From director Andrea Di Stefano, the crime thriller The Informer is a tale of twists and turns that follows former special operations soldier Pete Koslow (Joel Kinnaman), who’s working as an FBI informant as he helps them to dismantle the Polish mafia’s business in New York. When things go wrong, the FBI pushes Pete to leave his family behind and return to the prison where he previously served time, in order to dismantle operations from the inside and try to save the case that’s threatening to collapse around him.
During a virtual junket for the film, Collider got the opportunity to chat 1-on-1 with Kinnaman about why he wanted to be a part of this project, the bumpy road to getting the film out to audiences, the importance of the family bond to the story, his favorite crime/prison movies, and the similarities between acting and going undercover. He also talked about whether he misses The Killing, what he thinks his character might be up to years later, and what he most enjoys about digging into a character for a long-running TV series.
COLLIDER: The twists and turns in this movie really surprised me.
JOEL KINNAMAN: Glad to hear it. We love this movie. I was so stoked when we got it and with the cast that we were able to put together, so it was really frustrating when the American distribution went bankrupt and it’s been in limbo for awhile. I can’t wait for it to finally reach American audiences.
When something like that happens, how hard is it to deal with when it’s totally out of your control and there’s nothing you can do about it other than wait?
KINNAMAN: It’s a bummer. Of course, you focus on other things but it’s frustrating, especially since we had an international release of this and it got really well-received and did great in a bunch of European countries where it got released, so I was dying for it to come out here but it just sat on the shelf for a while. Fortunately, it got snagged out of its limbo and now people are gonna be able to see it. It’s actually a great time for it to come out because it’s out in a drought of quality new content
When this came your way, what was it that made you want to do it?
KINNAMAN: It was a combination of things. First of all, I thought the story was great. I loved the undercover aspect of it. And then, I just thought the character was super compelling. It’s a man put in a really difficult situation and he’s literally fighting his way back to his family. I thought the character had a lot of layers and nuance, and he’s a real soft, vulnerable family guy. At the same time, he’s put in this situation and he has training from the military, so it makes him effective. His emotional pendulum swings from pretty big extremes. And then, we were able to get such a great cast on board with this film – Rosamund Pike, Clive Owen, Ana de Armas, and Common.
Then, I thought Andrea [Di Stefano] was a great director. I’d actually read this script a couple of years earlier, in a different iteration when it felt a little bit more like a programmer, and then Andrea really gave the characters more nuance. He shifted some of the more sticky parts of the script and made it more believable. While we were shooting it, he put a lot of emphasis on making it feel realistic. He did a lot of research. We had high-level FBI consultants that supported the way that the FBI business was conducted in the film, and it was the same thing for how the prisons work. We’re not the first film that shows it but you get to see the merit of the modern American prison system that’s overpopulated, where people don’t even have their own cells and they’re in dorms with bunk beds, and the level of insecurity that the inmates are under is portrayed in our film. So, there were a lot of really good elements to this. And of course, in the middle of it was this really white knuckle, hard-boiled action thrill that had a great pace. I thought it was a great opportunity.
Did you have any idea that this had also been based on a Swedish novel (Tre Sekunder by Roslund & Hellström)?
KINNAMAN: I found that out but I was actually already attached to it and had already met with. When I jumped in, I was like, “Okay, so let’s read the novel that it’s based on.” And then, I realized that it’s a Swedish novel and a Swedish character. That actually was a circumstance that I wasn’t aware of. A lot of people thought that that’s why I got attached to it but it wasn’t that, at all. It was pretty cool.
This guy is a family man who seems to be willing to do whatever it takes to protect his family. What was it like to form that family bond, not just with Ana de Armas but also with the young actress that plays your daughter?
KINNAMAN: She was fantastic. They did such a great job of casting. She was actually British but she just nailed this American accent. Some kids just have an ear for it and they’re able to do it much quicker than adults. Ana brought so much to it, as well. I hadn’t seen her do much before we played together but I realized really quickly that she was gonna be a real player. She’s super talented and just has an incredible temperament and ability. Also, her Latina background gave her a sense of how family is everything. I think that really resonated for her. You can tell in how strongly she felt about that.
