Taking a risk: Joel Kinnaman experiences an epic journey on 'For All Mankind'

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Dec. 30—It's not often that an actor gets to play the same character through different decades on a TV series.

This is what Joel Kinnaman enjoys about playing Ed Baldwin on the Apple TV+ series, "For All Mankind." The fourth season is currently streaming on Apple TV+.

"It's been pretty epic and nothing like I've done before," Kinnaman says. "It's such a rare opportunity to be with a character over the course of several decades. I have been playing Ed for 40 years."

"For All Mankind" is set in an alternate timeline in 1969, Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov becomes the first human to land on the moon. This outcome devastates morale at NASA but also catalyzes a U.S. effort to catch up.

In season four, the timeline rockets into the new millennium in the eight years since season three.

The Martian colony of Happy Valley has rapidly expanded its footprint on Mars by turning former foes into partners. Now in 2003, the focus of the space program has turned to the capture and mining of extremely valuable, mineral-rich asteroids that could change the future of both Earth and Mars.

But simmering tensions between the residents of the now-sprawling international base threaten to undo everything they are working towards.

The ensemble cast returning for season four includes Kinnaman, Wrenn Schmidt, Krys Marshall, Edi Gathegi, Cynthy Wu and Coral Peña along with new series regulars Toby Kebbell, Tyner Rushing, Daniel Stern and Svetlana Efremova.

Kinnaman's Baldwin is an astronaut for Helios Aerospace and formerly one of NASA's top astronauts. He was commander of Apollo 10 which was intended as a test run for Apollo 11, being eight miles away from the moon. When the Soviets landed on the moon first, Baldwin and Gordo Stevens, played by Michael Dorman, began facing criticism for not doing so.

Kinnaman says Baldwin was supposed to command Apollo 15 too, but he was removed from the mission and assigned to the Apollo Applications Program.

Baldwin is eventually a finalist for the commanding position for NASA's first Mars mission. He later joins Helios Aerospace as their Mars mission commander instead.

After the original Happy Valley crew were rescued after being stranded 15 months, Baldwin remained on Mars, promising to return to Earth.

Kinnaman says his journey with Baldwin over decades has been an experience.

"One of the most difficult things you can do as an actor is to play old," he says. "Usually you do it in, you know, a couple of scenes and an epilogue of a movie, you don't do it as a lead character, over the course of a whole season of the series. So, you know, that was extremely challenging."

Kinnaman says that aspect is what also drew him to the production.

"Ed's journey, I thought, was also so fascinating," he says. "This person that, you know, on its face looks like this American archetype, this all American hero. On the inside, he's different. In the first season, he loses his son, which is a seminal moment in his arc. Then, as he goes on this journey to space and as he gets older, this archetype slowly starts to dismantle."

Baldwin begins to deal with a physical disability, which starts to decline.

"That confidence starts to dissipate," he says. "As he also starts to become acutely aware of his own death, and the existential anxiety starts to really creep in. And it's a fascinating journey to go on as an actor, to get to step in those shoes and to look at the aging process from the inside."

Over the course of four seasons, Kinnaman has also learned from Baldwin.

"I'm also a risk-taker, and very impulsive and sort of have this feeling that everything is always going to work out," Kinnaman says. "That's all well and good, as long as you have people around you to pick up the pieces when you make a mess. And so I think that as I get older, and hopefully a little bit more mature, I try to assess risks a little differently. So other people don't have to clean up my messes."