The SundanceTV series Rectify is back for Season 3 (and has already been renewed for a fourth season, to air in 2016), as it follows the life of Daniel Holden (Aden Young) who must navigate what it means to establish his life again in his small hometown in Georgia, after serving 19 years on death row. Now that he’s taken a plea deal in order to remain free from prison, he must learn to cope with probation officer meetings, while his mother Janet (J. Smith Cameron) prepares for his looming banishment and his sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer) tries to build a life around something other than her brother’s innocence, until a body turns up that raises new and troubling questions about the night that everything changed.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Aden Young (who gives one of the finest performances currently on TV, in this role) talked about how viewers need a bit of therapy after watching Rectify, why he’s drawn to tell a story like Daniel’s, that he had no idea what he was getting into when he signed on for this show, what things look like for his character in Season 3, the return of authority into Daniel’s life, as a result of his plea deal admission, what makes this show so unpredictable, and his own desire to know the definite answers that neither the audience nor his character have, at this point.
Collider: This show is both absolutely magnificent and utterly tragic, but I love it and am so glad you’re back for another season.
ADEN YOUNG: I’m sorry about that. You need a bit of therapy after. It’s intriguing, isn’t it, how television has evolved in the last few years. Thank goodness, there’s a medium to tell these stories. It’s part of human storytelling. There’s nothing that confuses me more than when I come out of a cinema and I think, “What the hell was all of that for? I was not touched. I didn’t see anything original. The craftsmanship was only that of somebody imitating another filmmaker. Nothing moved me.” I always gravitate towards things that remind you of your humanity rather than just trying to tell you to escape it, at all costs. I quite like human beings. I think we’re capable of the most extraordinary stuff. In some ways, that’s why I’m drawn to tell a story like Daniel’s.
When you look back to where you started, with the first episode of Season 1, is where Daniel is in Season 3 anything like what you thought it might turn out to be?
YOUNG: To be practically honest, not totally honest because I don’t quite know what that means, I had no idea what I was getting into, and it’s stayed that way ever since. An interviewer asked me recently, when I was in France publicizing the show, to tell them about Ray [McKinnon]. And I said, “He’s not from here. He comes from a different world completely. You never know where you’re going to go next with him, or how he might evaluate a suggestion of story.” He loves that collaboration, but by the time it comes back up, it’s changed and transmogrified into something so beyond what you thought it might be that it leaves you completely baffled. So, we never really know where we’re going, and I think that’s part of the joy of the show. It doesn’t ever pull you toward the predictability of factory drama, and that’s great. It’s great to be a part of not knowing where we’re going.
The decision that Daniel made about his future, at the end of last season, means that he’s looking for a place to call home, this season. What will that look like for him? Does he even know what that would be, at this point?
YOUNG: Well, no, and that’s very much the reality of what we focus on. What is home, for all of these characters, with what happened to them over these 20 years and six weeks. This family has been destroyed by a phone call that one of their own was in prison under suspicion of rape and homicide, and the victim was somebody who had sat at their table and had dinner. So, two people are stolen from their lives, overnight. And then, the sentencing comes down and the family is shattered and destroyed. They’ve spent however many years trying to rebuild that, and they did. Even though it was dysfunctional, they had a new family. And then, Daniel’s release means that he lands right in the middle of that mosaic and destroys it once again. And so, now it’s very much about not only how the characters are going to put their family back together, but whether or not they want to. They’ve been so changed by Daniel’s re-emergence. In so many ways, it’s the story of a ghost that’s come back to haunt them, but that person is still alive.
We still don’t know whether or not Daniel actually committed this crime, and it seems like he’s not really sure, most of the time. Did you think about why he made the decision that he ultimately made?
