‘House of Cards’ Postmortem: Joel Kinnaman Talks Will Conway’s Political Future, Previews ‘Altered Carbon’

Kimberly Potts
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Joel Kinnaman as Will Conway in Netflix’s House of Cards. (Photo: David Giesbrecht)

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Season 5 of House of Cards.

Well, he lived. That may be the best we can say about Frank Underwood’s presidential opponent, Will Conway, in House of Cards Season 5. Actually, make that the man who defeated Frank  … if only for a brief time that, thanks to trademark underhanded Underwood dealings, did not end with Conway taking up residency in the White House.

Conway portrayer Joel Kinnaman talked to Yahoo TV about his character’s political fall, whether or not Conway has a political future on the series, and if it’s more fun to portray a man in the middle of a political rise or a very serious meltdown.

And The Killing star previews his next Netflix series, Altered Carbon, a sci-fi adventure that sounds spectacular. Just don’t ask Kinnaman to explain the intense, complicated series in less than 20 seconds.

Yahoo TV: It looks like Will Conway is yet another Underwood casualty, but at least he’s still alive. No small thing on this show.
Joel Kinnaman: Exactly. I made it out better than most.

What did the producers tell you about Season 5? Obviously, we knew the storyline was going to continue a certain way given Season 4, but how much did they tell you before you began?
They told me all about Will’s arc. He’s a very polished type of person, who is very much playing a role … so when his idea of where his trajectory is going doesn’t play out the way he wants, then the real person that’s behind that façade starts coming through, and that person has a lot of stuff that he hasn’t really dealt with. I thought that was a really cool idea, and it’s very fun to play that unraveling.

Campbell Scott as Mark Usher and Joel Kinnaman as Will Conway in Netflix’s House of Cards. (Photo: David Giesbrecht)

Is it more fun to play the guy on the way up or that same guy melting down?
It’s fun doing both. A rise and fall is always a fun thing to play. Whenever you choose a film or a role on TV, what I’m always looking for is a character that has the biggest journey, that changes the most over the course of the story. It was very satisfying to play Conway in that respect, that he really changed over the course of his storyline.

Given how we saw that he melted down when his plans were rattled, do you think he was presidential material? Do you think he could have handled that job?
I think so, but I think at some point he would have had to deal with his post-traumatic stress. The stuff that he’d gone through in combat. You can’t push things like that away for too long. They’ll always come back to haunt you. You have to face it. I think he would have been a good president. Especially in the time and age that we’re in right now. It’s very easy to find presidential people around you compared to the one we have in reality and the one on House of Cards. There are a lot of people that are interested in more than the status quo.

The scene where Will asks his wife, “What do I do now?” It’s sad and it’s powerful. It also seems like their marriage could be another casualty of that political world.
There was another scene in there that wasn’t in the show, where that became more evident, but I don’t know the reasoning for not having that in. I definitely think that their marriage was starting to crumble. I think they’re also a relationship that was very much based on the prospect of their career as a couple. Missing the mark on their highest goal is definitely going to take its toll.

Joel Kinnaman as Will Conway and Dominique McElligott as Hannah Conway in Netflix’s House of Cards. (Photo: David Giesbrecht)

Have you talked with the showrunners about where Will’s story goes from here, or if it goes on from here? Is that something that you have in mind or that they have in mind already?
No, I don’t think so. There’s nothing that I’ve talked about anyway. To me it was a one-season arc spread over two seasons.

Do you wonder about the character’s future, what it would be, where he would go from here?
Yeah, he’s a young guy that was almost elected or was elected the youngest president in the country’s history. It’s hard to see that he doesn’t have a place in society and wouldn’t be a powerful political player. There’s another election in four years. I think if Will gets his s*** together, he will be a very dangerous opponent.

