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'Mayor of Kingstown' Examines the Prison Industry Through a Small-Town Lens

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Paramount Plus / Sarah Coulter

His name didn't appear on any ballots, but Mitch McLusky runs things in Kingstown, Michigan. Referred to as "The Mayor," Mitch (Kyle Chandler) works behind the scenes as a power broker to create change in a city that's dominated by the incarceration industry. Because there's not much else work to get except for that related to the broken prison system, everyone becomes entangled in the goings-on within it.

Set to premiere on November 14 on Paramount Plus, Mayor of Kingstown's was created by Taylor Sheridan and Hugh Dillon and features an ensemble cast that includes Jeremy Renner, Dianne Wiest, Hugh Dillon, Emma Laird, Tobi Bamtefa, Taylor Handley, Aidan Gillen, and Kyle Chandler.

At a roundtable press junket in late October, the ONE37pm TV & Movies team was able to listen in on what some of the cast had to say about the new series.

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Sarah Coulter / Paramount Plus

Mitch works alongside his two younger brothers, Mike (Renner) and Kyle (Handley); they've been a part of the power broker business for many years, as their father was previously in charge. Even though the type of work they're doing is often shady, the brothers feel that it's completely justified because they're doing it for the good of the people involved.

The youngest of the brothers, Kyle, always seems a bit uneasy about their business because there's a part of him that wants to get out of Kingstown and start over entirely. However, being a police officer, he has a different sort of pull in the system, as he has more access to the inside and other classified information. It's a complicated matter: actively working in their business allows him the opportunity to create real change and spend time with his brothers, but on the other hand, it's a dangerous game that he's playing.

Mike is also at a bit of an impasse, but he's more resigned to staying put than taking off. Their mother, Miriam (Wiest), has lost hope for Mitch to leave the business but is still holding out for Mike and Kyle, who she feels are wasting their lives away.
Mike's personality strikes somewhere in the middle ground between his two brothers—he's not as heavily invested in the business as Mitch, but he's also not as willing to leave as Kyle. Mike is the most hands-on of the brothers, always ready to go the extra mile to make something happen.

It is no secret that over the last decade, Taylor Sheridan has cemented himself as one of the best creators in Hollywood. The resume speaks for itself. Even further, the collaboration between Sheridan and Renner was an absolute home run back in 2017 with Wind River.

Through the first two episodes of, Mayor of Kingstown, it is vintage Jeremy Renner and Taylor Sheridan. Once again, Sheridan drops the audience off into this cold world, and it is the audience’s job to figure out the rules. At its core, this show is about the balance of power in Kingstown.

Renner is no-stanger when it comes to examining the human element and its impact on small-town power dynamics. Speaking to ONE37pm, he explained: "There is something very specific in, The Town. Charlestown is a very specific part of Boston. All of that stuff is birthed in this little nook. A little community. And it is no different in Mayor of Kingstown. All of these people are just products of their environment, but there is such humanity. Everybody is very human, very real. You will connect with them in some sort of way.

There are limitations in a world like that. And when there are limitations, I feel like the audience can either understand what that is like or connect faster and easier. So, seemingly bizarre, but it is truthful and real. And it happens. It can be bleak, but it is super interesting to watch."

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Paramount Plus / Sarah Coulter

Miriam is at the end of her rope with her three sons. Working as a history teacher at a women's prison, she expects bad news to come through her classroom door at any moment. Dedicated to her students and clearly extremely knowledgable on the subject, Miriam's always covering an interesting aspect of history with a meaningful lecture to go along with it.

In the same way that she approaches her classes, Miriam tries to talk sense into her sons, yet her message never seems to stick; attempting to talk them out of their line of work is a lost cause at this point. In preparing for those more heavy-hitting speeches, Wiest noted that, "It was hard because you feel affection for the actual actor and then you have to rip their head off. What they’re doing is just past bearing, and they won’t listen to common sense, and all of a sudden you’re full of rage and full of anger, and it’s silk off a spool."

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Paramount Plus / Sarah Coulter

The brothers also work closely with Bunny (Bamtefa), who's head of the Crips gang. Perched on his lawn in a camping chair and surrounded by his crew, Bunny sells pharmaceuticals out of the cooler sitting next to him. He also occasionally demands that his crew get him snow cones.

Ready at a moment's notice for Mike or one of his brothers to swing by and strike up a deal, Bunny might play things aggressively, but he's a true softie at heart. He has a profound bond with Mike, which manifests itself in deeper conversations about life once everything is settled for the day. It's a give-and-take relationship that's not always perfect, but they view each other as equals in their ways of life.

Given his double role, Hugh Dillon, both a co-creator of the show (with Sheridan) and acting as Ian, is viewing the series from a slightly different angle.

"It's pretty easy because when I sit behind the monitors and watch them bring this to life, I forget about the acting and the rest of it," Dillon says about separating the two roles. "I kept my head down and did my own work when I was acting, and you forget what is required, especially in such a big show."

With his upbringing as the inspiration behind the story, Dillon explained earlier in the press junket that he grew up in a town with nine prisons. His mother and other friends worked within the industry, giving him a genuine, personal connection to the story told in Mayor of Kingstown. Concerning the show, he was especially interested in how the prison complex trickles down and affects the town that it's located in.

As Sheridan was formerly Dillon's acting coach, the two got to know each other fairly well over the years as Dillon would tell him about his old town, which Sherdian was always interested in. Since the story of his town was something that Dillon had always wanted to bring to life, the two paired up, and the idea grew from there.

Mayor of Kingstown gives its undivided attention to aspects of the prison industry that aren't usually shown on screen, and though it can occasionally be quite a lot to take in, the importance of those moments continues past the show itself. A brutally honest dive into the prison system coming from countless different angles, the show doesn't sugarcoat things. Mayor of Kingstown succeeds in both the tiny and large moments, creating a gentle-yet-powerful aura that emanates through each episode.

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