Emma Laird on Iris and Mike McLusky Relationship 5

[This story contains spoilers from episode five of season three of Mayor of Kingstown.]

When watching the Taylor Sheridan and Hugh Dillon co-created series Mayor of Kingstown on Paramount+, viewers see each week that life is tough for the residents in Kingstown.

But for some characters of the show about a fictional prison-industry town and its peacemaker-fixer Mike McLusky (Jeremy Renner), the cruelties of the world seem to fall like a sledgehammer in a city full of cell blocks, street gangs and the Russian mob. And one such character is young strawberry blonde escort from New York City named Iris, played by English actor and former model Emma Laird.

Mayor of Kingstown viewers met Iris back in season one. Described as a woman so beautiful that she could seduce and hypnotize men, the Russian mob top leader at the time, Milo (Aidan Gillen), summoned for Iris to leave New York and come to Kingstown to seduce (and control) McLusky. Clearly attracted to her, McLusky refused to use Iris, but instead tried to get her leave Kingstown for her own safety, letting her know nothing good would come to her if she stayed in the city.

Her boss, Milo, who was incarcerated at the time that he summoned Iris to Kingstown, saw her mission as a failure, and subsequently unleashed one abusive horror after another on her throughout seasons one and two (from having henchmen beat her and break her bones, to eventually sex-trafficking her to a gang of white supremacist gang members who brutally raped and drugged her). Milo did these things to Iris after finding out one of McLusky’s main weaknesses: someone caring about “broken angels.”

Eventually, McLusky would find out about the horrors Iris was being subjected to (in one episode in season one, Milo’s men took her from the safety of McLusky’s office with the help of a rogue FBI agent). He would go on to rescue her, kill the people who were cruel to her and give her sanctuary, first in his cabin in the woods and then with his family at his mother’s house. And not once did Mike try to make any sexual advances toward Iris, but the love that they have for each other seemed to fill the air in some of the rarer, tender scenes on the show.

But at the end of season two, McLusky and Iris worked together with police detective Ian Ferguson (played by co-creator Dillon) and were able to kill Milo and his men after the mob boss escaped prison during a riot. And all seemed as peaceful as things could get in Kingstown in season three, until a new Russian mob boss named Konstantin (Yorick van Wageningen) moved his operations into town to takeover where Milo left off.

Konstantin wasted no time trying to kill McLusky in season three, which he quickly found out was a big mistake. But in episode five, audience members shockingly learn that Iris has deeper and closer ties with the new mob boss than she did with Milo.

Iris goes to visit Konstantin at the bar/club Milo used to run and tells Konstantin she heard he was here and that Milo was gone, so she came back. Apparently, she had a good relationship with him as her boss in New York. “Milo wasted you, like he wasted this place. Why did you ever come here?” Konstantin asks. Iris tells him that Milo called for her and no one stopped it. Konstantin says he would have stopped it.

“When you walk into a room, you pierce the soul of any man, lay bare his sorrows, and that cannot be taught. It’s a gift that you earn through pain. And it’s that enchanting anguish in this lie of a life that gives you power,” Konstantin tells Iris.

She cries and says to him, “That’s why you named me Iris.” He was her main mentor, as it turns out. But is there more than meets the eye?

The Hollywood Reporter recently caught up with Laird about playing such a challenging and complex role for over three seasons on Mayor of Kingstown. She talks about the toll of playing Iris and what type of love she feels between her character and Mike McLusky.

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This is a very challenging role. Iris has been through a lot over three seasons. Why did you decide to take on this role, and how do you prepare to portray Iris?

I originally took it because, I mean, season one was just so shocking. The stuff that she goes through and this whole journey that she went through, and the backstory and the detail of the character was not something I had. I was really very, very lucky to have three other offers at the same time. And, no disrespect to the other shows, but nothing compared to what Taylor [Sheridan] had written in that character. I was really terrified, and I had no idea how I was going to do it. I don’t know what it was, it’s just a gut feeling, I think, sometimes as an actor, and I took it.

And because it was my first job, I think I spent three months preparing and researching the shit out of it. I don’t think the writers even realized what I decided my character went through. I was like “Oh! Iris had been trafficked!” And it was my coach who actually pointed it out, and then we went down a whole rabbit hole. I tried to do everything to be the best actor I could because I didn’t go to film school; so, I was walking around my apartment in Toronto pretending to be a cat to gain the role of Iris. (Laughs) And I worked with my dialect coach and came up with and auditioned with an accent for no reason whatsoever. Taylor was like “Yeah, do that if you want.” Then I had to perfect that.

But then, coming back for the other seasons, I honestly feel like I fell into the danger of laziness, because I’d already prepped all of this in season one. So, when I went back in season two, I really hate what I did. I felt like I had all this preparation in the back of my head, and I didn’t really know how to come back to a character. And that was just me having that experience for the first time, and I thought my work was very dull. But this season, I feel a little bit happier with it. I started to get into coaching again with a new coach, and he brought life back into Iris for me, from episode four onwards.

Honestly, what I learned was to have time off and enjoy my own personal life. Necause season one, I thought the way to prepare for a role like this was to be the character, and be depressed and be sad and be in this world. And I actually realized that the healthiest thing you could do as an actor is to have a healthy mindset so you want show up to work, and you have the energy instead of being sleep deprived and muted. It doesn’t bode well for an actor.

So, had you also developed your own rituals to detox from the role?

