Emmy Watch: Joel Kinnaman talks breaking promises and acting crazy in 'The Killing'

Joel-Kinnaman

Image Credit: James Dittiger/AMC

Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to return nomination ballots, EW.com is running a series called Emmy Watch, featuring highlight clips and interviews with actors, producers, and writers whom EW TV critic Ken Tucker has on his wish list for the nominations announcement on July 19. 

Joel Kinnaman, The Killing
Best Supporting Actor contender
As The Killing‘s Det. Stephen Holder, Joel Kinnaman has been as high as the Space Needle and as low as the depths of the icy Atlantic, emotionally speaking. Despite a viewer-enraging bait-and-switch at the end of the first season, the AMC drama promises to solve the mystery of Rosie Larsen’s murder by the end of Sunday night’s finale. This final stretch “is the resolution,” promises Kinnaman. “All the threads are coming together.”

Holder — a recovering drug addict — has been through the ringer this year, starting with a near-rock-bottom exchange with his nephew Davie (Arien Boey) in this season’s third episode. For the smooth-talking, wisecracking Holder, it was an uncharacteristic moment of vulnerability. Watch the scene below, then find out what it meant to Holder and what it took for Kinnaman (who Ken Tucker says “frequently carried The Killing through its weaker episodes this season) to get him there as an actor.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What about this scene really stood out in terms of what Holder has gone through this season?
JOEL KINNAMAN: It’s a big thing with AA and NA to keep your promises, and he’s promised to stay away because she still doesn’t trust him because he’s relapsed. Holder’s on a very slippery slope since his sponsor Gil [Brian Markinson] — maybe the most important person in Holder’s life, the person he’s placed his trust in and who has formed the foundation of his sobriety — completely betrayed him. When he realizes Gil has been using him as a pawn, that really pulls the rug out from under his feet. At the same time, Linden is thinking Holder is crooked, and that puts Holder in a place where he’s really, really close to falling off the wagon again. He’s starting to break his promises, and that’s when he seeks out his nephew.

I really loved that scene. There were so many conflicting emotions, which is something I love to play. He has a desperation where he seeks his nephew out because he needs him. His nephew is one of the people that makes him feel like he’s a good person. It makes him feel real and grounded, but at the same time he knows he’s not supposed to [see him]. He’s almost looking for help, but then he realizes he’s using his favorite person for his own benefit, and it makes him feel ashamed. And the little kid who plays Davie is such a wonderful kid. He breaks my heart.

A few scenes later, his partner finds him pacing on a bridge in the middle of traffic. It’s a metaphor for, ‘If he uses again, it will be the death of him…’ How do you prepare for that mentally?
[By] acting like a crazy person. [Laughs] It’s difficult because it’s one of those scenes that takes a lot out of me to get there. It’s embarrassing to go around and be emotional at that level in front of a bunch of people that you only know a little bit. [You know] it’s all pretend, but it has to be real. You have to go over the top with yourself. The only way for it not to be embarrassing is if it’s really real. That’s the pressure that I put on myself. It’s a very concentrated day on set for me. It was shot on a bridge, so I did a lot of pacing on the bridge by myself, considering what it would be like to jump off the bridge and stuff like that. It’s like surrounding yourself with the character’s thoughts for a long period of time, and they connect to thoughts and experiences that I’ve had in my own life.

What were some of those real-life experiences?
I keep those to myself.

Do you do anything physical to prepare?
Before we shoot, I’ll go cry by myself and scream. I’ll do the scene big. When the camera comes on, I try to contain it, make it small. It’s like trying to blow a hurricane through a straw.

Obviously there has been a lot going on underneath the surface with Holder since day one.
Until the eighth episode of the first season, there was an architecture in the storytelling where they didn’t want the audience to know if Holder was a good guy or a bad guy. That was very limiting [both in terms of] what they put in the edit and the direction I was given. It wasn’t until after the eighth episode that I felt I could be the character 100 percent, that I was allowed to react freely to situations. After they revealed that he wasn’t a bad guy, it gave him some more space. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been shooting more material, but it’s been a little bit more about Holder’s journey in the second season.

This season has been really intense. We’re getting closer to finding out Rosie Larsen’s murderer. How far in advance did you know that the trail would come back to where it started?
I was allowed to read episodes 12 and 13 while were shooting 11.

So you were just as surprised as the rest of us?
I was starting to have my hunches. But it all goes down, and you don’t know where it goes. I know where it goes! [Laughs]

There was the scene in episode 211 when Linden (Mireille Enos) pretends she couldn’t find a crucial piece of evidence at the Wapi Eagle Casino. A few minutes later in the elevator, she pulls it out and smugly waves it into the security cam, like, “Gotcha!” It’s a really cool moment for her — a flash of cockiness we haven’t ever seen, but it seemed a lot more like a Holder move. Do you think he’s rubbing off on her?
For sure, and she’s rubbing off on him. I really like how they wrote the characters’ arcs, where Holder started out as the unpredictable loose cannon, and Linden was this laser-focused, very subtle, quiet person who was a super control freak. She’s been unraveling and losing her s— as the ground crumbles under her feet in her personal life. Holder has had his bad turn but is now on steady ground and is now the stabilizing force in the relationship. The roles have switched and I really like how they’ve done that.

On a lighter note, you also consistently bring a lot of humor to what is an otherwise ultra-serious show. Do you talk with the writers and directors to find those moments?
It’s never really been a conversation in that sense. It’s something that arose while shooting the pilot. I really like to play for Patty [Jenkins, the director] and Veena [Sud, executive producer] behind the monitor. I just wanted to make Patty laugh. It just kind of turned into that, and then that was something that became the character’s [main] trait. I have that in me in a sense. I have a lot of funny friends, and we joke a lot, but I’ve never really played comedic parts. It’s just kind of how the character evolved. Holder doesn’t really have any boundaries. I love to do that as a person, but I’m too shy. Holder doesn’t have that, so I get to live that through him.

Read more:
EW.com’s 2012 Emmy Awards coverage
Emmy Watch: ‘The Good Wife’ deserves its third nomination for Outstanding Drama
Emmy Watch: ’30 Rock’ EP Robert Carlock talks ‘Murphy Brown’ and Liz Lemon’s future
Emmy Watch: Casey Wilson talks the most fun she had last season on ‘Happy Endings’


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