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Summer 2016 TCAs: The Creator and Cast Talk Rectify’s Final Season

I’ve been a huge Rectify fan since it debuted back in 2013. While it never really took off the ratings, the show has had a rabidly devoted fan base.

While I came to the show wondering if Daniel Holden was guilty of the crime he’d spent 19 years in jail for, as I’ve watched the episodes and have gotten to know Daniel, his family and the residents of Paulie, I’ve come to realize this series is much more than that. Rectify is an examination on small towns. It’s a window into the lives of this family who have been forever altered by the actions of one of their own. It’s about the human condition. While I still want to know the answer to whether or not Daniel killed Hannah, it isn’t now and will never be the reason I watched and enjoyed every single episode and every single performance on this show.

Photo Credit: James Minchin/Sundance TV

Photo Credit: James Minchin/Sundance TV

TV Goodness attended Sundance TV’s panel at the Summer 2016 TCAs. Their entire focus was on Rectify and over the course of the panel, creator/EP Ray McKinnon as well as actors Aden Young, J. Smith-Cameron, Abigail Spencer, Adelaide Clemens and Bruce McKinnon gave us some great insight into their characters and what went into making this show. Will we find out if Daniel killed Hannah before the series wraps?See below.

So you’re heading into the final season. One of the intriguing things, obviously, about this show is we don’t know whether Daniel did it or not. What is the internal discussion about that final episode and whether you are going to reveal that or not? I mean, are you conflicted about whether to reveal it? Do you have a plan?

Ray McKinnon: “I think we had discussed that in the writer’s room. We had a lot of bright people. Put all their IQs together, and I think we had a near genius in that room. Like eight of us. But we decided we’re just going to reveal in the first episode that he killed her and everybody’s got—”

Aden Young: “I wish you had told me.”

Ray: “So, yeah. There’s that issue, and hopefully by the end of the season, how we deal with that will leave you, in a Rectify way, satisfied. Maybe some people it will; some people it won’t. But something is going to be revealed for sure.”

J. Smith-Cameron: “I would like to say that one of the leitmotifs of the show, in my opinion, is ambivalent loss. Like there’s no such thing as closure. That’s really examined in our show. So it’s not like a black and white thing that you can ever get resolved, and that’s true to life. That’s why I think it gets under people’s skin.”

Mr. Young, I know you’re joking [when you said], “Could have told me.” What has it been like to play a character that you didn’t know if he had done it or not, or was that ever really the point?

Aden: “Well, it was a challenge. I mean, it was certainly a challenge that I embraced, because I didn’t think Ray was ever going to tell me. I worded the question, perhaps wrongly, when I asked him. I should have said, ‘Did he do it or not?’ But I didn’t. I said, ‘Are you going to tell me whether he did it or not?’ So began a philosophical discussion that lasted five years.

And it wasn’t ever really my focus to look at his pure guilt or his innocence. It was my focus to look at how this man’s life has impacted this town and this family and how one action of one person, be it him or somebody else, has destroyed all these lives to some degree or another.”

Daniel, obviously, was an unusual person before this ever happened.

Aden: “Thanks for that.”

Do you have any thoughts as to how his life might have unfolded had someone not died in his presence with the fact that he already had a somewhat unusual bent as far as feeling the need to cover the body whether or not he had done it?

Aden: “I think every human being on this planet is unique. Each story’s unique, and we were just talking about it before. If you look at the definition of life, you could say — and I read this in a book recently — it’s a constellation of vital phenomena, and that’s what makes for such interesting viewing — is that this is a story about one man’s life and how valuable that life can be, and really, that’s the story that we’re telling.

Whether he would have become something — maybe he would have become an artist. Maybe he would have gone on to be a pro hockey player. You really have no idea. Unfortunately, we don’t have that sort of telescope in this world except to wonder, and part of that is the tragedy of the story.”

Ray: “I think in some ways the story has been about Daniel being a conduit for the projection onto him of others – his mother would project her guilt or how she let him down or her shame. His sister would project this idealized view of what he can be once he comes out of jail.

He can be the wonderful brother that she wanted to have and the family could be healed, and his stepbrother had felt other things that were darker, more sinister. So he’s feeling all these projections towards him, and we can’t, human beings, when you’re dealing with those projections — in some ways you try to unconsciously satisfy those projections.

So part of the journey of this season is he’s going to — as we saw last season, he goes somewhere where he’s not always the focus of such intense subjective projections of others, and so part of the tension and part of the mystery and part of the suspense of this season will be can Daniel become himself, whoever that is now. Not what he could have been, not what people hope he will be, but who he really is.”

Abigail Spencer: “That’s what’s been so interesting for me to be part of the show, a show that was fueled by a death, by this crime. It has really been a show about how valuable life is. His life — the ripple effects of one man’s life and how it’s affected each one of our characters, and when he is back into our lives, really.

