Joel Kinnaman makes emotions churning under armor in “RoboCop”

02/14/2014 4:49 PM

02/14/2014 4:50 PM

Joel Kinnaman – who gained fame in AMC’s “The Killing” – started expanding the Hollywood side of his resume two years ago with a small but showy part as a CIA operative who tussles with Ryan Reynolds in “Safe House.”

Now he makes his leading-man debut, as Alex Murphy, a human lawman transformed into a forbidding, part-machine police officer in the Brazilian director José Padilha’s remake of the 1987 sci-fi thriller “RoboCop.”

Set in the year 2028, Padilha’s version beefs up the tragic emotional aspects of the story line: the Detroit crime fighter with a loving wife and son who wakes up from a near-fatal assassination attempt and discovers to his horror that only a few parts of him aren’t factory made.

“It’s a role that’s more about acting than it is about being a movie star,” said Padilha (“Elite Squad”), who wasn’t interested in having marquee recognition overshadow the concept. “If I cast Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt, it would be Tom Cruise’s ‘RoboCop’ or Brad Pitt’s ‘RoboCop.’ So we were looking for someone who wasn’t known.”

On a recent overcast afternoon, not a single head turned when Kinnaman, dressed in jeans and a gray cashmere sweater, made his loping entrance into a shiny cafe at the London West Hollywood hotel.

According to an old friend, Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, on the streets of Stockholm the sight of 6-foot-2, cheekbone-rich Kinnaman might spark a different reaction: “He’s like a Beatle.”

It was, in part, Espinosa’s “Easy Money,” a 2010 thriller in which Kinnaman played an insecure working-class student who bluffs his way into Swedish high society, that transformed him from a well-regarded young theater actor to the sort of fellow who brings female pedestrians to tears. The movie won him a Guldbagge Award, Sweden’s equivalent of the Oscar.

Kinnaman was in his early 20s when he was accepted into a four-year program at the prestigious Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts. Just before he started, he was cast in his first professional role as a thug in a supernatural thriller called “The Invisible.” “I had eight lines in the whole movie, and six of them were, ‘What are we going to do now?’ ” Kinnaman recalled with a laugh.

“What are we going to do now?” is a far cry from the myriad feelings – dread, humiliation, suicidal thoughts – that Kinnaman communicates in “RoboCop,” usually with just his brown eyes and expressive mouth while encased in a 45-pound, head-to-toe futuristic black costume.

“At first it was uncomfortable,” he said. “But it became a gateway into understanding the vulnerability that the character felt. That was unexpected: That I’d find that out by wearing this big chunk of suit.”

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