What are some of your personal favorite crime movies or prison movies, and did you take any specific inspiration from an of them?
KINNAMAN: The Profit is probably my favorite prison movie. There’s a Danish movie called R that’s also incredible. That actually came out the same year as The Prophet and it didn’t get so much attention because they had a lot of similarities. Of course, The Shawshank Redemption is the Hollywood fluff version of it but is still one of the greatest movies of all time. I love that movie.
That’s certainly a movie that makes me cry anytime I see it.
KINNAMAN: Me too, at the end when he walks out onto the beach. I’ve always wanted to do a prison film. It’s something that a lot of people, and men in particular, think about. It’s a fantasy that you have, especially growing up, about what it would be like to end up in prison and how you would fare. It’s one of those nightmare prospects that you have. I always wanted to explore that in a film scenario and not in reality.
Do you feel like being an actor is also a bit akin to being undercover from time to time?
KINNAMAN: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. Definitely, when you’re exploring a character, and especially when you’re playing a character that is very particular to a certain environment, it’s something that is hard to fantasize about. The way that I prepare, I will try to put myself in that environment. If I’m playing a character that is in a motorcycle gang, then I will try to find a motorcycle gang that will let me hang out with them and just see what the environment is. I prepared for a Swedish project that was about a guy that was in a motorcycle gang and this guy was living under a fake identity because he was a CI [criminal informant] for the Swedish police and he got outed. He was working for the police but at the same time, he was Sergeant-at-Arms for Bandidos Motorcycle Club, one of the biggest motorcycle clubs in the world, and then he got outed as working for the police, so they had to put him in the witness protection program.
I was gonna play this guy, so I got to hang out with him in his new environment. But then, because this guy was so attached to this environment, with his new identity, he had become friends with another motorcycle gang and was hanging out at their bar. So, I went with him to that bar and he actually had tattoos on his body that, if they saw those tattoos, he’d get killed on the spot. This was a long time ago, and we were hanging out in a trailer park with this motorcycle club, with this guy with his fake identity, doing drugs, and just making sure that you don’t say the wrong thing because then things could go south really quickly. That was how I got the feel of what undercover life could be like.
Do you ever miss The Killing and the character that you played on that show? Would you ever come back for another season, if it were to get resurrected?
KINNAMAN: I think it’s too far away now. It’s been too long. It definitely was abbreviated, the whole show. If that show would have been released a couple of years later, I think it would have had a different trajectory. I toyed with the idea with (show creator) Veena [Sud] that maybe we do a reunion movie or something but they’re often not so great. We were thinking about it but what would the story be? I’m not opposed to it, but I think it’s better to look forward.
Is that one of those characters where you wonder what he might be up to, years later?
KINNAMAN: Yeah. There are so many ways that he could go. It’s definitely not gonna be a straight line. It ended on a higher note but you know that it’s not gonna continue. That’s a complicated guy who’s always gonna be complicated.
What have you enjoyed about really getting to dig deep into characters like that, with The Killing and now with For All Mankind?
KINNAMAN: I love that aspect of making a TV. When you really get to spend time with a character and you get to know them inside out, if the writing is good and the character keeps evolving, you just get a deeper understanding of the character and you live with it in a different way. You get time to course-correct and try different things. The big difference with a movie is that you have a certain script and that’s the journey that you set out to do. You can make little corrections, here and there, and shift the nuance or tone, but the big thing with TV is the experience that you have shooting it and the discoveries that you make while shooting it become your building blocks. It’s a much more alive process in that way. What you actually do with a character will shape the writing. When the acting and the writing are in symbiosis, as it is on great TV shows, then it can go really interesting places and it can feel very creative.
The Informer is now available on Premium VOD.
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.