jeremy renner
John Russo
jeremy renner

Renner as Mike McLusky in Mayor of Kingstown

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Fill 1
May 29, 2024

The Tenacity and Triumph of Jeremy Renner

The actor on his return to Mayor of Kingstown after surviving a near-fatal accident. 

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.

As Jeremy Renner lay in the Intensive Care Unit of the Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada, on January 15, 2023, he put all his mental and physical energy into achieving the most basic human function: proper breathing. Maybe he'd get out of bed and walk around, too? A small step, he reasoned, would be a major accomplishment considering that he'd been run over by a 14,300-pound snowplow near his home exactly two weeks earlier.

The accident left him critically injured, with 38 broken bones, including an eye socket and a shattered ribcage. But Renner was determined to recover, largely for his young daughter, Ava. "I had certain milestones that I tried to create and hit for myself," he recalls. "Mainly because I wanted to relieve my daughter's fears that her dad wasn't going to be a dad anymore."

That day was also significant for Renner because of a different sort of milestone. After a successful first season, the gritty drama Mayor of Kingstown was premiering another go-round on Paramount+. He stars as the power broker of the titular crime-ridden, blue-collar Michigan city. But the notion of ever being in front of a camera again, let alone acting in a demanding series from super-producer and cocreator Taylor Sheridan (Yellowstone, 1883), seemed like an absurd impossibility.

"It wasn't until the summer that my recovery wasn't a 24-hour situation," he says. "Even then, the idea of doing fiction was so far away. I had to live my life in reality — the reality of what my life is and where I wanted it to be."

That unknown destination turned out to be a familiar — and surprising — one.

Renner has returned to Mayor of Kingstown for a fresh batch of episodes, and his Mike McLusky character remains as haunted and morally conflicted as ever. Season three finds the reluctant leader mourning the death of his cherished mother (Dianne Wiest) and welcoming a baby nephew. He's also still trying to smooth over all the gang warfare inside the local prison system. Inmate Bunny (Tobi Bamtefa) remains an ally, as does Iris (Emma Laird), a smooth-talking former escort for the Russian mob.

In other words, McLusky hasn't exactly decided to loaf on the sofa and text his pals for updates. And anyone who watches the ruggedly handsome two-time Oscar nominee and Marvel superhero in action would be hard pressed to detect any signs of his off-camera trauma. "The action stuff is still there, and he really hasn't missed a beat," says showrunner and executive producer Dave Erickson. "The recovery was a lot quicker than anybody anticipated."

But it didn't come easily. By all accounts, the actor's journey back to Kingstown was nothing short of miraculous — and a testament to both his relentless work ethic and the loved ones supporting him. "I'm in awe of what he has overcome," Sheridan says. "Jeremy's commitment to his recovery is identical to his commitment to creating a character, which is to say, complete immersion. The distinction is, there is no requirement to overcome debilitating pain while creating a character."

And on days when Renner had to shoot outside in wintry Pittsburgh and walk around in dress shoes on icy pavement, he couldn't believe how far he'd come. "I just focused on doing one thing at a time," he says. "But yeah, man, I'm really happy and really blessed."

Renner is talking on the phone from his place in Pittsburgh, where he still has a month of shooting on the schedule. And though it’s a Friday afternoon at the tail end of a long week, he speaks with exuberance and palpable pride. “You’re talking to a guy who’s much stronger and contributes a lot more than when I first started this season,” he says.

But the drive was always there. Hugh Dillon, the Kingstown cocreator and executive producer who plays hard-nosed detective Ian Ferguson, remembers visiting the star at home shortly after his hospital stay. “He was not in great shape, but he was determined to come back,” he says. “He has such a piss-and-vinegar sense of humor that I just knew he was going to make it. I never doubted it for a second.”

Within weeks of that visit, Sheridan called Dillon on a Sunday with plans for season three. “The phone rings while I’m taking out the garbage, and Taylor’s like, ‘Okay, here’s what we’re doing,’” Dillon recalls. “We decided to rally and make this something Jeremy could step into effortlessly when he was ready. There was never a question of if — it was when.”

The writers started tentatively mapping out the season while Renner worked on his recovery. “Dave and our director Christoph [Schrewe] and I would go see him, and he was getting incrementally better,” Dillon says. They found strength in the visits and in talking to his mother, Valerie Cearley. “I saw his mom’s concern, but I assured her that we weren’t doing this tomorrow.”

Renner, however, wasn’t totally convinced. “Even if I were physically ready, my attitude was, ‘This is all bullshit,’” he says. “It made no sense to go back. I didn’t see the value in it.” The dual Hollywood labor strikes of 2023 bought him some time, albeit under unfortunate circumstances. “It allowed me to be able to see myself step into that world again,” he says. And by the end of the year, he was readying himself to slip back into McLusky’s suits and ties.

In the days leading up to his January cross-country flight to Pennsylvania, Renner felt a wave of jittery emotions. “My recovery was like one long Christmas vacation, because we spent so much time together as a family,” he says. “And now I wasn’t going to see them for a while. It was really nerve-wracking for me.” Even Erickson admits to having felt some uncertainty when his leading man reported for work, noting, “There was some anticipation and questions about how things were going to be when he returned to the set.”

No doubt the impromptu standing ovation that greeted him helped alleviate some of the agita. So did filming a scene in the first episode in which an incensed Mike grabs a pair of brass knuckles from Ian and slugs a few of the bad guys in the chilly rain. Renner boasts that his stunt double — waiting on standby — wasn’t needed. “I think my instincts kicked in, and my body was able to support it,” he says. “It was pretty encouraging for everybody and gave me a lot of confidence as a man and as a performer.”

For Dillon, the breakthrough moment happened after filming a scene set in a diner. He still gets chills thinking about it: "I was walking out behind him, and I saw that swagger. You can even see it in the episode. I don't even have the words for it." Laird agrees: "Jeremy has this Mike McLusky walk. When you see it, it's like, 'Oh, he's back. He's fine.' ... I mean, he's obviously still doing his exercises and recovering."

The actress, in fact, shares that she's still shaken by the memory of visiting Renner — "one of my best friends" — in the hospital on his birthday last year and seeing his fragile condition. "He grabbed my hand, and all these wires and needles were coming out of his arm," she says. "I was petrified. I think the saving grace was his mentality." She remains in awe of that mindset: "It's phenomenal to see the work he's putting into the show and making it look so effortless, because he's still got a long way to go in his recovery."

She notes that's why the production this season was more "collaborative" in nature. "He is number one on the call sheet, but we were all working together so he wasn't carrying so much on his shoulders," Laird explains. "We didn't want him to feel like he had this responsibility of being number one." He's a low-key topliner, anyway. Laird adds, "He's too stubborn to be seen as a star, in the most beautiful way ever. He's just Jeremy Renner through and through."

To read the rest of the story, pick up a copy of emmy magazine here.

This article originally appeared in its entirety in emmy magazine, issue #7, 2024, under the title "Tragedy, Tenacity and Triumph."

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