“I’ve had a whole career without a real smash hit,” these are the words of Joel Kinnaman, who, kind of surprisingly, isn’t wrong. It sure seems like it should be wrong. After his breakout role on The Killing, Kinnaman has certainly been in some good movies (he’s great in Run All Night), but his starring role in a RoboCop reboot didn’t catch on, followed by the critical bomb that was the first Suicide Squad, well, as Kinnaman tells it, he noticed he had to start auditioning again. (Although, with James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, not having a “real smash hit” is probably about to change.)
Kinnaman is an introspective interview. There’s always an honestly and thoughtfulness to his answers. And it’s hard not to hear the pure joy in the cadence of his voice when he talks about The Suicide Squad: That after what he went through in the first movie, also playing Rick Flag, that he gets to, now, have his redemption. Even though, as he tells it, due to scheduling he almost wasn’t in this sequel. Also, what exactly did happen on the first movie. As one of only a couple of cast members to have large parts in both film, Kinnaman takes us through what happens when one movie has, what he calls, “conflicting visions” and then another movie has one clear vision that didn’t change much from the first script.
About 15 minutes into The Suicide Squad I said to myself, “Now we’re talking.” This is the one I was waiting for.
Yep. I felt the same way. When I saw this, I saw it in the theater with my fiancee. And while hopelessly biased, of course – I’m really not the person that you should listen to when it comes to reviewing my own films because sometimes I fall in love with a project…
But that’s normal. It would be weird if you hated everything you did.
Yeah, but I’m probably over-critical of my own work, but then I’m usually a little too generous to the project, as a whole.
Here’s what I keep thinking about: what might’ve been going through your head. And tell me how off base I am because the first movie comes out and, let’s be honest, people weren’t into it. Something was amiss there.
So then they hire James Gunn. And to me, it almost feels like being on the basketball team in high school or something like that. And you had a pretty lousy record so they hired a new coach. I’d be wondering if I’m still on the team.
I definitely had that thought. But I knew that Rick Flag was such an integral part of it, so it’d be hard to cut him out of it. But yeah, it’s always that question. I’m wondering how he views it, how he views my character. Is it going to be fun? And I also had a scheduling nightmare going into this…
Oh, how so?
Well, because it had been so much time between the first and the second film. This is contractual blabber, but the Warner Bros. option had lapsed. So I was doing the show for Apple TV+, For All Mankind. So because the option had left, For All Mankind was in the first position.
Oh, I see.
And James had a very set time that he needed to shoot this because of Guardians of the Galaxy 3. So they couldn’t shift the dates at all. And the second season of For All Mankind and The Suicide Squad was exactly the same time. But they made it all work, but they had to rewrite and there were a lot of things that needed to happen for the schedules to work out.
I don’t want to make it sound like every question I’m trashing the first movie, but I think I would feel bad for you if you didn’t get to do this one after taking your lumps with the first one.
Yeah, I would’ve been devastated. And it was so fun to get to play this version of the character as well. The first version of the character, I never really got loose in it, to be honest. And I was a bit of a plot donkey.
There were a lot of plot donkeys in the first one. When I think of the problems with the first one, you are not on the list.
Okay. Well, I appreciate that. But just as an experience, this was so much more of a creative experience for me and it was also a little bit scarier because I was stepping into territory that I hadn’t really been in – having lines that are written to be funny and they’re kind of ridiculous. It was just having to work with that kind of material and to make it seem natural and easy and not forced. It gave me a lot of respect for these comedians that make it look so easy, because it’s not that easy.
And nothing against David Ayer, I like a lot of his movies. Fury is awesome. It’s just I don’t know what happened in that first one, but what does James say to you to have faith that whatever happened in the first movie won’t happen again?
I loved working with Davi, as well. There were parts of that process that were super memorable and there were parts of that process that really were instrumental in some of us bonding so deeply during the experience of the first one, but there were some conflicting visions there, I think. That sometimes happen on these big movies and it can get tricky.
Is that what you think happened? Because it’s such a confusing thing. And it sounds like James Gunn had a lot more freedom to do his vision and that was part of the deal.
What was so clear with James, that’s the first script. When I got sent the first script, I was like, holy shit. First of all, I was laughing on every page. And the film is very, very close to that first version of the script that was sent out to everyone.
How rare is that with a movie of this size?
It doesn’t happen. It does not happen. Warner Bros. did their biggest builds they’ve ever done in the history of Warner Bros. These are the biggest set builds they’ve ever done. It was a massive movie. It’s the most expensive R-rated movie that they’ve ever done. And we had zero overtime and zero reshoots on this film. That’s unheard of! That doesn’t happen! These big movies, they usually build in a three-week reshoot process that comes after the first cut. But there was such a clarity of vision on this film and everyone knew exactly what they were doing. Everyone knew exactly what film they were making and it just makes it for such an easy experience.
