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The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman on Playing a Skeevy Cop in a Dirty Hoodie

As The Killing’s detective Stephen Holder, Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman brings a satisfying dose of dirtbag cop to the series. From the get-go, his character’s unorthodox investigative methods, sloppy attire, ill-advised facial hair, and recently revealed addict past have made him the most interesting character investigating the murder of Rosie Larsen. Vulture spoke with Kinnaman about how he gets into such a sinister role, from the accent to the goatee.

The first thing you notice about Stephen Holder is that accent. How did you come up with it?
I wanted to get a flavor for him, that he grew up in a diverse community. He had friends growing up from different kind of backgrounds, ya know? Black, Asian, whatever. The background that he comes from is the core of his abilities and his weaknesses. He hasn’t elevated himself into another class of society; he’s still the same person as he was when he grew up. What he learned on the street growing up is his biggest strength as a cop, but that’s also his biggest weakness when it comes to relating to people. He can blend in some parts of society, but not so much others.

Now that we’ve learned more about his past, his drug addiction, does that make him more sympathetic?
Definitely. We all can relate to people’s weaknesses. We might put up a façade that everything is perfect but none of us are. When we see that weakness in somebody else, we understand or give ourselves a little bit of leeway.

I ask because the general consensus otherwise is that Holder’s a pretty skeevy dude.
[Laughs.] Yeah. That’s definitely a word I’ve been hearing a lot: skeevy. I think the show definitely wanted to keep him a mystery and the suspicion high up until this reveal. In the first seven episodes, I wanted to show a lot of other flavors, a lot of other colors, but that was held back because they wanted to keep that suspense. But after [Episode 8], I could relax a little bit. Then I could be who I wanted Holder to be, full-flavored.

And how do you want to portray the relationship between him and Linden?
There’s a couple of episodes left in the season and I don’t want to spoil anything, but they’re very, very different as people and how they interact with other people. But they have some sort of similar background. There’s an understanding of one another on a deeper level that will continue to expand.

Not to harp on Holder’s skeeviness, but maybe if he shaved the goatee, that’d make him less suspect.
[Laughs.] It took me a long time to develop. That’s one of my biggest accomplishments. That’s probably a two-and-a-half-month goatee. Doesn’t come easy for me, ya know.

You get to wear a ton of hooded sweatshirts. This has to be the most comfortable wardrobe ever.
It’s pretty comfortable. But you’ll actually see me change my hoodie. He’s been wearing the same hoodie for eight episodes.

With all that wetness, it can’t smell very good.
No, it smells terrible. I don’t think Holder smells that great. I just got that feeling. He’s celibate, so he’s not on the prowl either. He probably smells like his car does: not good.

What’s your take on the show’s pacing and how the narrative flows?
I think for an American audience, when you compare it to Law & Order and everything, that’s packaged and the pacing is high … I think there’s a bit of insecure patience. You’re not allowed to dive into depths and linger on everything, you’re afraid they’ll change the channel. But this show is trying to tell a story about these people.

Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images