And I think what we’re doing this season as well, is going deeper into the journey of each person’s private moments of what they’re dealing with that was fueled by his release. So really I feel like it’s been about all of our lives.”

J.: “One aspect about our show, we were talking about this the other day, is that our protagonist is also our catalyst. He’s just who he is, what his dilemma is has this effect of smashing all of us up and unleashing our demons. So it’s a really curious arrangement and novel one. It makes it, I think, really unique and interesting.”

For Abigail, when this development first came and he was banned from Georgia, I was afraid that the sister character was going to disappear, because she’s one of the best characters. Tell us a little bit about, first of all, did you have any fears of that when that happened? And give us a little more about how she’s able to continue into the story, but also how did the filming of this come up alongside of Timeless? Was there a point where you were worrying about both shows at once or did you finish this before you started?

Abigail: “I don’t worry about anything, ever.”

Ray: “You’re doing another show?”

Abigail: “Thank you. I haven’t told him yet.

Oh, gosh. I’ll speak to Amantha’s journey first. When we meet Amantha, she is uncontained. She says what she thinks. She’s on a mission. She’s on guard. She’s a warrior and anyone or anything that gets in the path of what the goal is, it’s black and white. We gotta do this thing.

And then the thing happens, and the idealism fades, and what we go through when we progress through the three seasons and what’s going to be different about this new season. Between Season 1 and Season 2, it’s an hour later. Between Season 2 and Season 3, it’s an hour later where we pick up, and we’re going to be further into time. In Season 4 you’re going to see an Amantha who is deeper in her journey of self-reflection of dealing with her life without Daniel.

Is she going to stay in her hometown?Who is she without Daniel? And all the ways that she’s going to explore what that’s going to be like for her. The aftermath of her and Jon breaking up. Who is she without this thing in her life?

So that’s been really interesting because you’re going to see a really different Amantha than the first time that we meet her. I didn’t worry about it because I felt like Ray was writing a character-driven human exploration show, so I wasn’t worried. I was just really excited to keep meeting who Amantha was, and it was very challenging and very satisfying to go on that journey with her, and honestly, the timing just worked out.

I shot the [Timeless] pilot before we came back for our fourth season, and then while we were shooting, I found out that it got picked up.”

The show deals with, obviously, such weighty topics, but it’s also an extremely funny show, and I’m curious about sort of finding the humor in the dark places and finding the humor in these very wounded characters, particularly with Daniel and Amantha, who, last season, was hilarious at times.

Abigail: “Well, thank you.”

Ray: “I felt like in watching some artistic reflections of the region that we’re telling the story and the one thing that I noticed was that none of the people that lived there actually had a sense of humor about themselves, and that’s not a true reflection. That’s a caricature.

And so I was interested in creating complicated people and most of us have a sense of humor about ourselves and about the world around us. So in developing these characters and then interacting with these actors who manifest these characters, you can’t help but find that aspect of their humanity.”

Aden: “There’s a whimsy there that I really enjoyed coming back to with Daniel. When I would be away in the off-season, I guess you would call it. We were just about three days away from starting Season 3 or whatever, and I got into an elevator, and there was a lady with a full-sized purple unicorn.

I had never seen anything so Dali-esque in my life. I looked at her and I said, ‘She’s pretty.’ She said, ‘Yes, she is.’ I said, ‘What’s her name?’ She said, ‘Violet.’ I said, ‘That’s a pretty name.’ She said, ‘What’s your name?’ I said, ‘It’s Aden.’ She said, ‘That’s a pretty name.’ I said, ‘But not as colorful.’ And that was Daniel returning. You had to get him back, but he had that ability, as far as when I read him on the page, to look out at the world and immediately see the absurdity of it, of all life, and that was the joy of playing the character.”

Abigail: “That’s what I was drawn to when I read the script originally was the humor. I thought it was so funny, and I wanted to lean into that. I love Ray’s particular sense of humor. I wanted to be a part of that.”

J.: “Very dry.”

Ray: “My humor is so dry that it’s not even funny.” [Laughter.]

We’re living in a time where racial injustice, and particularly, we’re looking at the prison system, is on full display. We have a cast that’s all white, even though Daniel has definitely dealt with African-American characters. How is that going to play into this season, if at all, now that Daniel’s in the halfway house?

Ray: “I think what I wanted to do was not make statements. I wanted to explore the truth of a family and explore in the micro what makes us human. I grew up in a small town in Georgia. There are lots of African-Americans in small towns in the South and they are portrayed in our show. The prosecutor’s African-American, his friend on death row and there are a number of African-American characters.

