From the moment Tobi Bamtefa stepped into the skin of Bunny in the dramatic prison thriller Mayor of Kingstown, he knew there was something deeper to explore, and he wanted to get to the meat and bones of it.
Now in Season 2, Mayor of Kingstown, from Paramount+, follows the McLusky family, power brokers in Kingstown, Michigan, where the business of incarceration is the only thriving industry.
Tackling themes of systemic racism, corruption, and inequality, the series provides a stark look at their attempt to bring order and justice to a town that has neither. The riveting series is from Academy Award nominee Taylor Sheridan and Hugh Dillon. The Mayor of Kingstown stars Jeremy Renner, and Dianne Weist.
This is a crime drama that takes a hard look at many of the contemporary issues with incarceration. Many of the storylines, which focus on power, corruption, the prison system, and fragile relationships, appear to be pulled from the nightly news.
Bamtefa’s character of Bunny is a local drug dealer who is part of the network of contacts that Jeremy Renn’er’s Mike McClusky uses to run the business — inside and outside the prison. Bamtefa is best known for his roles on Tin Star, Feel Good, Berlin Station, and episodes of Netflix’s The Witcher.
“I have an affinity for really good human characters. Characters that make you think, characters that aren’t as they seem,” Bamtefa exclusively told Monsters & Critics.com. This is because there’s usually something deeper under there. It’s the story within the story. That’s what I’m drawn to. I felt that with the character I’m playing on the show.”
Read on about Tobi Bamtefa’s appreciation for his complicated character, how he separates his work and home lives, and his admiration for co-star Jeremy Renner, who is recovering from a serious snowplow accident.
Monsters and Critics: Who is Bunny in your mind? How do you relate to him?
Tobi Bamtefa: Bunny is somebody who carries a lot of responsibility on his head. Also, he lives in an environment in which he has to survive. But in order for him to survive he uses humor as one of the tools. Humor allows him to take the edge off this very harsh environment he lives in, but it also allows him to observe a certain distance with the people he interacts with. That’s who he is. He’s a fun guy.
M&C: What is it like to do some of your own stunts? What do you enjoy about it?
Tobi Bamtefa: I do my own stunts but I have to put a little disclaimer on it because there are also sometimes when there are some things I just can’t do. For timing and also for just my own exertion, I have to kind of give way to the proper professionals. I love every aspect of building a character, so I try to do as much as I physically can; especially when it comes to stunts.
I do that with the utmost respect for the stunt crew because those guys they are absolutely fantastic at what they do. I basically just follow their lead. I’m a student of the intricate process that is involved.
M&C: How difficult is it after a very tough day or tough week of shooting very intense scenes to just go home and put it all behind you? Does it stay with you?
Tobi Bamtefa: In the past, it would. In the past, when I’ve played a particularly chaotic character, I’ve often found it difficult to relinquish, just to leave that character behind, and it sort of bled into my personal life. I’ve had to cultivate a habit and a culture in my household of just being able to decompress and leave the character outside so it doesn’t bleed into my personal life.
I focus on making sure that my life carries on as it was before. It’s healthier. It means that with those boundaries in place. I can live my life as myself and not walk around the streets of London (near his home) as some American drug dealer. It’s gotten easier over time.
M&C: When you read the newspaper or however you get your news, do you sometimes see parallels to rip from the headlines to your series?
Tobi Bamtefa: Yes, 100 percent. I see it globally. Corruption is a global phenomenon. So long as human beings struggle with greed and selfish interests you will always have that. It doesn’t really matter where or what country or even what language or even religion you believe in, as long as you act in self-interest the consequence of that will always be corruption and everything else that comes with that.
The parallels, I don’t need to connect, it’s all there the parallels are. It’s obvious to see. There are issues in America that we face over here in the UK that we can relate to. There are also issues in America and the UK that are also very prevalent in Nigeria and vice versa. So, it’s all connected.
M&C: How quickly do you feel that you and Jeremy Renner and Kyle Chandler and the other actors, how quickly did you bond, and how did you bond? Did you guys go out and listen to music? Were there things on the set or off the set that kind of got you together?
Tobi Bamtefa: Yes, everyone’s just generally quite happy to be there and to be in that environment and stuff. We’re all happy to be there because we all share a very immense appreciation for not only the opportunity of being on the set of this production but also, we all share an appreciation for the craft of storytelling. All of us. Being around your colleagues like that, and your colleagues turned friends, it becomes like a very euphoric environment where we’re all in the middle of our passions. It’s a career that we’re very passionate about and discussing things that we, again, are also very passionate about.
We’re just a very passionate group of people who just like having a lot of fun. We enjoy the craft, which is the most important part. We enjoy the craft of acting and storytelling. It’s beautiful to be around. It’s inspiring.
M&C: You’ve been in this business a while. What do you think that you’ve learned about yourself personally and as an actor from this particular series?
Tobi Bamtefa: I’ve learned that I cannot and I shouldn’t try to be like anybody else. I’ve learned that I have to find and I’m capable of finding my own way of understanding what is before me. I’m capable of that.
As long as I keep that spirit of understanding, I think I’ll be okay. As long as I’m not trying to screw somebody over or something like that, or as long as I lead with kindness, also kindness being paramount, I’ve learned that I’ll be okay. I will always understand if I lead with those things, so I pride myself on that. That’s what I’ve learned.
M&C: Have you spoken or texted Jeremy Renner since his recent accident in which he suffered serious injuries after being crushed by a snowplow?
Tobi Bamtefa: Well, to be honest with you, we’re all just trying to focus on his recovery. It seems quite harrowing. As you know, everybody is worried about him because he’s a very well-loved individual.
He’s a very well-loved and very talented person. We really, really, really just put all of our energies into making sure that he heals up and he’s okay because that kind of trauma takes a toll. It can take a toll on somebody. So, yes, we are just focused on that.
M&C: Why do you want my readers to start watching Season 2 if they’ve already seen Season 1, and if they haven’t seen any of the series to go back from the beginning and become devotees?
Tobi Bamtefa: Well, if you like human stories, then this is a very human story. It’s intense, it’s relentless, and it keeps going. But it is also with the understanding and sensitivity that this kind of world actually exists. There are prison towns and there are places like this in which that culture is prevalent. It allows us to understand each other and also allows us to understand ourselves; albeit in very extreme circumstances. But, as I said, these things exist. Watch it, even just for that, and you’ll be blown away.
Season 2 of Mayor Kingstown airs on Sundays on Paramount+.