“American Rust” has already experienced just about every up and down a show can face before even starting production on season two.
The television adaptation of Philipp Meyer’s 2009 novel of the same name had filming of its first season delayed by about a year due to COVID-19. Its first season finally landed on Showtime in September 2021. The premium cable network canceled “American Rust” in January, and it languished in development purgatory before it was announced in June that the streaming service Amazon Freevee had picked it up for another season.
Production on “American Rust” season two is set to begin in Western Pennsylvania the last week of November and continue through May. Most of season one’s principal cast — including Jeff Daniels as Del Harris and Maura Tierney as Grace Poe — will be back, which is good news for anyone afraid that the multiple game-changing cliffhangers from the season one finale would be left unexplored.
“We’re excited to welcome them back for season two,” said Pittsburgh Film Office Director Dawn Keezer. “It’s always great to have return clients. This show is wonderful, and it’s going to put hundreds of people back to work. We’re excited to have them back, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.”
Season one got through just about the entirety of Meyer’s novel, which means season two of “American Rust” will be venturing into totally uncharted territory for the residents of the fictitious Buell, Pa. The Pittsburgh Union Progress recently had the opportunity to chat with showrunner Adam Rapp about this show’s wild journey, its plans for the new season and what to expect as filming ramps up around the region.
“It’s like a whole Rubik’s Cube of scheduling and getting all our actors in line in the right time,” Rapp said. “It’s a giant puzzle that I’m excited to be a part of. We’re really committed to keeping it a Pittsburgh-specific show so we can show all the character of the city.”
Rapp was an executive producer, writer and co-showrunner on season one of “American Rust.” Season one co-showrunner Dan Futterman is now only serving as an executive producer, leaving Rapp in charge of the show’s sophomore outing.
“All of us who work on ‘American Rust’ are hugely grateful to Freevee for their deep enthusiasm for our show and their desire to give us a home for season two,” Futterman said in statement to the Union Progress. “Philipp Meyer provided an incredible bedrock of character and story for season one with his beautiful novel. We continue this season with an entirely new story for [Del] Harris and Grace and the rest of the characters who live in Buell, Pa.”
During season one, Rapp was mostly performing creatively minded tasks such as working with the directors and writers, hiring actors and approving sets. Now, he’s dealing with that side of things plus added responsibilities such as having to pay closer attention to budget lines and collaborating more closely with the show’s line producer. He said getting into the nitty gritty of television production has been a “good sort of reminder of the entire machine.”
Although he’s worked on shows that have been canceled before, this is Rapp’s first experience with anything that’s been resurrected post-cancellation. He’s appreciative of the opportunity, of course, for the sake of continuing the story. Rapp said it’s been fun to “extrapolate beyond what Philipp had written” and craft a season of television where “we’re just off and running” as opposed to constantly setting up characters and storylines.
The Joliet, Ill., native said that the “American Rust” team was asked to scout a Canadian town as a potential shooting location for season one. Rapp, who had been to Pittsburgh before as a playwright working with City Theatre, felt that place didn’t have the “industrial eccentricities” that define much of Western Pennsylvania’s aesthetic.
“I just love that you can point the camera anywhere and see history, bridges, real rivers, valleys, bluffs and homes,” he said. “It’s real America. It’s not some studio lot or CGI’d. … It’s really exciting to capture.”
Season two of “American Rust” is aiming to have “a tighter pace” than its predecessor and is taking some tonal and character-building cues from the Oscar-winning Coen brothers film “No Country for Old Men,” according to Rapp. There will be some new faces entering the fray as fresh challenges are presented for returning players such as Del, Grace, Billy Poe (Alex Neustaedter), Virgil Poe (Mark Pelligrino), Isaac English (David Alvarez) and Lee English (Julia Mayorga).
Most of season one was set on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, with Buell itself cobbled together from shoots that took place in areas such as Braddock, Donora, Rankin, McKeesport, Ambridge and Clairton. Rapp confirmed that many of those locales will continue to be used and teased that Grace’s storyline “will bring her to other places beyond Buell.” He also said that there will be significantly more scenes filmed in the Pittsburgh city limits this time around.
One new wrinkle to season two’s narrative will be how it touches on the issue of fracking in Western Pennsylvania. Characters will delve into the complexities surrounding fracking’s economic and environmental impacts on the region, Rapp said.
“We’re not interested in creating a one-sided story about that,” he continued. “We’re interested in the full debate about that, and I’m excited to get that dramatized.”
Now that filming on “American Rust” season two is officially on the horizon, the production is once again looking to cast local extras as everything from police officers to lawyers to “skilled labor types.” Rapp said there wasn’t “a bad apple in the bunch” of Western Pennsylvania-based actors who worked on season one and praised them for bringing “so much authenticity” to the show. He also shouted out Angela Vesco, a veteran costume designer with a ton of credits on Pittsburgh-shot Hollywood projects who will be working her magic on season two of “American Rust.”
Rapp is fully prepared for the hurdles filming anything during a Pittsburgh winter is sure to bring. Even the prospect of having to schedule around cold temperatures and early sunsets can’t dampen his enthusiasm for getting started on another season of “American Rust.”
“We have so much more in store for season two in terms of a thriller plot line and just our characters being twisted into knots,” he said. “It’s going to be fun to show all of that going down in and around Pittsburgh.”