet, all they had was cartoons, and they wouldn’t let me hang out with friends.”
Students could switch out from a family if they were able to make a case for themselves, but Kinnaman wasn’t so lucky.
To read the rest of "Joel Kinnaman: Bad Boy, Lone Wolf, Robo Cop," pick up the March issue of Men's Fitness magazine.