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, Michael Kelly as Doug Stamper, and Joel Kinnaman as Will Conway in Netflix’s House of Cards. (Photo: David Giesbrecht)

Especially given, as you said, some of the things that he needs to address, the PTSD, that could be something that could genuinely make him a more empathetic character, a more empathetic political player, but also could make him a more popular candidate. That would be interesting to follow his story through that, to see him at the time of the next election.
Right. Maybe. Now that you’re saying that it seems fun.

You are also in the middle of production on Altered Carbon?
Yeah, I’m actually getting close to the end here. It’s been a marathon of shooting, in mid-November, six-day weeks, 16 hours a day, intense action. It’s been the most intense job I have had. It’s very demanding.

What is the tone of the series, and how action-packed is it?
There’s a lot of action and a lot of bigger action pieces. We have one of the best, very high-level feature stunt teams that we’ve been working with, guys that have been in the biggest action movies ever made, so there’s a lot of emphasis on it. It’s also, really, when you have as much time that we have … first, I had a lot of lead-up time, so I could actually really prepare for this. It’s the first time that I’ve really gone in deep in the stunt world. I’ve done action before, and I like to do my own stunts, but this time I got the time to really prepare. It’s been a lot of work, a lot of injuries. … I broke my foot halfway through production, so I had to work through that. I had a big fight sequence that I did in a foot cast. At one point I did a jumping side kick, but with a broken foot. It’s just the things that I get to do for a living. It’s great fun.

Tonally, it’s a sci-fi noir. It goes pretty deep emotionally, but there’s also levity and sarcasm. It’s a very rich world, you know? There’s some larger-than-life characters and some very real relationships, and I feel like I was crying in every episode. It’s been a journey, and I think it’s going to be fantastic. It’s definitely going to be like nothing you’ve seen on TV before.

That’s a good tease there. It’s the biggest series that Netflix has done so far, right? It really does sound like a big, blockbuster, popcorn kinda story, but on TV instead of a theater.
That’s the exciting part about it, the scale of it, with the amount of CG and world creation, a world 250 years in the future. That was something that we haven’t really seen in a satisfactory way on TV. Those are the projects that are big budget movies, but then usually those big budget movies, they’re rated PG-13 because they want to catch the whole audience. Here, we get the best of both worlds. We get the big-scale creation, but at the same time, it’s a hard R rating. We can really tell the story truthfully. … We don’t have to hold back in any way.

How would you describe your character, Takeshi Kovacs?
He is a broken man in many ways. Everything he fought for and everything he sacrificed … he’s brought back into a world where everyone that he fought and everything that he fought for has been lost, and the people that he fought against have now ruled the world for 250 years. The social inequality … if you think of how it is now, then multiply that by 100, and also the rich people, the 0.0001 percent of the future, they are immortal, and they have a technique where they can transfer the human consciousness. It’s called a stack. It’s a big chip that you have in the base of your skull, and they’re able to grow clones, and they have remote backups of their consciousness and their memories. Because they are immortal, you can imagine how much wealth you can amass with 350 years, and how differently you think of yourself compared to a little ant that has lived 45 years and has struggled compared to you. They have begun to see themselves pretty much as gods. I get brought back to help one of these gods solve the attempted murder of him. I have these special qualities that makes him want to choose my particular stack, where my consciousness is stored, and bring that back into the world. I come into a world that’s 250 years past when I died, and I get this task of trying to solve this murder and at the same time am faced with this new reality.

Wow. That is a lot going on, an intense storyline.
[Laughs.] It’s not a 20-second tagline. You got to go deep to explain this show. I’m still trying to figure out how the hell I am going to explain this on talk shows and stuff. I really got to find a way.

I have to ask you, of course, about The Killing. Everything’s being rebooted on TV now, reunions, entire new seasons of old shows. You know how beloved Holder and Linden are. Has there been any talk about revisiting them, updating viewers on their relationship?
I actually thought about that at some point, but I don’t know. I thought the ending was really good. I would be open to it. It’s one of my favorite characters that I’ve ever played, and one of my favorite co-stars that I’ve ever played with. Who knows?

House of Cards Season 5 is streaming on Netflix.

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