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‘Suicide Squad’ Star Joel Kinnaman Is Ready to Be a Leading Man

The Swedish actor is still navigating the Hollywood side of his career, but he's got some ideas of what he wants from it.

“Suicide Squad”

Joel Kinnaman isn’t starring in the most beloved blockbuster of the summer. But even if “Suicide Squad,” the latest entry into the burgeoning DC cinematic universe, doesn’t really work — and the majority of critics agree that’s the case — Kinnaman remains its main voice of reason, both onscreen and off. He plays super-solider Rick Flag, a highly skilled military man who, unlike the members of the supervillain squad he’s expected to control and lead into battle, doesn’t have any special abilities to fall back on.

No matter what audiences think about it, director David Ayer’s first foray into the world of big screen superhero battles serves as a bridge between moody, dark DC properties like “Batman v Superman” and the promised “fun” of the upcoming “Justice League” feature — and Kinnaman is eager to defend its aspirations.

Getting It Right

In a recent conversation, the actor was gracious and engaged, not to mention seemingly unbothered by the giant warehouse where the film’s junket took place, complete with a massive cage in its center that was designed to mimic the kind of jail cell Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn occupies in the film. Kinnaman’s mood only changed when he was asked about the persistent rumors that the film underwent extensive reshoots in order to make it lighter and more amusing.

READ MORE: ‘Suicide Squad’ Review: These Heroes May Be Bad, But Their Movie Is Even Worse

“That was a rumor that wasn’t substantiated,” he said. “It was 95% action that we were re-shooting. I’m surprised that it gets press that a movie has re-shoots, because it’s standard on $100 million-plus movies.”

"Suicide Squad"

“Suicide Squad”

Warner Bros.

Eager to clear the air, he continued: “You shoot the film, you cut it together, and then — on a normal film — the director’s sitting with his editor and he’s like, ‘Oh, man, imagine if we just shot it from that angle instead? It would have been so much better. I’ll learn that to the next film.’ Here, with these superhero movies, the directors can always go back and do those changes. There’s so much money invested in these films, so they’re really putting in an effort to get it right. That was what happened here, too.”

His Best Performance

Kinnaman does know a thing or two about the differences between making a mega-budget superhero film and something smaller or, in his own words, “normal.” The actor joined “Suicide Squad” almost immediately after wrapping Rob Connolly’s indie thriller “Edge of Winter,” which sees the actor playing a possibly nefarious father trapped in some terrifying circumstances. One of the actors playing his son? Tom Holland, Marvel’s new Spider-Man. The blockbuster world is small in strange ways.

“I think ‘Suicide Squad’s catering budget was probably what the whole ‘Edge of Winter’ was made for,” Kinnaman laughed. “It was a movie we shot in 19 days, all nights out in the woods. It was definitely worth it.”

"Edge of Winter"

“Edge of Winter”

The film opens next week, just days after “Suicide Squad” hits the big screen, and while Kinnaman is clearly invested in the big screen spectacle, “Edge of Winter” has some big backing, too.

“My wife thinks it’s my best performance,” Kinnaman smiled.

It’s a good time for this kind of signature role, as Kinnaman is still finding his footing in the entertainment industry. Classically trained and no stranger to the stage, Kinnaman started to attract wider attention when he turned his attention to more action-centric roles, like in the 2010 action thriller “Easy Money” and the long-running Swedish cop series “Johan Falk.”

Going Hollywood

The success of the first “Easy Money” – he won a Guldbagge for his leading role in the film, Sweden’s version of the Oscars – pushed Kinnaman to make the jump to Hollywood. In 2011, he appeared in the Timur Bekmambetov-produced alien invasion film “The Darkest Hour” before reteaming with “Easy Money” director Daniel Espinosa on the Denzel Washington-starring “Safe House.” Three years later, he was picked to lead the long-gestating “RoboCop” remake as ill-fated super-cop Alex Murphy.

But while action movies remain Kinnaman’s bread and butter, some of his other choices hint at an actor looking to spread his wings in some unexpected arenas. He spent four years playing a detective on the AMC crime drama “The Killing” and recently popped up in a recurring role as a politician on Netflix’s “House of Cards.” In 2012, he even tried his hand at the rom-com thing, starring as Greta Gerwig’s good-for-nothing boyfriend in “Lola Versus.”

