Joel Kinnaman on 'The Secrets We Keep' and the "Insane," "Heavily R-Rated" 'The Suicide Squad'
The Secrets We Keep just might be Joel Kinnaman’s most demanding film yet, and that’s saying something for an actor who played Alex Murphy in 2014’s RoboCop, Takeshi Kovacs in Altered Carbon and Rick Flag in two Suicide Squad movies. Co-starring alongside Noomi Rapace and Chris Messina in Yuval Adler’s latest thriller, Kinnaman plays Thomas, a Swiss factory worker in the American suburbs who’s captured by Rapace’s Maja and accused of torturing her family during World War II. For much of the film, Kinnaman is bound and gagged as realistically as possible, which took its toll on Kinnaman.
“I was basically tied to the chair the whole time. It was really uncomfortable, and it really sucked,” Kinnaman tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But yeah, Yuval and I had a few real dustups on set because of it. You’re suffering all of this abuse, and even though I know it’s for the film, my body didn’t understand that. So, throughout the whole shoot, I was just filled with lots of rage, and all the emotions were right on the surface. I think that really helped, and it came out in the performance because I never had to dig deep for anything.”
Heat Vision breakdown
Last month, DC FanDome delivered the world’s first look at James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, and the reaction couldn’t have been better. Even though the film brings back numerous castmembers from David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, including Kinnaman’s Flag, Gunn’s take on the material is markedly different. In fact, the Swedish actor believes he’s shot his first R-rated comedy.
“That movie is going to be insane. The script is so funny. Every page of that script was funny, and every page made me laugh,” Kinnaman shares. “James just has this command of that genre, but also over every aspect of comedy and even the marketing. He just understands the world so well, and since he wrote it, he really reinvents not just the concepts, but also the characters. For me, it was like I did my first comedy, but it’s like heavily R-rated. It was a real learning experience for me, too, because I’d never done a comedy in that way before. So I asked James to work with me and teach me this shit. And yeah, we had so much fun doing it. That movie is going to be a fucking monster. Honestly, even though I’m in it, I can’t wait to see it as a fan.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Kinnaman also reflects on the camaraderie of both Suicide Squad casts, the “disappointing” cancellation of Altered Carbon and his long-running collaboration with The Killing and Hanna co-star, Mireille Enos.
Do you currently have a view of the orange L.A. skies?
Yeah, I do.
I probably shouldn’t be making light of this, but God is clearly a Roger Deakins fan.
(Laughs.) Exactly! It’s very Deakins-esque, but it’s not quite as bad as it was a couple of years ago. I wrapped the second season of For All Mankind yesterday, and we were shooting up at Arlington Cemetery [Los Angeles National Cemetery]. Our costume designer had to brush off the ash from our shoulders in between every take. Bizarre.
Was that your whistle that kicks off The Secrets We Keep?
No, I couldn’t do that elaborate whistle. I did whistle when we were shooting, but yeah, I couldn’t do that. (Laughs.)
Your character is shown walking from afar a few times in this film. When you shot those scenes, did you change the way you walk in order to fit the character?
Yeah, it’s funny you ask because that is usually the first thing I do with a character. I find the walk because I feel like it says so much about a person. I’m really of the Bruno Ganz school in finding the tension of the character. One of the most effective performances that I’ve ever seen was Bruno Ganz’s Hitler in Downfall, and I remember watching this sort of MasterClass-type interview with him like 20 years ago. He was illustrating how he found Hitler’s tension and how it affected his whole being. After I saw that, I’ve basically done that with every character I’ve done, but with Thomas, he’s a person who’s holding on to stuff. He’s not open with his past, so his shoulders are high up, almost to his ears. There’s a lot of tension in his shoulders, as they’re kind of clenched together, and it affects the way he walks. I was trying to make myself small even though I’m a pretty big guy. I’m 200 pounds and 6-foot-3, and he’s a person who does not want to be seen. So it’s a big guy trying to look invisible, and all of that goes into the walk.
Early in the film, Noomi’s character has to put you in the trunk of her car, but as you just mentioned, you’re 6-foot-3. Was this a rather complicated process to get right?
