Like any prison break, Mayor of Kingstown co-creator Hugh Dillon just wanted his story to find a way out. Conceived years ago by Dillon (Wind River) and writer Taylor Sheridan (Yellowstone), the crime drama was once just an idea in Dillon's head. Then, in just a single day, the first script rocketed out of Sheridan's hands. "He's a force of nature," Dillion tells me of Sheridan, who helped him get his vision to the small screen. "I knew that there was a longform story there. I just didn't know how to get it there. And I knew that Taylor could do it."
Mayor of Kingstown—a prison thriller based on Dillon's experiences growing up near the Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario, Canada—premiered on Paramount+ in November 2021. The series stars Jeremy Renner as Mike McLusky, a power broker known as the "Mayor," who works as a middle-man between cops and prisoners. Throughout the first season, he facilitates a few tense situations (read: transferring prisoners and smuggling drugs), hoping to keep everyone happy and the death count low. Naturally, things don't always go as smoothly as planned. After a violent prison riot in season finale, Mike and the cast of Kingstown are left to deal with loss, hopelessness, and as co-creator Hugh Dillon put it, "chaos." With Season Two of Mayor of Kingstown set to hit Paramount+ on January 15, Dillion teases the road ahead—along with providing exclusive first images from the new episodes.
"That was just the tip of the iceberg," Dillon says of what's in store for Season Two, teasing a scene in the first episode that he believes is "the best thing that I've ever read or acted in, in my career." Along with serving as Mayor of Kingstown's co-creator, Dillon plays Detective Ian Ferguson in the series, a hard-nosed lawman and reckless justice-seeker. Of course, he's subject to a hefty amount of Mike's criminal work that he really shouldn't be present for as an honest man of the law. "Wait till you see [the scene]," Dillon continues, trying with every fiber of his being not to give too much away. "Just some stellar, stellar stuff. As I'm talking to you, my mind's going back through the episodes and smiling."
Working on Mayor of Kingstown is a dream come true for Dillon, who filmed the prison thriller on the same streets (and inside the same massive incarceration complex) that he drives by every day. "We brought $2 million into the market and had jobs for a bunch of people that I had grown up with," he says, proudly. "That's where I came from. To have that dream in my mind from such a young age, and to have accomplished it, [I felt] profound satisfaction and gratitude."
Season Two is, of course, a "different beast," Dillon adds, now that the show is ready to elevate what it built for its characters in the first go-round. He hopes that the series is able to "lift the lid off a little bit" now, exploring "how people function and cope and deal with such horrific circumstances." Aside from Mike's day-to-day drama, he has a brother, Kyle (Taylor Handley), who spends just about every episode trying to not get murdered before his son is born. He plays Dillon's partner on the force, though after the devastating prison riot, he's hoping that his transfer to the state police comes in any day now. On the other side of the law, there's Bunny (Tobi Bamtefa), the leader of the Kingstown Crips. There's also Milo (Aidan Gillen), a Russian mobster planning something behind the scenes, and Iris (Emma Laird), an escort who finds an improbable connection with Mike.
Though Mayor of Kingstown is obviously dramatized, there's a "darkness there that is authentic," Dillon explains. "Where I grew up, one [penitentiary] was a dumping ground for bad guards. They even had to close another because of the bullshit that was going on there." In Mayor of Kingstown, the prisoners take pride on the fact that more drugs run through the prisons than in the outside world. It's an exploitative system rigged to blow—and the season finale saw exactly that. Renner's Mayor will have to explore the fallout of the prison riot massacre, as he'll try once again in Season Two to navigate the needs of both the police and the criminals behind bars.
"He just has an incredible skillset, a sense of humor and integrity and he does the fucking work. He's there every fucking day," Dillon says of working with Renner. "It can be a grind, but he's there every day. You like going to work because of that dude." It's a damn good attitude to have, especially when Mayor of Kingstown depicts criminal executions, prison guard assassinations, and the horrors of sex trafficking. Dark stuff. "With this kind of material, you've got to have a guy who's actually funny and upbeat," Dillon explains. "Even for myself, I had worked at a hospital for six short weeks in the '80s. I learned from those surgeons and the doctors and nurses that you have to have a sense of humor. That's how you survive. Even when we're shooting the show, you have to find the humor in it and the excitement in the work, because so much of the material can be dark."
Dillon pauses when I ask what he hopes audiences will walk away with after watching Mayor of Kingstown's second season. "I thought we're wrapping it up and we're good, and then fucking Josh hits you with the big one," he jokes. "It comes down to corruption and really shining a light on it. It's always shocking to see how brutal life can be."
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