How can you, as an actor, try to get yourself in those situations as opposed to situations where it’s messy and doing reshoots and nothing seems to be in order here? How can you do that? I guess the easy answer is work with directors who know what they’re doing, but then again, David Ayer knows what he’s doing…
I would love to do another movie with David, as well. It’s a different kind of experience and I think David is the kind of director that he also leaves a big part of the creative process to the shooting. He’s also figuring out the movie that he’s doing while he’s shooting it.
Well, that sounds very different than James Gunn. When you say you got the script and that’s pretty much the final movie.
It’s the complete opposite, in a way. And you can see, in David’s films, there are some films that he’s made that have turned out fantastic…
Oh, yeah, 100 percent.
So it’s a different process and I think they’re suitable for different kinds of movies. But yeah, I’ll just do every James Gunn movie.
Let’s just say there’s a lot of carnage at the beginning of this movie. And I remember thinking, man, this might be a really short interview.
Yeah. There are some people that don’t make it before the title cards. The shock value that he was able to create is incredible. It just keeps you on your toes and I think it’s pretty remarkable in a movie like this that it just does not feel predictable at all. You don’t know who’s going to make it through.
Yeah, there are actual stakes in this movie.
So how does this work? After the first movie the reviews were bad, were you worried at all professionally? Because that wasn’t long after RoboCop, which didn’t didn’t do what it should’ve done. Suicide Squad seemed like a sure bet. And then that doesn’t work. Were you worried, “okay this might be a problem?”
Yeah, I’ve had a whole career without a real smash hit. But it’s also made me not … I don’t count on one movie to change anything for me and I don’t expect any movie to do a drastic change. The way that I look at it, I keep my head down and I focus on the craft. And then the career will come. There have been periods in my career where, after RoboCop, for example, it didn’t bomb, it made money, but it took a couple of years for it to make money. It sort of broke even.
Right. And there wasn’t a sequel.
Exactly. Yeah. It wasn’t a hit. Then it was a little slight. All of a sudden, I had to audition again. And I’m okay with that. I don’t take anything for granted and I feel incredibly blessed to just be in this position to do this for a living. So, for me, I’ve sort of detached myself from expectation on the performance of any given project that I do. Of course, you try to pick projects that are going to be successful, but I try to focus on the craft and focus on doing characters that I find interesting. And where I feel like I’m challenging myself and I can do something that I haven’t done before. I focus on trying to get better at my craft and going deeper into the characters. So far, it’s worked. I keep getting interesting things coming my way. Sometimes I have to fight for it, sometimes it comes my way. We’ll see. There was a time when I got stressed. When I felt like, “Ah, I’m not making it to the pinnacle.” That’s my goal, to get to the pinnacle where you have all the options. There is a creative reason to strive to have more success in this business.
And to become a bigger star because then you get the opportunity to work with the most interesting directors and you get the best scripts sent to you. But I just take it as it comes and I try to make interesting choices and do as deep of a performance as I can. I always try to work hard. And then I think it’s a bit of luck. You have to have a little luck, as well.
Speaking of luck, not many movies do what the first movie did and then get a sequel…
That we got a guy like James to come in and do this? Because of his unfortunate situation, or how people reacted at Disney at the time, and it became our fortune and we were so fortunate to get him to this. I’m so happy because it feels like the first movie was a little bit of a stain. And this completely just … it’s going to change how people view this whole franchise.
Oh, no question.
It’s going to completely wash that away and it’s going to make something that I kind of looked at as, “Oh, well, you win some you lose some.” And then now it’s transformed into something that I’m uber proud of.
Yeah, this movie isn’t a win some, lose some situation.
I would love to just go back and do another movie with James right away, just because I think he’s so damn good. He brought out a different side of me that I’m now determined to keep working on and finding things a little bit more in a humorous space. I would really like to go do a comedy. And our process in this film, I told them straight up, ”Don’t be shy with me. Work with me on this and work with my timing and delivery.” Because even big directors, they can get a take and then they don’t want to work too hard on everything because they’re afraid that maybe the actor’s confidence will be affected or it’ll be a bad vibe. And I told them straight up, “I want to see this as a workshop, as well, and I want to get better at this. So just work with me on this and let’s really get to the bottom of it,” and he did. So we had a great relationship where I felt I really learned a lot in the space and with this kind of tone. So I’m looking forward to working more on that.
‘The Suicide Squad’ will be in theaters and stream via HBO Max on August 6th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.