It was. It was something we worked on quite a bit. It was one of those things where the only way it was going to look real was if she did it for real. So it actually took several hours to shoot just that sequence. Throughout the film, that was something that [director] Yuval [Adler] was very clear about. He was like, “The physicality of the film has to be truthful and you have to believe that he’s really tied up.” So that’s why I was tied up to the point where my arms and hands were literally bleeding. I had cuts in the corners of my mouth because the gag in my mouth was tied so tight for hours on end, and it was the same thing with the trunk sequence. When we would shoot that, I would make myself go limp and not create any tension that would help her lift me into the trunk. So there were many times where I would just fall down on the ground, and then we’d have to start over. So Noomi had a full-on workout doing that, but it made it look real.
Since you were tied up and gagged in such extreme ways, can you recognize the authentic level of discomfort in your performance?
Yeah, that was something that was very important to Yuval and me, even though I probably would’ve given myself a little bit more of a break; it was fucking painful. It’s also something you’re doing for hours on end, and when you’re tying someone up properly the way we did, you can’t untie in between takes. So I couldn’t go to my chair and sit in between setups. I was basically tied to the chair the whole time. It was really uncomfortable, and it really sucked. But yeah, Yuval and I had a few real dustups on set because of it. He’s really pushy and he doesn’t really care if my feelings are hurt in the moment. He also knows that I want to make the best version of the film. But he just has that kind of hardness in him that makes it easy for him to just push through; it’s that tough Israeli-ness. (Laughs.) So we got into some real fights on set, and we were screaming at each other, which is very unlike me. I’ve never, ever had that relationship with a director before. Daniel Espinosa and I are such good friends, and while we’ve had some fights, it’s more like two friends fighting. With Yuval, it got really heated. After one of the worst dustups that we had, I went back to my apartment that I was staying in, and I really didn’t feel good about how I had behaved on set. And I was thinking through everything that he said and everything that we were fighting over, and I realized that I agreed with everything that he said. It became clear to me that everything he was pushing for would make for the best version of the film and the only thing that my point of view would achieve would be more comfort for me. Or less discomfort and pain, I guess. And the way that I want to see myself as an artist is someone that is prepared to be sacrificial; I want to sacrifice myself to give a good performance. So I became aware of what was going on. Even though you intellectually understand you’re making a film and giving a performance, your body doesn’t really understand that, and I think that was the reason that I was so sensitive. I was tied up, in pain, and then spat at, waterboarded and punched. You’re suffering all of this abuse, and even though I know it’s for the film, my body didn’t understand that. So, throughout the whole shoot, I was just filled with lots of rage, and all the emotions were right on the surface. I think that really helped, and it came out in the performance because I never had to dig deep for anything. All of the emotions were right there, right away. It was more about dialing it back sometimes, but yeah, it was pretty intense.
Yeah, I could tell that you were going through something rather arduous. Even Noomi’s slaps looked like the real deal.
A couple of them were real, yes. There were some angles where they weren’t, but yeah, I definitely took a couple of licks.
Since people love to assume that Swedish actors all know each other, did you happen to know Noomi prior to 2015’s Child 44?
We went to the same high school in Sweden.
Well, that explains why there’s an assumption about Swedish actors all knowing each other.
(Laughs.) Yeah, so we knew each other from when we were like 15 or 16. We weren’t friends back then, but we got to know each other a few years later. I got to know Noomi when I hadn’t even started acting yet. She was already an actor, even though she was still in high school, and I hadn’t even started considering that. When I later became an actor as well, we sort of crossed paths in the Swedish Stockholm/Gothenburg theater scene, where she was known as this really hard-core, very respected theater actor. Once I sort of made my bones as well, we both came to know and respect each other in that environment. When we both came over to the States in our own ways and started working here, then we became really close friends. And when we worked on Child 44, it was an American film with a Swedish director [Daniel Espinosa], so we had the same kind of artistic heritage, in a way. We came from the same kind of tradition and had similar ways of thinking about how important it is to search for truth. I know it sounds very pretentious, but honesty matters more than anything else. There’s something that really bonded us in that, and we had a fantastic experience playing together in Child 44, even though that film might not have ended up the way we hoped. Since we had a great time, we were looking for something else to do together, and that’s actually how The Secrets We Keep came about. We found this script, which had problems, but it had a core that we really loved. So we decided to try and fix it. And then, I kind of let it go for a little bit, but Noomi just stuck with it until she found Yuval. Apparently, he told her, “You’re great. Joel’s great. Fifty percent of the script is great. The rest is shit, but I’m in.” (Laughs.) And then, he rewrote it pretty heavily and made it something that was much less of a post-Holocaust revenge story. Instead, he turned it into something that felt much more interesting and part of the conversation that’s going on in society today.
