Joel Kinnaman was 10 years old the day he soured on fame. He was the goalkeeper on his youth soccer team in Sweden and had just allowed the opposing team to score. “I was so pissed at myself,” he recalls. The whole stadium started chanting a name, but it was not his—not exactly. It was his television alter ego’s. Kinnaman spent the previous year acting on a Swedish soap, and in a country with only two television channels, he’d become something of a star. “I was so embarrassed,” he says. “And I felt, this is wrong.”
After that, Kinnaman took a long break from acting. He spent his twenties working jobs in construction, insurance, a bar in the French Alps and a factory in Norway. He’d work double night shifts for months in order to take off and travel for four or five months at a time—alone. As one of six children—and the only boy—Kinnaman says he’d always had trouble being by himself and saw that “as a weakness” (though he admits he’d occasionally give in and “find a girl” to travel with). “For a long time, I had a life aside from acting,” he says. “I lived my life. I had my heart broken and loved again before any of this happened.” (His new love is actress Olivia Munn, by the way.)
But traveling the world is a younger man’s sport, and in 2005 Kinnaman returned to Sweden to study acting at the Swedish Academic School of Drama. Following a number of high-profile roles back home, Kinnaman, now 32, has become a fan favorite in the States for his portrayal of badass cop Stephen Holder on AMC’s The Killing, and for small but memorable parts in thrillers The Darkest Hour and Safe House.
Next he re-creates an iconic ’80s cyborg in the highly anticipated remake of RoboCop, alongside Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson. To keep himself grounded, so to speak, with the Hollywood of it all, he’s taken up the local pastime: surfing. “When I catch that wave, I feel like, I’m doing it!” he says. “Nothing is more powerful than the ocean.” Not even fame.