The name Joel Kinnaman is likely to draw a blank from the average moviegoer.
He’s more “that tall, lanky guy from ‘The Killing,’” or the fellow who had the misfortune of playing “Robocop” in the ill-conceived 2014 reboot. However, his days of relative anonymity may be over. Kinnaman helps anchor “Suicide Squad” as Rick Flag, the field leader of the team of super villains and criminals. He’s a brusque military man, tasked with running herd over the baddest of the bad. The film co-stars Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Will Smith as Deadshot, and Jared Leto as the Joker. It’s expected to dominate the box office this weekend, opening to as much as $125 million.
Kinnaman spoke with Variety about his intense training regimen, “Suicide Squad” sequels, and the disgusting gifts he received from Leto.
Tom Hardy originally had your role, but he had to drop out to finish “The Revenant.” How did you get the part?
I was following this project very jealously from the sidelines. All these new cast members were being added, and nobody was calling me. Then I heard about Tommy dropping out. My reps called me and said they’d set up a meeting for me with [director] David Ayer. We sat down in a bar in Toronto and we hit it off. We understood where we were coming from.
In the audition, we just hit it off. The room was gelling. He proved he was an actor’s director. I come from the theater initially, so I respond very well to getting stuff thrown at you. It helps me show what I can do.
How did you prepare?
The first thing David told me was “get big.” So I did that. I gained 35 pounds in three months. Trained a lot. Ate a lot. I did gain a little too much on the belly, so I had to lose that.
I became close with our military advisers on the film. Two of them were former Navy SEALS who went on to become CIA operators. These guys were real life Rick Flags. We went through intense training. We’d go out in the woods and backpack with 50 pounds. They wanted to drain me physically and deprive me of sleep. For 60 hours we’d be doing these workouts. They’d show me videos of cartel beheadings and torture. The most awful things I’ve ever seen. The whole thing culminated with this six-hour exercise where they’d take over this abandoned meat locker — like this underground maze. They enlisted 15 to 20 Canadian military guys. We did these scenarios. Like hostage situations. We’d use blanks, but it was still crazy.
They showed me how you shoot or enter rooms. The most important part was the attitude. This guy isn’t just a top tier operator. He is a commander.
Did Jared Leto stay in character as the Joker throughout the shoot?
Yeah, he sure did. It was amazing to watch him work. I knew Jared before. I knew him personally. But I didn’t see that guy throughout the whole shoot. I met Mr. J. a couple of times. He was magnetic. He pulled off an amazing performance. The commitment and the concentration that he had was inspiring to watch.
He sent me some presents. He sent me a couple of used condoms. A couple of dildos. Some anal beads. Someone asked me, “Did you send him any presents back?” I’m like, “when someone sends you a used condom, I don’t want to play anymore. I don’t like your game, and I don’t want to play.”
Did the cast bond?
It was pretty much a love fest. When you look at what Jared did, sort of setting himself apart, it’s undeniable that concentration gets results. You look at what Daniel Day-Lewis does and it’s the same thing. The detail of his work and the amount of time he spent practicing with the character. It’s just awesome.
What I think you lose with working in that way is the creativity of the ensemble. You have all these artists, these great artists together, and when you are social and when you are playing around, there’s a sense of humor that you can build together. You understand each other’s idiosyncrasies. Even if there’s a contentious relationship between your characters, there’s a humor that you can put into things. You can build comedy into those relationships. That’s what we were after with the squad.
I heard you all got tattoos together?
Yes. That was a great life decision.
Are you signed for more “Suicide Squad” sequels? Will Rick Flag appear in other DC Comics movies?
We’ll see. Maybe we’ll make more “Suicide Squad” movies. Who knows? The audience will decide.
If there’s like military involved in one of the other films than maybe they’ll call me. You can definitely see how Amanda Waller [the government agent played by Viola Davis] has a place in the other films. Maybe I’ll tag along with her.
There were reportedly a lot of re-shoots to fix the tone of the film and make it funnier. Was that true?
No. We did 95% action. It was just added action. That was a constructed narrative. It surprised me that it gets traction with people who should understand the film business better. Any film with a $125 or $135 million budget always has a block of re-shoots. Some do a week and some do a full month. It’s built into it. When you do a regular film the editor and the director will put together the movie and think, “Oh man, if we just had a little beat. It would elevate that.” But they have to work around it and work with what they have. On these big films they always have the luxury of going back and getting that beat and elevating it even more.
We’re all scheduled for a re-shoot period before we start the film. They put so much money into the shooting of these films and the marketing that to them it’s always worth getting it right.
Have you seen your “Suicide Squad” action figure yet?
I’m pretty much a veteran in the action figure game. I got my “RoboCop.” I got my “Suicide Squad.” It’s what I do.
You seem to do a lot of different types of projects. Indie films, television, big budget adventures. Do you fear typecasting?
That’s the main challenge. I try to do as many roles as I can. My favorite actors play very different kinds of parts. If I were ever to be so lucky to have an audience that was anticipating a film that I was going to do, I would love for them to have a feeling when my film was coming out to be thinking, “I wonder what he’s going to do with this role.”