James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad looks incredible. Was that shoot a rather unique experience for you?
Oh yeah! Yeah, that movie is going to be insane. The script is so funny. Every page of that script was funny, and every page made me laugh. James just has this command of that genre, but also over every aspect of comedy and even the marketing. He just understands the world so well, and since he wrote it, he really reinvents not just the concepts, but also the characters. For me, it was like I did my first comedy, but it’s like heavily R-rated. So much of the action is practical with real explosions, and yeah, that movie is going to be insane. It’s such a great cast that he put together. John Cena, that motherfucker is a comedic genius. No one would make us laugh on set more than John. Every scene he was in, he would go on an improvised tangent. There are so many chops in that cast, and James has such a command of it all. He knows exactly what he wants, and sometimes it’s going to take him 10 takes to get there, or it’s going to take one. And he knows exactly when he gets what he needs because his ear is so attuned to it. It was a real learning experience for me, too, because I’d never done a comedy in that way before. So I asked James to work with me and teach me this shit. And yeah, we had so much fun doing it. That movie is going to be a fucking monster. Honestly, even though I’m in it, I can’t wait to see it as a fan. (Laughs.)
What struck me most about the first Suicide Squad movie was the close-knit cast. Granted, every press tour tries to create that impression, but you could tell there was something genuine among that group. Most of the actors gave each other “SKWAD” tattoos, like the one Will gifted you, and the two of you have remained pals ever since. And yet, it looks like The Suicide Squad’s fusion of old and new castmembers also created a really special bond. Would you say that’s the case?
Yeah, there’s definitely some new members that are already becoming real friends, but there’s something about the first gang of lunatics. There was more energy put into making the movie the second time around. The first time around, there was a lot of energy put into everything around us. (Laughs.) But no, they’re such good people. It’s also something about the whole concept of being a squad. There was never a bad ego on either of these films; not the first or the second one. There was never a shitty person that was trying to suck up all the air. On both films, there were really generous, warm, funny people around that were just about feeding the collective. There’s something about the concept that really helps that vibe, and because there was a core unit from the first one, I think we brought that spirit of the first film into the second one as well.
With two collaborations in the books already (The Killing, Hanna), are you and Mireille Enos kicking the tires on anything else right now?
Mireille was actually just down here; we hung out at the beach two days ago. I was teaching her daughter, Vesper, and her brother how to surf. She’s still doing Hanna, and I’m doing For All Mankind. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we do a film together at some point. I mean, we just love playing together and it’s fun to have this sort of ongoing relationship. You sort of create an ensemble over the course of your career with actors that you like to collaborate with and directors you like to work with. So I would love to do something again. We don’t have anything specific right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up doing a film together in the not-so-distant future.
I was quite fond of your work on Altered Carbon season one, but I have to admit that even though I’m an Anthony Mackie fan, I just didn’t feel the same connection to the series when I tried out season two. Was it tough for you to see that cancellation from afar even though you had already moved on a while ago?
Yeah, I would’ve loved to see it carry on. I felt the concept of having a new actor play the main character every season was a really unique thing, so I would’ve loved to see that. If the show would’ve done better, then more people would’ve loved the upcoming seasons, and more people would’ve come back to the first season. You always want people to see your work, right? So that was a little disappointing, but I was so disconnected from that. I’d done so many things in between, so I didn’t really have that strong of an emotional connection to it anymore. But I was sad to see that they didn’t find a reason to continue.
The Secrets We Keep is now available in select theaters and on-demand/digital.
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