*** This article contains minor spoilers for season one of “Mayor of Kingstown.” ***
When Hugh Dillon says “Mayor of Kingstown” is the “most dangerous show on television,” he may have a point.
The first season of the Paramount+ drama co-created by Dillon and “Yellowstone” mastermind Taylor Sheridan contained levels of brutality usually reserved for gore-fests such as “The Walking Dead.” Heads were routinely blown off, pain was inflicted in increasingly vicious ways, and the season-ending prison riot seemed almost tame in comparison to much of the savagery that preceded it.
While the show’s first season was filmed in Canada, its 10-episode sophomore outing was shot throughout Western Pennsylvania and is premiering its first episode Sunday. The Union Progress talked to Dillon about making a season of television in Pittsburgh, “Mayor of Kingstown” star Jeremy Renner’s status following a Jan. 1 snow-plowing accident, turning the Carrie Blast Furnaces into Tent City and more.
“When you see the show as a whole, it just has such a velocity and is so unpredictable,” Dillon said. “That’s what I love about Taylor writing this way. … I lived in the Strip District, and I don’t see it as that anymore. I see it as our world.”
“Mayor of Kingstown” follows Renner’s Mike McLusky, a local power broker desperately trying to keep the peace in the fictional town of Kingstown, Mich. The main source of income keeping Kingstown afloat is its prison industrial complex. The aforementioned prison riot left a power vacuum that, when season two picks up, has thrown the entire town into chaos and is threatening to claim even more innocent lives.
The show’s newest season was shot all over the Pittsburgh area last summer and fall. The Union Progress was given the first two episodes of “Mayor of Kingstown” season two, which features scenes that were clearly filmed on Lake Erie and outside the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office in the Strip District. The Carrie Blast Furnaces in Swissvale were transformed into a prison yard, and Dillon said to expect some “crazy, depraved s—” to happen inside the Strip District’s Cavo Night Club later in the season.
Dillon, who also plays Kingstown PD detective Ian Ferguson, moved to Pittsburgh in March, and production started soon after. “Mayor of Kingstown” required a ton of moving parts, including copious amounts of local extras and an adept crew that Dillon spent months assembling before the cameras started rolling.
“What we couldn’t predict was the weather,” Dillon said. “It was so brutally hot. But [Sheridan] has shot in Texas in the heat, so he was ready for everything.”
Fun fact: “Mayor of Kingstown” had been on Dillon’s mind for a decade before he and Sheridan finally got around to making it. He used to take acting lessons from Sheridan and kept bringing up prisons and his version of the “Kingstown” rogues gallery as he continued to act in Sheridan projects such as “Yellowstone” and the 2017 film “Wind River.”
He attributes a lot of how close both seasons one and two have come to his original vision to Sheridan’s guidance and steady hand.
“When I’m watching it, it’s hypnotic because it’s so explosive and is so unpredictable,” he said. “It’s a testament to his writing because it’s so … relentless that it becomes riveting.”
Before getting into the season itself, one can’t help but inquire about Renner’s condition. He has been posting semi-regular Instagram updates from a hospital bed, though Dillon said he heard from Renner a little more than 24 hours after the accident occurred on New Year’s Day.
“He’s like a brother, and he’s like family,” Dillon said. “I knew he was OK because his message was funny and profane. I’ve never been so relieved in my life. This guy’s unstoppable.”
So is Renner’s Mike McLusky, whose primary objective this season appears to be re-establishing enough order to satisfy both the presently incarcerated and those on the outside. The Union Progress can confirm that Dillon’s claim of the show’s “uncompromising, uncomfortable storytelling” style remaining intact for season two is 100% true, at least in the early goings. That said, he did reveal that this season will provide “a more intimate look at these characters” and clarify certain aspects of their behavior.
Dillon said that Pittsburgh was originally scouted for season one of “Mayor of Kingstown,” but a lot of filming ended up happening in his hometown of Kingston, Ontario, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything about their operation was “scaled up” once they moved the production to Pittsburgh.
Even before season two of “Mayor of Kingstown” begins rolling out on Paramount+, inquiring minds want to know: If it’s renewed for a third season, what are the odds it will come back to shoot in Western Pennsylvania?
“We are very hopeful for a ‘Mayor of Kingstown’ return to Pittsburgh,” said Pittsburgh Film Office director Dawn Keezer. “We had a great experience with season two and can’t wait to welcome them back to Pittsburgh for season three.”
Likewise, Dillon said that Pittsburgh is “the only place I ever want to make a TV show.” He and Sheridan have already mapped out enough of “Mayor of Kingstown” to sustain multiple seasons, and all it took was one round of filming here for him to feel like “Pittsburgh is now a character on the show.
“Depending on where we land when Jeremy’s back in the saddle, it’s the only place to make TV in the eastern part of America,” he said. “That crew is on fire, the people are great, those locations are spectacular. I just love the city.”