As military man Rick Flag, Joel Kinnaman babysits some of DC Comics’ baddest villains as they band together for an unlikely world-saving mission in Warner Bros’ Suicide Squad. While the film’s blockbuster earnings and often-scathing reviews have inspired endless chatter, the 36-year-old actor is out to spread the word about another film he stars in that’s coming to theaters this Friday. Edge of Winter is a tense psychological thriller in which Kinnaman plays a divorced, increasingly unstable father whose hunting trip with his two sons — played by Tom Holland (aka, Marvel’s newest Spider-Man) and Percy Hynes-White — quickly goes off the rails. In anticipation of its debut, we chatted with Kinnaman about Suicide Squad’s negative reviews, what drew him to Edge of Winter, and how his big-screen roles tend to involve firearms.
What’s been your reaction to Suicide Squad‘s negative critical reception?
Of course, you want to get great reviews. But the existence of an actor is basically, 95% of the time, we’re being told that, no, that wasn’t quite right. You have to develop pretty thick skin, and make yourself not completely dependent on what other people think.
In a film like Suicide Squad, the main ambition is to entertain. It doesn’t have any political aspirations. It doesn’t really dig deep, other than to portray these characters honestly. So with that kind of ambition, it becomes even more important what the fans think. I was disappointed, and I thought it was unjust the way that we were reviewed in some of the magazines. But at the same time, I was really happy, and actually a bit blown away, by the fans’ response. I don’t remember ever seeing a bigger split between what the critics and the audience thought of a film. It was a pretty big difference.
Would you be up for a sequel?
For sure. We had so much fun making this film. We really became a little family. So if nothing else, I want to do another one just so I can hang out with all of my friends again. I definitely think that, if this film is successful, then they’re going to do another one.
Did you film Edge of Winter before or after Suicide Squad?
Before. I finished Edge of Winter eight days before my first shooting day on Suicide Squad. It was fortunate that they were both sort of in the same neck of the woods. I shot Edge of Winter in Sudbury, Canada, which is a 4- to 5-hour drive from Toronto. So on a couple of the weekends that I had on Edge, I went down to Toronto and did some stunt training and stuff like that.
I would have loved a little bit more time in between them, but you don’t get that luxury. I had five days between Suicide Squad and House of Cards after that, so it was a pretty hectic year.
How do you manage such a transition, especially between such varied projects?
You just flip that switch, and you focus on what’s ahead of you. Edge of Winter was such a short shoot. We shot it in 19 days, and probably with a smaller budget than the catering department had on Suicide Squad [laughs]. But at the same time, every day on a film like this, you’re doing something substantial. And this character was one of the most challenging I’ve ever done. That’s what drew me to the film, was the opportunity to try to portray and give an understanding to a man, and to a type of man — you know, it’s so hard to find a redeeming quality about a man that becomes a threat to the life of his own children. I’m drawn to a lot of different kinds of characters, but I felt that this was a really unique opportunity. A character like this, he can say a lot about our whole society. Because some people are wired in a certain way where they’re just not quite able to function in society if they don’t get a very special attention, or if they fall under certain circumstances.
I found that really intriguing — and not just to do a villain; to give an audience an understanding of what’s behind this kind of behavior. Because I think that understanding is the key. When we just rule somebody out as crazy, that’s when we can’t learn from our mistakes, and that’s when we can’t prevent [bad choices] from happening again. There are a lot of films made about revenge and these primal emotions, which I have a lot of understanding for. But it’s also really important to make films where somebody that has done something incomprehensible — you can at least see what kind of person he is, and where he came from. I think it makes us more whole, to get that kind of understanding. I think this was an opportunity to do that, but in a film that’s also a very exciting, heart-thumping psychological thriller.
One of the things I loved about your performance was that your character’s disintegration was slowly and lucidly mapped out and developed. Was it tough locating the character’s inner life, and getting into that sort of head space?
I had several different hypotheses for this character, and what kind of mental deficiencies, or mental illnesses, he could suffer from. There are certain aspects of him that indicate that he has schizophrenic tendencies. But we landed at a man with a severe borderline personality disorder. This deep-rooted and desperate fear of being abandoned — that was what was key to this character. And that feeling is so strong that it’s worth killing yourself to get away from it. That is very, very powerful.
The film doesn’t spell out exactly what’s taken place before its opening — what specifically happened with your character and his ex-wife, and whether he had issues with his own father. Did you concentrate on such backstory issues during your preparation for the part, and/or discuss them with your director, Rob Connolly?
Some of the things we discussed, and I like building a backstory. But I also don’t go nuts with it. When I feel like I have a logic in me, and I feel like I’m already grasping the character, and I feel like I can be that person here and now, then I sometimes let those things be undefined. Then I can also let myself get surprised. Because especially with these types of characters, sometimes you react in ways — when you have flow — that you never expected. And then all of a sudden, you realize in the middle of a moment, “yeah, it was that I was left by my father.” Or it can be something that reminds me of something that had happened to me personally in my life, and then that kind of spins my imagination in a way, and takes it in a different shape.
I’ve noticed that a lot of your projects — AMC’s The Killing, RoboCop, Run All Night, Suicide Squad, and now Edge of Winter — require you to use a lot of guns. Is that a coincidence, or on purpose?
[Laughs] So my career is basically this sort of NRA campaign, and I’m just trying to be Charlton Heston. That’s who I’m basing everything on.
No, I don’t know – that’s kind of true. I’m not a big gun nut, but…yeah, I don’t know. I’m going to have to think about that.
It certainly comes, in part, from doing a lot of action-oriented roles.
I love action. I like watching action movies, and I like playing in them. But what I’m not interested in is empty action, where it’s just action for action’s sake. I always start with the character. That’s where it all starts and ends for me. Am I compelled by this character? Am I interested in his problems? Do I find it fascinating where he ends up over the course of the film? Then, I do train a lot on my own, I like being physical. I’m very into fighting and these sorts of things, which lends itself to these kinds of films. So I guess I end up where I deserve.