Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman got jacked for the new Netflix show Altered Carbon. But his life nearly went in a drastically different direction.
Joel Kinnaman could’ve been a soldier. The Swedish military wanted him. Kinnaman, 38, grew up back in the days when all men in Sweden had to at least try out, and he was planning to tank on purpose. But, he recalls, “when we got out there, we had all these tests—conditioning tests, strength tests, leadership tests. My competitive spirit kicked in and completely removed any pacifistic tendencies.” He crushed the tests, got assigned to an 18-month tour of the north—way up by the Arctic Circle—and thought to himself: Fuck. What did I just do?
In the end, he wound up skipping the service. He tended bar for a while in Norway (not exactly a career) and then decided to give acting a shot. “I was a wild kid and had a lot of friends who were going in the wrong direction really fast,” Kinnaman says. “I didn’t graduate from high school because I was there only 40 percent of the time. So I didn’t have that many things that were pointing any good direction, and acting was the first thing I felt I might actually be good at.”
Kinnaman landed roles in a couple of small Swedish films, and then one in his homeland’s ultimate crossover entertainment product—The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. After that came Suicide Squad, House of Cards, and now his dystopian Netflix series. “Altered Carbon takes place 300 years in the future,” Kinnaman says. “We now have the technology to download the human consciousness into a chip that is fixed in the back of your neck—and that has led to bodies being interchangeable.” So interchangeable, in fact, that bodies are known simply as “sleeves.”
Kinnaman plays a kind of superwarrior trying to solve a murder (and committing a few himself along the way) in a jacked-up sleeve that’s intimidatingly huge—but not as huge as he’d like, if he had his choice in real life. “I’d take The Rock’s sleeve any day,” he says. “That would be fun—to be the biggest guy in the room.”