Yeah, definitely! I would hike a lot, I would go swimming and visit waterfalls, and I would have a pool that I would cold plunge into every morning. I would journal and I started rock climbing. I started to try and enjoy my own personal life so that I was energized and happy going to set. Because when you’re not happy, you can’t show up at and be invested in the show. And ask questions and be enthusiastic. I think it is really important to take care of yourself, so, I started to do that this season midway through.

Going into episode five, we find that that Konstantin had more of a connection and personal relationship with Iris than Milo did. In fact, Konstantin gave Iris her name. Was that huge for you to learn?

Reading that script, I was like, “Oh yeah, you’re right, that is probably not her name!” We have never spoken about that before! This is the great thing about this show — you get a new episode and you read it a couple of weeks before you shoot it, and then you’re like, “Oh, my character is not who I thought I’ve been playing for three years.” So, that was a great new thing to discover and work on. But I think what made it fun to work on this season was that I was constantly learning about Iris, and so I had to really put in work to develop her more, which is not really what I did in season two. But listening to that whole monologue that Konstantin gave was a great acting lesson for me. You just sit and listen, and you let the words affect you. And I was so moved. I was like, “Who in the hell knows who Iris is?” (Laughs)

Why didn’t she leave Kingstown like Mike expected her to, and possibly wanted her to do? She certainly had the opportunity to go somewhere else and start a new life. Did she think she could help Mike if she stayed? And why did she leave the McLusky’s family home? Was she bored or felt out-of-place in the family house with Mike’s brother and wife (who just had a newborn baby boy)?

I honestly think it is both. You see that she’s so out of place in this household. She has tried to have some kind of relationship with Mike, and she’s been rejected. She sees this family unit and she feels outside. She’s trying her best to help out around the house and it’s just like she’s a square peg in a round hole. But then, I also think there is some genuine want for help and protection of Mike. I think she really, really loves him and she wants to prove herself, and she’s really trying to make a life for herself after all of this trauma. And I think when she sees the picture of Konstantin in the previous episode, she knows that she can play him.

But it’s also a bit like Stockholm Syndrome. I think she’s going back to what she knows. And that is what she did in season two — she goes back to this strip club, she goes back to being a sex worker because, unfortunately, it’s all she knows and she sees no other path for herself. So, I think it’s very layered for the reasons why she went back, but I would like to think that she did it for Mike. And she is trying to prove herself to Mike, because I do think she loves him.

I was wondering if perhaps Detective Ian Ferguson (actor and show co-creator Hugh Dillon) was making her stay because of what he’s seen in those police files that Iris doesn’t want Mike to know about.

(Laughs) I mean who knows! Me and Hugh Dillon came up with a really cool backstory for what was in those files, and the stakes had to be pretty high. But on a side note, I also just love Ian and Mike’s little camaraderie. Their little friendship they have in this season is so hilarious, they’re just jabbing at each other in this scene in the car in this episode, and it’s a really funny lightness to the show you really do need. And I think we’ve got it this season, with all these little moments.

What is it like working with Yorick van Wageningen, who plays the new Russian mob boss Konstantin?

Amazing! It worked out so well, because the script alludes to it, but I certainly thought this in my preparation and liked the idea that her and Konstantin really had a special beautiful relationship. And I think that’s also important to show how he controls her and he owns her, and he does a really fucked up job of recruiting these young girls, but let’s do it in a really nuanced way to see how this is how some girls get trapped in this world. They feel they give you this love. I really wanted to come at it with there being a genuine relationship between the two of them. And from the first day I met Yorick, I felt that. He’s amazing in a really platonic way. I went around his house all the time and he cooked me Thai food, and he lives in Thailand, and it’s just wonderful. We are just best friends. I was texting him last night.

We have a set chairs on set and there are all these scenes on this boat, and this season they built the boat on the stage, and inside there’s a bed. Me and Yorick would lie and cuddle on the bed in between takes. And everyone would be like, “Where are they?” And we’d just be there cuddling like two teenagers, talking like we’ve known each other for years! And everyone’s like, “what is going on!” But we were just the best friends. I love him and I think he brought out the best in me as an actor this season. I think he helped me bring Iris back to life, which was really hard for me this season.

Okay, how do I ask this as a final question about the relationship between Iris and Mike McLusky.

(Laughs) Honestly, this is on everyone’s mind: what the fuck is going on, right?

Well, is there any type of sexual tension on Mike’s part?

I think so. And Jeremy [Renner] is probably going to deny it. But you know what, I’m going to say that if he felt like he could, then he would. I think as much as she loves him, I think he definitely has more than a soft spot for her, but I just think he can’t go there. I think he has told himself he can’t, and he’s too proud and he’s too like a rock; he won’t let anyone in. He will not let down his walls for anyone and it’s such a shame. But if he did, I’d like to think that he would choose Iris.

Would Iris want that?

Yeah, I think so. That’s been my go-to thing since the end of season one where she goes back to his cabin, and he really saved her. He is the first guy that’s not used her for sex, and he’s the first guy that’s really respected her. And while he sees her as a child in some ways and gets quite frustrated like he wants to overly protect her, and doesn’t have faith in her abilities, yeah, she loves him. That’s what I’ve always, since season one, had in my head. And I think it plays really well. I think the moments between Mike and Iris that are all unspoken. It’s all so much that’s not said. And I think it’s really a beautiful kind of relationship when you watch it.

Mayor of Kingstown releases new episodes for season three Sundays on Paramount+.

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