Joel Kinnaman on ‘Altered Carbon’, the Show’s Action Scenes, and ‘Suicide Squad 2′
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.
You’re pushed to the limits, both physically and emotionally, on this series. What was the craziest stunt or action sequence that you got to do? Was there anything that you just couldn’t believe you were doing?
KINNAMAN: Well, there was a moment when I was hanging 30 feet off the ground, in the middle of this fight-drome on wires, in a suit and fighting these two other weightless people, with a whole arena full of people cheering. That was surreal. Not to conflate that with the actual fight-drome sequence in it that we shot in a cage in Episode 6. That was super intense. That was the roughest part because it took a week to shoot. It was really bad air quality and there was sand everywhere because of the sandy bottom of this cage, and there were extras everywhere, screaming and yelling. We did a couple of takes where the audience really got into it, and we got into it with stunt guys. We were just there. It felt like we were fighting for real. At the end of the take, Alex Graves, the director, came running in and he was like, “Holy fuck! Holy shit! That was fucking epic!” We were all cheering. That was super fun. I’m never gonna forget that.
Kovacs is frightening when he fights, which means that it’s on you to make those fights look believable and you sell that very well. What about the training most helped you, in getting to that point?
KINNAMAN: It’s just about the repetition. The physical stuff is very technical. I got the opportunity to really prepare for a long time for this. I was training for almost six months for this, three to five hours a day, with some of the best stunt guys in the business. That was one of the big challenges that I put on myself. I wanted to be prepared in a way that I could do all of my own stunts. And my stunt double, Tim Connolly, who’s one of the best in the world, became my coach. It’s just hard work, learning all of these techniques and making it look believable. You have to learn how to fight for real, so you can fake it.
There are some really interesting character dynamics in this show, and it’s fascinating to watch your character interact with different people and learn that he might actually need some people to help him, since he’d clearly rather be on his own. What did you most enjoy about working with this cast and watching your character figure out how much he actually needs other people?
KINNAMAN: I was fortunate to be surrounded with a fantastic cast. We all really enjoyed our company and we’d go out and have dinner. We had a lot of fun on set. From a character standpoint, Kovacs is coming from a place where he doesn’t really know if he wants to continue to live. The mission of the first episode is, am I going to continue to live, or am I just gonna end this, right here? And then, he decides to take the case, but he’s still very drawn down and plagued by all the wounds that he has, and all of the memories and the loss. It’s not until the people that he meets in this new world, here and now, start to become important to him that he starts to find a will to live.
How did you wrap your head around playing a character in a world set 300 years in the future?
KINNAMAN: I’ve done a couple of big movies, so when you hear you’re gonna do this big sci-fi thing, you expect to be stepping into a green screen box where you have to imagine everything. But what was so amazing on Altered Carbon was that the sets were the most impressive that I’ve ever seen in my career. We had sets that were three football fields deep with 450 extras milling around. It was a full living, breathing city. The detail of the set design was incredible, with the noodle shops, street vendors, police officers and construction workers. I stepped into this world and it was all new to me, but I didn’t have to imagine anything. I could just experience it all and be in this world, which is incredibly exciting, especially for a sci-fi nerd like me. I got to be in that world, and that was a dream. Anyone who’s a fan of sci-fi, we watch these stories because we want to get the feeling of what it’s like to be there and then let our imagination take us there, but I actually got to be in that world.
This is a very dark, intense and raw world. How well do you think you’d do in a world like this?
KINNAMAN: I think I’d do alright. It would be tricky.
This season ends in a way that is still open and leaves certain aspects unresolved. Have you had any conversations about where this could go in Season 2?
KINNAMAN: Well, there’s not that much I can say about it. Kovacs’ journey continues, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets re-sleeved. It would be very cruel to Ortega, if he didn’t give that sleeve back.
He could keep it for a little while longer.
KINNAMAN: I’ll let them know that you think that.
It sounds like things are coming along with Suicide Squad 2. Do you have any idea when you might actually get to see a script or get a start date to shoot that?
KINNAMAN: No, I don’t know. I just know that they are working intensely on it. I know it’s a big priority at Warner Bros., but it’s an equally big priority to get it right. We all felt that we had lightning in a bottle, in a way, and it partly got away from us, a little bit. It’s really important to harness everything that was great about it, and then fix what didn’t really work. So, I know they’re working on it, and we’ll see. I’m very excited to read something, but I don’t have any new information.
Have you had a conversation with director Gavin O’Connor yet, to learn about what his vision for the story and characters will be?
KINNAMAN: Yeah, I talked to him a little bit. I’m very excited that he’s on board. I think he’s a great choice. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they come up with.
Altered Carbon is available to stream on Netflix, starting on February 2nd.