YOUNG: It’s my job to think about it. Ray and I worked on that for weeks, on how we were going to approach shooting that day and how to structure it. Here’s a character who’s been shown a glimpse of life, and in order to retain that glimpse, with the threat that he might be returned not only to a death sentence but to death row, he was going to have to go against the wishes of his own family and of his sister, in particular, and crush those beliefs that people had of him by accepting a technical reality, which was to say, “I am guilty of the murder of this girl.” That would mean that his name isn’t cleared and that the family’s name isn’t cleared, and it was going to reignite the town’s interest in the case and, of course, bring out their feelings toward not only Daniel, but the family itself. So, it was a huge undertaking for Daniel to step forward and say, “I did this.” It was the only way he could see to retain that freedom that was offered to him and that he could see through the dark tunnel, but he has no real understanding of what that will entail. We begin the focus, in Season 3, of the return of the authority in Daniel’s life, and how he feels about that, now that he’s crushed the family. He’s lost probably the only thing that’s loved him in his life. He has to figure out how to get ahead and hopefully find a way to live, in the 30 days that he has before he’s evicted from the town.
You’ve described this season as unpredictable, but how do you feel this season is even more unpredictable than it’s already been, up to this point?
YOUNG: That’s the joy of not being in a factory farm drama. It’s nobody’s fault. Those shows make a great deal of money and there’s a market to see it. But there was a market that was slowly being diminished for people. Cinemas realized that they should make kids films and tentpole action movies, and that’s pretty much it. As adult storytelling ground to a halt in cinema, there was still a huge market of people that were interesting in the human condition, so where do you go for that? Luckily, as that was happening, people were thinking pro-actively and moved across to television. They thought, “Here’s a great medium where we can have a character’s development over the course of seven years. We can begin to explore what a family means, over the course of however many years.” Look at The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men and Six Feet Under, and wonderful shows that had family’s at their core, but still explore how those characters interact with each other, in ways that there was no market to do in the cinema. There was no market to make a show like this, many years ago. It was only because of trailblazing shows like Deadwood and The Sopranos that really opened the door for this sort of intimate human drama, and it’s incredibly unpredictable. About four days before we’re going to shoot the next episode, the script will arrive and I’ll go, “I had no idea we were going there.” It’s the exploration of the unpredictability of life.
When you did the scene with Teddy and the coffee grounds in Season 1, did you know it would still be coming up and haunting these characters, so many episodes later?
YOUNG: Yeah, I knew that was essentially the earthquake that was going to set off the tsunami. There would be no escape from that. That’s why it was such a remarkable hour of Daniel’s existence, when you look at what he experience in that one day. He gets out of bed and goes for a walk, and he meets a crazy man on the road who takes him to steal some sheep and shows him a beautiful sculpture. And then, he gets baptized against the wishes of his mother and sister. And then, he’s spurned by the woman he thinks touched the face of god for him. And then, he goes and chokes her husband. What a day! I remember getting to the end of that episode and thinking, “Oh, geez, we’re in for it,” and off we went. It’s never really changed. Every time we get the episode, I’m dumbfounded by how it could get better.
Even before having the authorities come back into his life this season, his family has always asked him where he’s going, what he’s doing and where he’s been. Have you thought about what it would be like to constantly have people asking you so many questions, and never having a moment of peace to do whatever the hell you want?
YOUNG: Like I said, it’s my job to think about exactly that. Hopefully, it’s bringing all of the experiences of living towards that and putting it in the pressure cooker and saying, “Okay, this is how somebody would react to that situation. I just want to be left alone.” I have no way of gauging whether this need will be fulfilled. There’s just no gauge, as to what I might be confronted with. Daniel just doesn’t realize the consequences of pretty much anything. He was meant to die. He wasn’t meant to live. And now he’s meant to live and now meant to die, so he’s gotta deal with the complexities of that. If you think dying is hard, try dealing with life.
Since this is a show where nobody, including Daniel, seems to truly know of his guilt or innocence, or if there’s some combination of the two, have you been given more definite information, do you want more definite information, or would you be happy with ending this series, never fully having those answers for sure?
YOUNG: I’ve certainly looked through the evidence of what we know about him to gauge what might be the reality of him, but I’ve never put it forward, specifically. On Tuesday night, I want to jump up and call Ray at 3 o’clock in the morning and say, “You need to tell me, right now, because I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow.” But, I don’t. I get there and I use that frustration to explore the possibility. Sometimes it can be overwhelmingly frustrating not to really understand. But at the same time, I come from the position of thinking that helps because I think Daniel might not know. There’s too much recalling of that night to know anymore what the truth could be. It might never come through, but I could imagine that we might get lucky.
Rectify airs on Thursday nights on SundanceTV.