In Kingstown, Michigan, seven prisons sit shoulder to shoulder in a 10-mile radius and the population inside and outside their fences includes Crips, the Aryan Brotherhood, Russian mobsters, distractible prison guards and crooked cops. So pretty much everyone in the 10-episode Mayor of Kingstown is spoiling for a fight.
Keeping the peace in this bleak (fictional) setting falls to the “fixer” McLusky brothers, local celebrities. Gregarious Mitch (Kyle Chandler), the oldest, and intelligent lone-wolf middle sibling Mike (Jeremy Renner) are the main power brokers; they also rely on the youngest, cop Kyle (Taylor Handley).
The guys risk their lives to make deals, for a fee, between folks in every dark corner of the criminal justice system. As you’d expect, they’re primo negotiators. But guns, fists and even concussion grenades aren’t off limits. Despite their efforts, the center cannot hold, and “it just explodes in so many ways,” says Hugh Dillon, who plays a narcotics, robbery and homicide detective and a McLusky pal.
Dillon and cocreator Taylor Sheridan—the mind behind another action-packed American family drama, Yellowstone—dreamt up the story a decade ago when the two were broke Los Angeles actors. Dillon’s childhood in the then–nine-prison city of Kingston, Ontario, inspired Kingstown. (The production shot there and used a decommissioned slammer for some scenes.) “Growing up in a place like that does something to you,” Dillon says, and that something isn’t good.
Only Mitch (“Everybody’s big brother,” according to Dillon) is seemingly immune to the damage. He’s comfortable shooting the breeze with anybody and cruising in his classic Caddy. Kyle’s potential exit pass: signing up to be a state trooper. (“I think he’s a little shocked at some of the everyday corruption,” Dillon notes.) Mike dreams of escape. His vision isn’t so clear, but he’s ready to bolt in the premiere episode until he gets pulled back into the lead McLusky role of “mayor.” Not the elected kind, mind you, but the guy people come to when they want to get things done without the fuss of legality and bureaucracy.
McLusky matriarch Mariam (Dianne Wiest), a college professor who teaches history at the women’s penitentiary, wants no part of what her sons are doing. In fact, she’s angry about it, because her husband invented this family business and was killed on the job.
“Her life has been one of pure and daily terror. She’s waiting every day for news that one of her boys has died,” says Wiest, who took the role partly because of her activism in prison justice. “Mike is her favorite. He has the biggest heart, biggest brain. Her other kids do it because it’s powerful. Mike is honestly trying to help.”
One of Mike’s generous acts makes for a riveting scene in Episode 2. He accompanies the family of a gang member convicted of murder to see him be put to death by lethal injection. Mike explains each step to the doomed man’s crying mother and sister, even telling them when to look away. Renner says the chillingly realistic sequence was tough to shoot. “It’s pretty harrowing just to be an actor on that set. I had to tell a lot of jokes, ’cause it’s heavy. There’s some scenes I’m so glad I’m not in—I didn’t want to watch all that. Brutal.”
The most brutal force Mike will face as mayor of Kingstown is Russian mobster Milo Sunter (Aidan Gillen, Game of Thrones), who is serving a life sentence in the supermax prison. The brothers have been hiding a large sum of cash for him, but due to some tragic twists, the money becomes irretrievable and Sunter loses someone he loves. “Milo is full of rage—he sends shivers down your spine,” Dillon says, adding, “He plays an incredibly long game.”
He wants Mike’s help getting what’s his, but Mike is only willing to go so far. From behind bars, Milo sends strawberry blonde sex worker Iris (Emma Laird)—a femme fatale he uses to compromise, and control, powerful people such as judges—to work her black lingerie magic on Mike. “It’s a chess tactic,” Renner notes.
A constant for Mike is philosophical Crips boss Bunny (Tobi Bamtefa), who deals drugs from the lawn of his apartment complex without fear of arrest. Renner found their friendship exciting to play, saying, “It’s the most civil relationship [Mike] has with anybody. It’s never safe, but they have similar outlooks, try to help and learn from each other. It runs deep.”
The two can also go from cracking beers to cocking guns at each other and back again. In Kingstown, Renner says, “Everyone is an antagonist.” But the McLusky family stays tight. “It’s why I’m attracted to this role. I come from a very strong family background—seven kids. I really love the strength of this family. But Mike also has a lot of mess to clean up.”
Mayor of Kingstown, Series Premiere, Sunday, November 14, Paramount+