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Weird time in Texas helped ‘Killing’ actor

Joel Kinnaman who plays dogged detective Stephen Holder “The Killing” grew up Sweden but spent five bizarre months Texas.

Joel Kinnaman, who plays dogged detective Stephen Holder on “The Killing,” grew up in Sweden but spent five bizarre months in Texas.

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Updated: May 2, 2012 8:07AM

‘The Killing’s” Joel Kinnaman grew up in Sweden, but you’d never know it based on his spot-on portrayal of streetwise Seattle cop Stephen Holder.

As far as the American accent goes, Kinnaman’s not acting. The Scandinavian native sounds like Holder in real life.

Hollywood’s rising star — he’s in this summer’s rom-com “Lola Versus” and next year’s “RoboCop” reboot — chalks up the way he talks to having an American father, going to an English-speaking school in Sweden and spending five months in Texas as a teenager. That last one turned out to be an experience that was both good and bad. But mostly bizarre.

Seventeen years old at the time, Kinnaman, now 32, had applied to be an exchange student in the States. He wanted to go to the West Coast but was sent to live with a couple in Texas instead.

“They were both, like, 4-foot-3 and the guy had this huge cowboy hat on,” Kinnaman recalled. “The first hour I met him I never saw his face. I just saw this huge moustache hanging down.”

The couple had said they lived in Austin. Kinnaman realized that wasn’t the case shortly after they picked him up.

“I was looking out the back window of the car,” he said, “just seeing Austin receding on the horizon.”

Turns out his host family lived pretty much in the middle of the desert, in a house they shared with 11 dogs.

“They said they had a 26-year-old son in the paperwork, but I never saw him. Every time I brought it up, they just went silent.”

Kinnaman went to high school with blacks, whites and mostly Hispanics. It was a diverse — and divided — bunch.

“The white people that went there, they were farm kids,” said Kinnaman, whose adopted sister is black. “Most of them had very definite opinions about ‘us’ and ‘them,’ and I didn’t want to be part of ‘us.’ It was difficult to navigate that, coming from a very liberal home in Sweden.”

Aside from some uncomfortable encounters with racism, Kinnaman mostly enjoyed his stint as an American high schooler.

“I was a kicker on the football team,” he said. “Broke the school record with a 46-yard field goal. I’m still bragging about that.”

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