While some people may check out a new show because they are familiar with an actor, the creator, the source material or what have you, what often makes them love it is something entirely new that they discover along the way. With Mayor of Kingstown, people may be tuning in to see Hawkeye actor, Jeremy Renner in a dramatic role or acclaimed actor Dianne Wiest play in a Taylor Sheridan (Yellowstone) created-world, but it’s likely they’ll be staying to watch the likes of Tobi Bamtefa, Hugh Dillon and Emma Laird.
A Paramount Plus original series, Mayor of Kingstown tells the story of the McLusky family, power brokers in a Michigan town dominated by the business of incarceration and devastated by systemic racism, corruption and inequality. Bamtefa, Dillon and Laird play key supporting characters in Mayor of Kingstown that could very easily become fan favorites. The three actors took part in a press junket together where they discussed their characters and what makes them excited about Mayor of Kingstown.
Tobi Bamtefa plays the character Bunny in Mayor of Kingstown, a local drug dealer who is part of the network of contacts Jeremy Renner’s Mike McClusky uses to run his business both inside and outside the prison. Some may recognize U.K. actor Bamtefa, whose previous credits include roles on Tin Star, Feel Good, Berlin Station and episodes in season 1 of Netflix’s The Witcher. Bunny quickly makes his mark in the show, whether he is asking for a Slurpee (or whatever kind of cold beverage they got) or having a stirring heart-to-heart with Renner. But Bamtefa quickly identified something deeper in the scripts.
“The first time I read the script, what I particularly resonated with was the depth of humanity with each character and how that humanity plays out in the scenes that you then see on the page,” he said. “You see the emotional strength it takes to first of all create something like this and also be able to tell it in a way that isn’t contrived … it’s not telling you this is the right way to be or something, it’s not judgemental. It’s more like these are human beings, this is what’s happening in where they live. Obviously there are solutions to that, but in the meantime, before the solutions arrive, this is how it’s going to play out.”
He also sees a lot of that depth in the relationship between his character and Renner’s.
“The relationship between the two of them, Bunny and the Mayor of Kingstown, I would say it’s one of tenuous trust coated in respect. Because for you to do what them two are doing, man you have to have some stones on you, and Bunny understands that.”
We see a lot of Bamtefa’s Bunny in the first couple of episodes, but conversely we see very little of Emma Laird’s Iris, initially. It wasn’t any different for Laird when she was first given the scripts.
“I got sent the pilot and episode 2, and I’m in one scene in episode 2 and I had just a brief character description,” Laird said.
Though Mayor of Kingstown is Laird’s first TV series, she had a handful of other options on her plate at the time. So what convinced her to drop those options and fly to Texas in the middle of the historic February 2021 winter storm to audition when she had so little information to off of?
“Once I got on the phone with Sheridan he told me the arc and then it really became this realization that none of the other roles that I was … [with none of them] would I be able to express myself and showcase what I can do as an actor for my first time on set,” she said. “It’s got everything that a show should have. There’s heart and there’s the drama, but there’s authenticity and the stories are not glamorized but they need to be told. It was the writing, it really was the writing for me.”
While Sheridan is the big writer/creator attached to the series, Hugh Dillon is the co-creator and the story comes as much from Dillon as anyone. Dillon has known Taylor Sheridan for 20 or so years (Sheridan was his acting coach for a time) and also has had a role in Yellowstone, so Mayor of Kingstown came about from the conversations that they have had over the years and always been something that they were interested in telling.
One reason it was always a point of interest for Dillon is that he grew up in a town that had nine prisons. When he was young, about 5 or 6, he thought the towers at these prisons were Disneyland — before his parents told him otherwise.
“My mom was a teacher, my friends’ parents were prison guards and inmates. It was just where I was from and I’ve always been fascinated with this unseen prison complex,” Dillon explained. “It’s a world unto itself, and how we treat those inmates and those people and how that bleeds into a town that is housing them, I had just never seen it before.”
Mayor of Kingstown debuts on Paramount Plus on Nov. 14 (the first two episodes will also air 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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