The SundanceTV series Rectify has consistently been one of the best dramas on television since it premiered in 2013, making you fall in love with its characters, feel sympathy and understanding for them, and have your heart broken by them, in the most human of ways. Now in its fourth and final season, we have eight episodes left before we have to bid farewell to Daniel Holden (Aden Young), the man who returned to his small hometown in Georgia after serving 19 years on death row, and hope that he can get to a place of happiness, hope and purpose in his life.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Aden Young (who has been one, if not the biggest, piece of a brilliantly talented acting ensemble) talked about how grateful he is to have been given the opportunity to inhabit this character, what it’s been like to work with show creator Ray McKinnon, over the seasons, finally needing to know whether or not Daniel Holden actually committed the crime he went to prison for, fulling leaving the character behind, how appreciative he is for the show’s continued support, and knowing that not every job is special.
Collider: What was this experience like for you, and what has it meant to you to be a part of telling this story?
ADEN YOUNG: I’m incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity to inhabit a character that’s been already so fully formed by the writer (Ray McKinnon), and then being given the trust to really flesh him out and bring him to life. Oftentimes, I’ve found myself angry at Ray saying, “It’s easy to actually get the ink on the page, but somehow I’ve gotta find a way to play this. And I have to find a way to emotionally survive playing this.” It calls for a certain amount of honesty that will undoubtedly be married to a truth that you feel about the world. When you begin questioning those perspectives, for the sake of artistic exhibition. You’re left with those shadows, and when you walk away from it those shadows remain and you have a different perspective. All of a sudden, what was a simple reality is now an abstract absurdity, and the foundations have shifted and will never recalibrate to where they were before.
You’ve said that, over the seasons, you’ve asked Ray McKinnon whether or not Daniel really did this crime or not, but that he wouldn’t tell you. Did you come to a point where you had to just be okay with never getting those answers?
YOUNG: Each season was a different process. The first season, I really didn’t know what the process was going to be. I had never an episodic, recurring television show, and somehow I had to find a way forward with this character, meet all of these people, and understand the writer’s intentions. And Ray hadn’t finished the damn thing, so I couldn’t actually find out that much about it. The scripts were coming in. While we were shooting one, we’d get the next. I’d say, “What’s the next thing?” And he’d say, “I don’t know yet.” We didn’t have Episode 6 until three days before we shot it, so I didn’t really have an understanding. But, I began to recognize that I liked that process and I was intrigued by it because it didn’t allow me to reach into my kit bag and pull out my tricks. Oftentimes you have to carry that with you, when you’ve taken a job for the rest, or because there are people out there that don’t know how to write a word of dialogue, but you’ve gotta somehow find a way to say it that makes it sound like a human being said it and not Siri. Whereas Season 1 had been so much about Daniel’s infancy and being reborn into this world, Season 2 was different in that it was his adolescence. It was his opportunity to taste the world without consequence. And I didn’t want to know what was coming. By the end of it, I was at the point where I needed to know. I went to Ray and said, “I’m frustrated and running out of room for ambiguity. Did I do it or didn’t I?” And he told me. So, I know now. That’s all that matters.
Have you fully left Daniel Holden behind?
YOUNG: On the last day of every character I’ve ever played, I lay the clothes out on the floor with the shoes and socks, so that it looks like the character has literally vanished. That’s the way you have to leave them. If you carry them around with you, the weight is just too much to bear, especially with Daniel Holden. I was asked to play a character in a show that’s centered around a topic that’s perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of modern civilization and I gave everything to do it. I’m done. I’m finished with it. It’s done. I had to give it all because it’s a real tragedy. Of course, it’s entertainment, but the subject matter is what happens when somebody falls through the cracks. This stuff happens. Whether Daniel did it or not is not the question. My take on the possible wrongful conviction of Daniel Holden has always weighed heavily on my mind because you don’t have to go far with Google to find out that many, many individuals in this country and around the world have been sentenced and murdered for nothing. The world isn’t what you think it is.
Do you need time to decompress from doing this show, or are you looking to jump right back into work?
YOUNG: My two kids take a lot of my focus, which I’m grateful for. I don’t want any indication that Daniel remains. I don’t know what I’m going to do next, but it will certainly have to be something that I really consider, with the knowledge that there are things that come along once in a lifetime. It’s like Eminem said, you get one shot, so don’t fuck it up, or something like that.
When you are a part of something this special, is it hard to find the next thing you want to do?
YOUNG: It is. My first film (Black Robe) was a Bruce Beresford film that was produced by Sue Milliken. It was a dream. I got the job on my 18th birthday and I was working with the guy who directed Driving Miss Daisy. And Sue took me aside, about three days before we were due to finish the film, and said, “Not every film is going to be this great. I didn’t even think about it before, but this is your first film. They’re not all like this, just so you know.” She warned me, and it was the best bit of advice because had nobody warned me, I would have gone, “These people are crazy! Why are they doing it like this?!” What Beresford had accomplished was something very different from the norm.
What’s it like to know that the show was able to have four seasons?
YOUNG: I’ve enjoyed Rectify, but more than that, I have to really appreciate the support that we’ve had in this morass. There are 450 shows and our little show was bobbing in the middle. It’s about the collision of one soul with another and the God particle that follows. Part of me is done with fiction and wonders what the point of it is. We were lucky to get in before the floodgates opened. A series is a big deal, and there are a lot of people out there writing stuff that don’t know what art is.
Rectify airs on Wednesday nights on SundanceTV.