Dianne Wiest probably doesn’t believe that her Mayor of Kingstown character, Mariam McLusky, will be getting any “world’s best mom” awards. In fact, as Mayor of Kingstown, the Paramount Plus original series that debuts on Nov. 14, begins, her character Mariam wants practically nothing to do with two-thirds of her children.
Mayor of Kingstown was co-created by Taylor Sheridan and Hugh Dillon and has been billed as a companion series to the hit cable show Yellowstone that Sheridan created. Kingstown focuses on the McLusky family, who are power brokers in their Michigan town where the business of incarceration is the only thriving industry. The show is said to dive into themes of systemic racism, corruption and inequality as the McLuskys attempt to bring order and justice to a town that has neither.
The McLusky family dynamics is right up there with the show’s social issues for intrigue. Wiest explained one example of that in a press junket — how Mariam is different from some of the mother characters that she has played throughout her career, most notably in films like Edward Scissorhands and The Birdcage and the TV show Life in Pieces.
“I really think she [Mariam] doesn’t want to have anything to do with family,” Wiest said. “If she could just be free and teach, she’d been very happy. Because all they have brought her is pain and death, that’s all. And her three boys are still doing that, bringing her nothing but pain and death.”
In the first scene with Mariam, we see what Wiest describes in action. Mariam is teaching a group of female prisoners and at the end of the class she is approached by one of the girls who mentions something about her lesson. It is clear to see Wiest’s joy as she believes her lesson made an impact, but it quickly fades when the prisoner asks if Mariam can get her in touch with her sons for help. She sternly tells the girl to never mention her sons (played by Jeremy Renner, Kyle Chandler and Taylor Handley) to her again.
This animosity comes from the fact that her two eldest sons (Renner’s Mike and Chandler’s Mitch) are in the business that her husband began — working both sides of the prison industry — and which was chiefly responsible for his death. She believes that there is nothing that she can do to help Mike and Mitch at this point.
“So it’s really just waiting for the knock on the door; and that’s how she has to spend her days,” Wiest said. “And that brings out so much ... almost bitter disappointment in her boys, you know?”
“Family is just so painful and sort of to be kept away from,” Wiest added. “Although she is constantly yelling at her poor kids to leave town. It reminds me of the Three Sisters [a play by Anton Chekov] — go to Moscow, go to Moscow, go to Moscow. And she’s sitting right there too, she never goes to Moscow. I’m as guilty as anyone else for not leaving. Maybe if I had left, taken the boys when they were a little younger, they would have had a chance, but I didn’t go.”
The one son that Mariam has any hope for is Kyle, played by Taylor Handley, who also participated in the press junket with Wiest. Kyle is the youngest of the three brothers and is not directly working with Mike or Mitch, instead working as a police officer, though he does still interact with their business from time to time. Handley emphasized the idea that Wiest touched on about why it’s difficult for the McLusky’s to leave Kingstown.
“Kyle is married and wants to start a family, and basically everything that this town has done to this family has ended in tragedy or a lot of conflict surrounding everyone,” Handley said. “So Kyle is presented with the question and the opportunity to possibly make a change. But, you know, leaving the only town and leaving the family that you’ve ever known is not as easy as it seems, no matter what is going on, no matter how crazy things get. So he’s really conflicted throughout the season whether he’s going to stay and continue or whether he’s going to leave.”
However, he was keen to stress that the dynamic between him and Wiest, as actors, was nothing like the relationship that their family has.
“[W]orking with Dianne was like a breath of fresh air,” he said. “She is such an amazing, giving actor and I feel as if we just fell into the mother and son relationship very naturally. It was just so amazing to get to play in the sandbox with her. Again, what she gives as an artist, as a person, it’s hard not to pick up and get on her same wavelength.”
In addition to Wiest and Handley, Mayor of Kingstown stars Jeremy Renner, Kyle Chandler, Hugh Dillon, Emma Laird, Tobi Bamtefa and Aidan Gillen. All episodes will stream on Paramount Plus (the first two will also simulcast on Paramount Network).
Michael Balderston is a D.C.-based entertainment writer and content producer for What to Watch. He previously has written for TV Technology and Awards Circuit.
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