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The real reason Joel Kinnaman left Altered Carbon

The Netflix original series Altered Carbon has a lot to offer fans of high-concept sci-fi storytelling and vivid cyberpunk aesthetics. Based on the well-loved novel of the same name by Richard K. Morgan, the first season introduced a fully realized vision of the world 300 years in the future. As if that wasn't enough, Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman, best known for his roles on The Killing, House of Cards, and as Rick Flag in Suicide Squad, played the lead role, Takeshi Kovacs.

Kovacs is a mercenary who was a part of a rebel group the uprising of which was squashed 250 years before the beginning of the show. His consciousness is given a new body (or "sleeve" in the world of the series) by an ultra-wealthy man named Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy) so that Kovacs can help Bancroft solve his own murder. Thus begins an enthralling mix of neo-noir detective work and high-octane sci-fi action as Kovacs tries to unravel the twisted secrets of the world into which he's awoken.

Before Netflix had even picked up the show for a second season, word got out that Kinnaman would not be returning to play Kovacs. Considering his character was at the heart of the story, this initially seemed like a strange choice. As it turns out, however, there's a very logical explanation. Let's break down the real reason why Joel Kinnaman left Altered Carbon after just one season.

Joel Kinnaman was only ever supposed to appear in one Altered Carbon season

When The Hollywood Reporter reported on Kinnaman's exit from Altered Carbon, they noted that sources informed them that the actor's contract with the show was only for one season. This wouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the series of novels from which Altered Carbon is adapted. In the original trilogy of books, Kovacs takes on a new physical form in each new installment.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the world of Altered Carbon is the concept of "sleeves." In its vision of life in the 2300s, human memories and consciousness are stored on what's known as "cortical stacks," similar to information stored on CDs or hard drives now. Those disks can be inserted into sleeves, which can either be either artificial or organic. The character of Takeshi Kovacs takes on a number of different sleeves over the course of his existence. In fact, in flashbacks during the first season, we see Kovacs in his original sleeve, played by Will Yun Lee.

At the end of the first season, Kovacs gets rid of the sleeve he's inhabiting and takes on a new one. This is in line with the report that Kinnaman's contract with the show was only for one season. Now that Kovacs has moved on to a different sleeve, a new actor would need to take over the role.

After his one season of Altered Carbon, Kinnaman went on to star in the Amazon Prime series Hanna, and sure enough, when season 2 of Altered Carbon premiered in 2020, it did so with a completely different actor in the role of Takeshi Kovacs.

Anthony Mackie took over the role of Takeshi Kovacs on Altered Carbon

The second season of Altered Carbon takes place 30 years after the first, and in keeping with the lore of the show, Kovacs returns in a new sleeve. For this season, he's played by Anthony Mackie, best known for playing Sam Wilson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Due to the time jump, the second season follows a different story than the first, although there are some connecting threads beyond the centering of Kovacs. Because Kovacs is in a different sleeve this time around, Kinnaman only appears is in flashbacks.

In some contexts, it might seem intimidating to take on a role that was played by a completely different actor. Due to the nature of Altered Carbon's story, however, Mackie said he felt empowered to make the character his own. He told Den of Geek, "I knew the character was going to be different, and I knew there were certain things I could bring to the character that weren't there in season 1. I was interested to show a different facet of him, a different side of him."

The actor extrapolated on this while speaking to HollywoodLife, saying, "Well, in season 1, Takeshi was very dark, very bitter ... He was on a cycle of revenge. In season 2, it's more of an emotional story. He's been given the opportunity to find his love, and love makes men do crazy things."

Fans of Kinnaman's performance might be disappointed that he didn't continue the role of Takeshi Kovacs for Altered Carbon's second season, but as it turns out, that was part of the plan all along. We look forward to seeing who will take on the role should the show get a third season.