The Biggest Sci-Fi Show of the Year Challenges Its Star In One Revolutionary Way
In For All Mankind, Joel Kinnaman has taken Ed Baldwin further than we could have ever imagined
Joel Kinnaman is a man of very specific action. Whether as Rick Flag in the Suicide Squad films, as Kovacs in Altered Carbon, or the formidable Godlock in John Woo’s latest action opus, Silent Night, he’s the sort of action star who comes across as raw and dangerous. But the proof of Joel Kinnaman’s layered talents can be found in the multi-generational Apple TV sci-fi epic series For All Mankind, now in the midst of its critically acclaimed fourth season.
Since 2019, Kinnaman has played the show’s lead, Ed Baldwin, who begins his journey as an Apollo astronaut in 1969 in Season 1. By Season 4, it’s 2003, and Ed is pushing 80, but still living on the Mars colony Happy Valley. At 44 in real life, Kinnaman is convincingly playing nearly double his age but, as he tells Inverse, this is the moment he has been waiting for since getting cast in the first place.
“The idea of doing this is what initially really appealed to me with this character,” Kinnaman reveals. “But of course, it's rare that you have to wait five years to do the thing that you really were looking forward to doing with a character.”
As Ed Baldwin leads Helios workers on Mars to a labor strike in the episode “Leningrad,” Inverse caught up with Kinnaman to get a sense of how he took Ed this far, and whether or not he can play the character again in Season 5.
Spoilers ahead: For All Mankind Season 4, through episode 6, “Leningrad.”
After losing his companion and confidant Svetlana Zakharova (Masha Mashkova) in Episode 4, and having his flight status revoked by his old NASA buddy Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) in Episode 5, Ed is probably at the lowest point in his life. Perhaps even worse off than he was in Season 1, when, stranded on the moon alone, he learned of the death of his son. In “Leningrad,” the only way Ed seems to find purpose is in becoming a disruptive force on the Happy Valley Base, making him the de facto leader of a massive strike — all of which comes from a mixture of ideological and selfish motivations.
“To play the deterioration of this American archetype was just mouthwatering stuff,” Kinnaman says. “But, it wasn’t easy. Season 4 was a b*tch. I’ve got to tell you, it's the hardest thing I've done mentally. It's the hardest thing I've done in my professional life.”
The challenge of playing Baldwin at this point in his life were demanding both physically and mentally for Kinnaman, who began a “normal day” by getting up at midnight, in order to be in the makeup chair by 1:00 a.m. Kinnaman also insists that he didn’t want to limit the shooting days either, but that there were “constant touch-ups” required to the make-up, which, in the final analysis, is almost imperceptible to the audience; Ed simply looks the way Ed is supposed to look at this point in the story. Still, this physical transformation was grueling for Kinnaman, who noted that “my meditation practice went to a whole other level.”
In terms of the story of For All Mankind, Ed Baldwin is certainly the show’s default primary protagonist. As co-star Krys Marshall told Inverse, the cast often joke that series co-creator Ronald D. Moore made Ed Baldwin specifically for himself. “Ron made Ed Baldwin for Ron,” Marshall says. “Ed Baldwin is very much Ron Moore’s baby.” For longtime science fiction fans, who are aware of Moore’s writing on the Star Trek franchise, or Battlestar Galactica, Ed Baldwin, in a sense, is the zenith of Ron Moore male sci-fi heroes: he’s good-ish, flawed, and ultimately mixed with equal parts of selflessness and self-sabotage. This season even sees new conflicts between Ed and his daughter, Kelly Baldwin, played by Cynthy Wu since Season 2. As Wu puts it: “He's clearly a hero, but so flawed, and it's kind of reaching a point where he's being confronted with all those flaws.”
From Kinnaman’s perspective, it’s possible to think of the character of Ed Baldwin as a slightly different person than he was at the start of Season 1. In fact, Kinnaman was specifically inspired by the idea that over time, because so many cells are replaced in the body, that aging creates a sort of Ship of Theseus-effect on human personalities. “Before I had done this show, I had read this long article that detailed the longest study that was based on personality — and I think it was three American universities that had done it,” Kinnaman explains. “But basically, it comes down to the idea that every 10 years, you’re like a different person.”
For fans of the show, having spent four seasons (and four decades) with these characters and their families is part of the emotional payoff. When Ed looks wistfully at photographs from Season 1, it wasn’t that long ago for us, which, is also true of actual aging in real life, too. This feature, Kinnaman says, is what makes For All Mankind so unique. “There’s not many projects like this,” he says plainly. “Usually you see this kind of aging process in a movie. You see that in the epilogue of a film, right? And that’s often only a couple of scenes. You rarely see lead actors of a show do it over the course of a whole season. If we didn't have an incredible makeup team that pulled it off, none of our work would've been worth anything because so much is hanging on the technical proficiency of those departments and they really nailed it.”
Because we’ve spent four decades with Ed now, and he’s chronologically the oldest character in the series, is it reasonable to think that he’ll be around for Season 5? Ron Moore, as well as showrunners Ben Nedivi and Matt Wolpert, have already ruled out any kind of cryogenic freeze for Ed, meaning, if he does appear in Season 5, he’ll be even older, which would mean even more make-up for Kinnaman. So, is Season 4 Ed’s swan song?
“We'll see, we'll see,” Kinnaman says cryptically. “We'll see what happens. I’ll just say now that I'm open to it.”