Inspired by the acclaimed cyberpunk novel by Richard K. Morgan and created by Laeta Kalogridis, the Netflix series Altered Carbon follows Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), a 22nd century mercenary and rebel who has returned to life 300 years in the future, in order to find a killer. With his consciousness placed in a new body, or “sleeve,” that he’s not happy about being in, he must answer the question of what happened to the ultra-rich Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), along with whose body he was placed into, what’s become of the woman he loved, why he can’t get Lt. Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) off his back, and whether he can trust the military officer (Ato Essandoh) and AI entity called Poe (Chris Conner) who are helping him.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Joel Kinnaman talked about the appeal of Altered Carbon, being a self-proclaimed sci-fi nerd, the responsibility that comes with leading such a big TV series, the craziest action sequences, the intriguing character dynamics, wrapping his head around telling a story set 300 years in the future, how he might hold up in a world like this, and where things could go for Season 2. He also talked about the status of Suicide Squad 2 and his excitement to work with director Gavin O’Connor.
JOEL KINNAMAN: For me, it was just the opportunity to get to step into a world like this. I’m a sci-fi nerd. I’m very drawn to these sorts of dystopian sci-fi tales, and I love cyberpunk aesthetics. To get to be one of those characters, and then there was so much of Kovacs that was so interesting, just from an artistic standpoint. He’s been gone for 250 years. Everyone he’s ever loved is dead and everything he fought for is lost. His only chance to get to live a life is to basically be a slave of this person that represents everything he fought against. That’s a really interesting starting part for a character. To be honest, what really drew me into it was the world. That’s what really appealed to me.
[Joking] It wasn’t all of the nudity?
KINNAMAN: [Joking] That’s a bonus for an exhibitionist like me. I was like, “If I’m gonna get in this good of shape, then I’m not going to be wearing any clothes, okay?!”
You’ve been on other TV series, but you’re leading this TV series, and this is a pretty big series. Do you feel a different level of responsibility and pressure with that, and what did you do to get a handle on that?
KINNAMAN: I did. This was a great opportunity for me. A big part of the challenge that I put on myself, with this project, was to really take the leadership role seriously. When you are such a clear lead, then you really have the opportunity to be a leader on set. You are, regardless if you choose to be or not, but I wanted to really actively take that role. I put a lot of energy into being a co-creator of the climate and the culture on set. I saw it as an opportunity to create the kind of environment that I thrive in. That’s when you want a kind-spirited atmosphere, where generosity is rewarded and people don’t let their egos get in front of them. I was really impressed, watching how much energy Will Smith put into creating an environment that was a positive place for everyone to work. The workplace was a creative, kind-spirited and happy place, and I saw the effect that had on so many people. There’s 350 or 400 people, working on a big movie like that or a big show like this, and if you can create an environment where people are happy to go to work, they can go home to their families and be happy, and their kids can go to school in a better mood because their parents are happy. It’s a ripple effect, and you can have a little part in making all of that better. Also, selfishly for me, I know that I can thrive in that kind of environment. I respond negatively when there’s bullying or there’s a lot of egos taking over. It brings out the worst in me. So, it was a real opportunity for me to do that. It’s actually one of the things that I’m most proud about.