I didn’t want to make a statement about race in America or in the South for this show. I wanted to tell the story about a family. And this season when Daniel goes to Nashville and he’s in a halfway house, there are African-American characters. A lot of the leaders of the New Canaan Project, which is a reclamation project for people, for ex-felons, as ex-offenders as they come out of prison, are African-American. We don’t make a statement about it. It’s just a reflection of our research of a particular place in Nashville called Project Return that had a lot of African-American leaders and they were doing great work.

I mean, we could do a television show about people coming out of jail trying to make it with all that they have against them. That is a show worth telling, and hopefully we’re going to tell a piece of that show, but ultimately it’s still a journey about a guy who was in a box for 19 years and can he survive out in the world with all the complexities of it.”

[We’ve] had a lot of really complex characters on TV, but very few of them have been Southern men and women. The American South is often caricatured in our media, and I was wondering if the actors could talk about not just playing this complex individual family, but shooting it in the South and bringing these characters to life in this particular way.

Adelaide Clemens: “Yeah. I’m Australian.”

Aden: “She’s really South.”

Adelaide: “When I first read Rectify, I thought that was what was so refreshing about it is that particularly Tawney — and a lot of these characters were Southern — but Tawney, you could say is a Christian Southern woman. But for me, I never thought of it like, ‘Oh, she’s Christian.’ I thought she’s incredibly curious and, yes, she has a faith because that’s what she was given from an early age. I think Ray’s done that so well.”

Abigail: “I’m from a town not too far from Ray in Northwest Florabama, if you will. I had never played a Southern character before. Actually, most people didn’t even know I was from there, because I played a lot of Northern characters or just other characters.

I shied away from it because I felt that I hadn’t found something that really spoke to my truth of really growing up in a counterculture point of view in a Southern town. So when I read it, I was like, ‘I want to tell that story because that’s actually more what I felt when I was growing up.’ So very true.”

Bruce McKinnon: “I grew up in Tennessee, so it wasn’t foreign to me, but at the same time, I saw the whole show and still do — it is in the South, but it’s an exploration of the human condition, which is universal. And that’s why so many people can relate.

I understand what you’re saying about the caricatures. It used to drive me nuts to see that, but when you’re putting a microscope on how we tick as a human race, all that is just basically colors, or it’s a setting, and it was great to film there because that’s also a character itself. The background is one less thing we had to worry about.

Having such wonderful supporting actors, too, to come in were regional, a lot of them, and they’re just fantastic in the town of Griffin where we filmed.”

J.: “Yes. It was also great that we could shoot in Griffin, which was a great mirror for the fictional Paulie. There’s just something in how incredibly hot it was and sunny and how blood-red the ground even is. It was perfect.

Speaking for Janet, my character, that is very, very subtly and well depicted by Ray, because she’s so buttoned up and kind of demure, but so steely and so strong. It’s that steel magnolia thing but without any of the clichés.”

Ray, when you first started telling this story, did you have a sense of how you wanted it to end? And if so, does the conclusion reflect that, or has it evolved over the years?

Ray: “Both. You don’t take into consideration a few factors. One is you create a storyline. For example, where Daniel attacks Ted Jr., that was a storyline that was created in the first season. And what I was surprised by, and I shouldn’t have been because that’s what happens with human beings, is an event like that does not go away.

In our show, we got to not let it go away. We had the opportunity to watch the ramifications of that event go deeper and deeper and deeper, and we explored that both in the writers’ room but also with the actors.

When the actors manifest these characters, when they animate these characters and then the characters become alive and you experience that, both on set and as you’re editing it, it changes the way you’re viewing what once was a solitary movement with you and your key strokes. So that symbiotic relationship definitely has changed how I felt about the show and how the show moved forward.

I think part of what was interesting to me to begin with was, let’s say Daniel was wrongfully convicted, but let’s truly say that there are wrongful convictions and we know that. Why do they happen? Is it because all prosecution is evil and bad? Some are, but most go down a track that causes this to happen. That’s another thing I wanted to explore and that’s partly our need as human beings to want to have closure, to want to have a frame around something, to want to understand it, to want to have order in the universe. In our art, we also want that. Art is, in a way, a frame. A painting is framed. We want the conclusion to answer all our questions. But that’s not life and part of what we tried to do in the show is reflect in a skewed way what life is, so it both did and didn’t end the way that I expected.

Can I just say really quickly… the first season and second, maybe third, probably fourth, we don’t have a lot of people watching the show and generally if nobody’s watching the show and the critics don’t really care for the show, the show doesn’t last. So we truly owe a lot to both the taste makers of this show who got it and also to AMC and Sundance for continuing to let us tell this story and not just let us and not just be a supporter, but be a collaborator in it and it was an unusual time in television for us to tell the story. I’m not sure that that time hasn’t passed and we all feel very incredibly lucky to have been part of it.”

Edited for space and content.

Here’s an extended Season 4 trailer:

The final season of Rectify premieres Wednesday, October 26th at 10/9c on Sundance TV.

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