Joel Kinnaman on How He Overcame Stage Fright + Panic Attacks to Be a Better Actor

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The following interview for our Spring 2021 BackstageFest, a virtual celebration of the year's best and buzziest TV, was compiled in part by Backstage readers just like you! Follow us on Twitter (@Backstage) and Instagram (@backstagecast) to stay in the loop on upcoming interviews and to submit your questions.

Joel Kinnaman’s career has spanned countries, genres, and mediums, but his most recent projects, Apple TV+’s “For All Mankind” and HBO’s “In Treatment,” mark some of his best work to date. Speaking with us as part of BackstageFest, the longtime Swedish actor (previously best known for “The Killing,” “Suicide Squad,” “Altered Carbon,” and “House of Cards”) dove deep into his acting process while offering advice to other aspiring actors to follow in his footsteps.

Kinnaman loved the experience of working on a multiple-season show again.
“I forgot the feeling of shooting a show while people are watching it and when people really like the show. It’s a great feeling to be working on a show at the same time as there is a positive buzz around it. The casting on the show has been really good, it’s one of the benefits of shooting in L.A.—we have everyone here!” 

When first starting out, Kinnaman had to reconcile his severe performance anxiety with his love for the art.
“I had a couple dark moments where I didn’t feel I could do this profession. I had really bad stage fright, I threw up every time before I went onstage for the first three or four years. I also got panic attacks every time I went onstage, I’d blackout and have no clue of what I was going to say. Finding acting was the first time in my life where I felt that I had the potential to do something meaningful, so I felt pretty lost in life and didn’t feel I had a direction. When I found acting, my whole life opened up. I felt like I was a person, so when these nervous breakdowns started to occur I was starting to think maybe I didn’t have the physical ability to do this, and that was such a devastating thought.”

Kinnaman dealt with his fear by forcing himself to perform a difficult monologue.
“I was looking at these demons that I had and voices I had working against me and every time I tried to challenge myself, they would cripple me. Somehow I found the courage to think, ‘What is the worst thing that these voices could face?’ It would be to do a difficult monologue onstage; my knees went weak just thinking about it. The fear of giving up was so much worse, so I just went for it. My whole world was this, I just immersed myself into it.”

READ: L.A. What’s Filming: Season 3 of
Apple TV+’s ‘For All Mankind’

A mindset of getting over losses quickly and constantly challenging himself has led Kinnaman to where he is today.
“When you’re in the chasing game, you really have to have this sort of professional athlete psychology to get over losses very quickly and keep working. I kept raising the bar for myself all the time, I wasn’t thinking about moving into an international career at all. Whatever you do, artist or not, it’s always important to stay outside your comfort zone. You have to keep challenging yourself all the time, or you become stagnant.” 

His advice for new actors? Stay cocky.
“The most important thing is that your goals are right, that you are not preoccupied with the idea of becoming famous or becoming successful. Those have to be results of you falling in love with the profession and becoming excellent at the craft. Follow the signs that lead you to become better at the profession, and then the career will come. Of course, you have to work hard and be disciplined, those are core tenets, and you have to find ways to build confidence. You’ll get more rejections in a few months than most people get in a lifetime, so you have to stay cocky.”

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