‘American Rust’: Cast and crew talk how Season 2 raises the stakes

American Rust
Jeff Daniels stars in ‘American Rust: Broken Justice.’

The second season of ‘American Rust: Broken Justice‘ is set to premiere on Prime Video March 28, and with the sophomore go-around of this emotionally packed story, the stakes have certainly been raised for its cast of characters—and that was intentional.

Starring Jeff Daniels as Detective Del Harris and Maura Tierney as Grace Poe, Season 2 leaves the confines of the fictional town of Buell, Pennsylvania, and moves to Pittsburgh for some of the cast. And with Season 1 ending on an intense note, the second season picks up with the same intention, and it all began in the writer’s room.

To delve a little deeper into ‘American Rust,’ stars Daniels and Tierney, and writers/EPs Dan Futterman and Adam Rapp sat down to discuss what makes this show so dynamic from the setting to the story to each and every character.

American Rust
Maura Tierney (‘Grace Poe’) stars in American Rust: Broken Justice. PROVIDED/PRIME VIDEO

I love how this show is in a small town, but it shows that just because it’s a small town doesn’t mean there are small problems. Would you say Season 2 amps up that notion?

Tierney: I really like that phrase, it’s small town and it’s not necessarily small problems, which is true universally. I think that it does get much more complex for Grace in terms of what she becomes involved with as a job, which is different from factory work. And Del goes to Pittsburgh, so it’s not just a small-town show anymore.

Daniels: The show is authentic—I keep going back to that word, but it is authentic. Season 1 in Buell, a small town that has seen better days, has simple people, basic people that the middle of the country is full of—and yet they do have big problems. They create some of them, they’re on their own, but they’re human beings and when things get bad, they get real bad. 

Season 2 starts and they get worse, but at the same time, you’re kind of pulling for these two people, certainly with Dell and Grace and some of the others in the show, to win and to get what they want. I think that’s part of the attraction is that it’s authentic. The problems are so much bigger that they’re dramatic, that pulls you in and you can relate to these people, especially if you live between the coasts. I think that’s one of the hooks. 

Adam and Dan, as writers and producers on the show, what are some of the dynamics you’ve enjoyed watching unfold throughout both seasons?

Rapp: One of the things that really drew me to these characters, and as we further developed them, was that there are no devils, there are no angels…Everyone has a grey area. There are complexities within all of us, we’re all capable of great things and terrible things, and I think we took a lot of pleasure and put a lot of rigor into pushing Del Harris and pushing Grace and pushing Steve Park (Rob Yang) and pushing Billy (Alex Neustaedter) to their limits on showing moments of grace and moments of failure and moments of frustration. 

That’s something as a writer—as someone who creates characters and creates stories, if you can do that and we can tap into that, then I think we’ve succeeded in trying to be honest about who we are as human beings.

Futterman: The pleasure of doing the second season was that we could jump off from where we were in the novel (‘American Rust’ by Phillip Meyer) in the first season, and we got to add new characters to the mix. And so we got Luna Lauren Velez’s character—what does she do to Del Harris, who’s now her partner? How does he navigate working with her, [and] also being in a relationship with Grace? How does Kyle Beltran’s character, who’s at Pittsburgh PD, how does he impact Jeff’s character and the journey that he’s on? 

[It] becomes really exciting when you’ve got these established characters and you start throwing people in their path both as helpers and blockers. So, the second season was such a joy because we got to throw everything at these characters that we’d already learned to love.

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Pictured are Luna Lauren Velez (‘Detective Angela Burgos’) and Jeff Daniels (‘Detective Del Harris’) in ‘American Rust: Broken Justice.’PROVIDED/ PRIME VIDEO

What stands out to you about Season 2 of ‘American Rust’ specifically?

Rapp: We love the way Season 1 ratcheted up in terms of the tone and in terms of just the jeopardy and the kind of caloric burn at the end. It felt like it really sped up and we liked that, [so]we wanted to sort of start from that place and capture that tone from the beginning and see where that would take us. That was a mandate we set for ourselves. 

When we were creating the Season 2 writers’ room, we were really excited about just how much story could we burn through and could we sustain that? That was a lot of fun for me because I’d never done that before on television, I’d never written that kind of television before. And within that, we wanted to maintain our character richness which is not easy to do, because you have to balance a lot of fast-moving parts with the souls of the characters. But for me, it was a great deal of fun. 

Futterman: What I love about Season 2 is everything that Adam said, and also the fact that there are a number of characters who are not what they seem to be. There’s an unmasking of some characters in what we think is a surprising way—a surprising way to the audience, and a surprising way to our characters who are involved with ’em. 

Finding ways to do that to help propel the story forward, that’s the challenge of telling a good story. And when you have these great actors in a second season, it’s such a pleasure to have some of the best actors around coming onto your TV show and putting in their time and bringing characters to life. We got really lucky with casting. 

Maura and Jeff, what moments from the sophomore season are you excited to see and for audiences to see? 

Tierney: I wasn’t part of any of the Pittsburgh part of the story and I have not watched it yet, so I’m excited to see that part. It had nothing to do with Grace, so it’ll be brand new for me. I’m excited for Del’s journey there, but also, I think I’m excited for Julie’s (Mayorga) character too, because I think Jeff and Julie’s character are kind of the moral compass of the show. They’re really trying to do the right thing and everyone else has a little bit more of an agenda. 

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Maura Tierney (‘Grace Poe’), Jon Osbeck (‘Billy’s Lawyer’) and Mark Pellegrino (‘Virgil Poe’) are pictured in ‘American Rust: Broken Justice.’PROVIDED/PRIME VIDEO

Daniels: Yeah, you get to see the scenes you weren’t in. I mean, Grace has a lot more power on her mind, out of her mouth, and she’s not afraid to clear the table and turn a chair over and challenge the whole room no matter what the room is. Those scenes are fun to watch. It’s also unpredictable, the show’s unpredictable, the storyline’s unpredictable. What happens you don’t see coming and it’s plausible. The writers did a really great job of rolling this season out. We needed season one to set it up, but season two really takes off. 

Season 2 of ‘American Rust: Broken Justice‘ premieres on Prime Video March 28.