There is a delightfully sinister quality to Stephen Holder, the new detective assigned to the homicide case at the center of AMC's crime drama, The Killing. Played by Joel Kinnaman, Holder skulks around Seattle, his skinny neck sticking out of an oversized sweatshirt. He rejects old-fashioned, rigorous police work in favor of more unorthodox information gathering. Like, say, giving a couple of soccer-playing teenage girls pot and asking them where they "party" so that they might help him figure out who killed their classmate, Rosie Larsen. In his review of The Killing for Slate, Troy Patterson rightly describes Kinnaman as a scene stealer, but I didn't realize how thoroughly he had embodied Holder—the languid movements, the general swagger—until I saw a video of Kinnaman out of character. He is almost unrecognizable.
This is a breakout performance for the half-Swedish Kinnaman (his dad's American), and there will be more opportunities to watch him in the near future. He'll appear alongside Emile Hirsch and Olivia Thirlby in an alien invasion flick called The Darkest Hour later this year. Kinnaman spoke to Slatefrom Cape Town, South Africa about growing up in Stockholm with his big hippie family, what it's like to be a celebrity in Sweden, and the makeup magic behind Detective Holder's deeply sketchy look.
Slate: What are you shooting in Cape Town?
Joel Kinnaman: It's a movie called Safe House, with Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington—it's like a CIA thriller. I'm a CIA agent. It's not a big part but it's an interesting part.
Slate: How well-established were you in Sweden when you started auditioning for American projects?
Kinnaman: We only make about 30 movies a year in Sweden. The year that I left I played the lead in seven or eight of them, and they were quite high profile. It was kind of intense with the attention there for a while, so it was a perfect time to get the hell out. I moved to the U.S. before all of those movies came out.
Slate: Is being a celebrity in Sweden like being a celebrity in America? Are you in the Swedish equivalent of Us Weekly?
Kinnaman: I guess I'm pretty well-recognized there. Swedes are a really humble and shy people in many ways, but I think it's pretty much the same as in the U.S. Little girls want to take photographs with me at lunch.
Slate: Were you attracted to The Killing because its DNA is Nordic? [ The Killing is based on a Danish TV series.]
Kinnaman: That was just pure coincidence. I was really attracted to the series because of the writing, the story line and the characters. It had a really solid, quality feel to it at a first read. My intuition about the project was dead on. As an artist it's a blessing to be a part of it. A lot of the time that sort of layered feel is only in art-house projects that 25 people watch, and those 25 people like it, but it doesn't reach a larger audience. The Killing has a really great combination of qualities: Even though it's very sad and deals with mourning and grief, it's still exciting. It's about real people and it doesn't shy from the painful points of life.
Slate: Stephen Holder's a pretty squirrely character—you look so different in real life. Don't take this the wrong way, but Holder has a sort of Kevin Federline quality about him.
Kinnaman: (Laughs) K. Fed!
Slate: You really get that sketchiness dead on! It's such an American character. Since you're not from here, did you base your portrayal or anyone or anything specifically?