"RoboCop"

“RoboCop”

Something like “Suicide Squad” seemed to offer up something that many of Kinnaman’s more action-centric roles have only teased at: A massive action film bolstered by actual drama.

“Honest Vulnerability”

While the marketing for “Suicide Squad” has happily touted its murderer’s row of, well, actual murderers, and all the questionable stuff they get up to over the course of the film, the film’s final act goes all in on human emotion. That Kinnaman’s Flag would be tormented by the film’s narrative isn’t surprising (Enchantress isn’t just the film’s big bad, she also does it while possessing the body of Flag’s lady love, June Moone, played by Cara Delevingne), but that Ayer’s script also digs into the psyche of so-called “bad guys” like Deadshot and Harley Quinn is perhaps the most refreshing thing about it.

That’s what I expected when I heard that David Ayer was going to do a superhero movie, I knew there was going to have depth,” Kinnaman said. “To create a universe of a film where it feels truthful both to have deep emotion, honest vulnerability, at the same time being silly and irreverent.”

But “Suicide Squad” included something else that seemed to appeal to Kinnaman, who has yet to really breakthrough as a bonafide star in his own right: A leading man role.

Suicide Squad

“Suicide Squad”

Warner Bros

“Had there been no other stars in the film, I think just reading the story, you would have seen Flag as the lead of the film,” Kinnaman said. “His character arc is the one that’s most intertwined with the film’s arc.”

“That’s Not Really My Role In This”

As Flag, Kinnaman must wrangle a wild cast of characters – including Will Smith’s Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn – and get them on board with a singular mission, which also ties into Flag’s own emotional journey (having a possessed girlfriend is, apparently, not a very fun time). Kinnaman’s choice to approach the role as the film’s ostensible lead helped focus his energies and allowed the rest of the cast to get as crazy as they’d like to be.

“When you’re the lead of a film, you’re carrying the story in many ways,” Kinnaman said. “That frees up everyone else to go crazy. This one, where you have nine characters that are out there, there’s going to be a lot of fireworks.”

But leading such a wild bunch wasn’t always easy for Kinnaman, who said he struggled in the beginning, asking himself, “Can I get humor in here, can I get funny?” Eventually, he came to his own answer: “That’s not really my role in this.” 

Kinnaman was the last actor to be added to the film – his role was originally set to be filled by Tom Hardy – and he had little down time between wrapping “Edge of Winter,” easily his most dramatic role yet, before jumping into Flag’s combat boots. Between five months of training with former Navy SEALs and Delta Force operatives and a rehearsal period with the rest of the cast, “Suicide Squad” placed huge demands on Kinnaman.

“A Bunch of Bad Egos”

Despite his blockbuster background, from “RoboCop” to the Liam Neeson-starring “Run All Night,” Kinnaman was still nervous about what a massive production “Suicide Squad” would hold for him.

“When you’re a group of 10 people, you’re wondering is it going to be a bunch of bad egos, and is it going to be a constant competition for attention?,” Kinnaman remembered. “We had rehearsals together, everybody in a room improvising and rehearsing, and that’s difficult and scary. You feel a little vulnerable, and it’s a little humiliating.”

Suicide Squad

“Suicide Squad”

Warner Bros.

That may ultimately be Kinnaman’s biggest takeaway from “Suicide Squad” which, despite its blockbuster pedigree and essential place within the still-struggling DC cinematic universe, seems unlikely to catapult its cast to the kind of recognition that will land them juicier parts outside the franchise’s confines. Instead, “Edge of Winter” might be more closely aligned with what Kinnaman really wants to do in his career.

READ MORE: Joel Kinnaman Says ‘RoboCop’ Should’ve Been R-Rated, Is Not A Fan Of Terrence Malick’s “Detached” Shooting Style

“For me, it’s always about the character,” Kinnaman said. “The character’s the first question.”

That a massive tentpole like “Suicide Squad” and a low-budget indie like “Edge of Winter” are opening within the same month further speaks to the current way Kinnaman hopes to shape his career, which is stay as far away from the concept of actually shaping it as possible.

“To me, what’s most thrilling is to try to do as different things as possible,” he said. “If I were ever to be so lucky to have an audience that followed my work, I would love to keep them guessing, and have them wondering, ‘I wonder what he’s going to do with the next role?'”

“Suicide Squad” opens in wide release on Friday, August 5.

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