The Sundance Channel’s new show bows Monday night, boasting a very slow and emotional build over its six-episode arc. EW spoke to three of the show’s stars about the characters they play on the gritty, lifelike new scripted fare.
Aden Young, Abigail Spencer and Clayne Crawford opened up about the places they had to go and the emotions they had to portray as they dove headfirst into this depiction of a man who is released from prison into the uncertain world of a small Southern town — and the family who surrounds him.
Aden Young on Daniel Holden, the man who was recently released from death row
“You feel like a man who literally has fallen to earth,” Young said of his character. “There’s a sort of paralyzing nature of that world inside. He’s very much afraid of feeling anything because if he feels it might break.”
He said he explored the concept of moving a person from one extreme — limited space and no freedom — to another by releasing Daniel from prison.
“The subtext is, is this real?” Young said. “Is this world that we live in real? Can you bring a human being out of that terrible sadness and say ‘have a beer?’ It’s a story of how we as a society have legitimized murder and somebody escapes that through a series of legalities and is let loose in this world that has tried to shed him.”
Is there a method to getting into such a still, stoic character’s mind?
“Vodka,” he deadpanned.
Abigal Spencer on Amantha, Daniel’s sister who fought for 18 years to get him out of prison
Spencer was drawn to the character because of her unique name.
“I am from a really small Southern town and I had never heard that name before,” she said. “This is like next level Southern.”
She said there were many accuracies in the depiction of a small southern town — from the marshmallow creme in the pantries to the cultural wasteland of a town dominated by a Wal-Mart culture. The character was certainly a departure from her own nature.
“The first thing I did when I got to Griffin, I was like where are the hipsters,” Spencer joked. “I know they’re here. And we found them. It was kids who were in bands and had toured and lived life and then came back and were like “we’re going to bring the hipster to Griffin.”
Beyond her desire to explore counter-culture, Spencer also cited a big difference between she and Amantha.
“I am not a smoker,” Spencer said. “At the beginning I was smoking but then I was like I can’t do this, give me the fake stuff. Finding the way Amantha smokes and everything … It was so good though, because it changes you chemically and Amantha has a way of smoking. It’s the motion of it and there’s a little bit … Ray said Amantha kind of smokes like Bette Davis, like she had seen a lot of movies growing up.”
Clayne Crawford on Teddy, Daniel’s step-brother who isn’t sure how he feels about Daniel’s release
Clayne Crawford said a lot of his character’s uncertainty comes from the fact that Daniel’s freedom affects his livelihood and creates an uncertain future. Teddy inherited what would probably have been Daniel’s position in the family business and is unhappy about finding a new job.
“Teddy doesn’t like things to change,” Crawford said. “He likes things staying the exact same. I grew up in the south so for me it wasn’t a stretch at all – I knew these guys.”
Sundance Channel’s ‘Rectify,’ which begins on Monday, is a weighty meditation on crime, punishment, beauty, and solitude. It is also insanely riveting television, says Jace Lacob.
Sundance Channel, the indie-centric network that is closely aligned with corporate sibling AMC, is quickly ascending to a place of prominence in an increasingly fragmented television landscape. For the longest time, the network was identifiable as the home of independent films, repeats of Lisa Kudrow’s short-lived HBO mockumentary The Comeback, and some forgettable reality fare. It lacked a cohesive programming identity and existed within the same hazy hinterlands as IFC.
But in the last year, Sundance Channel has found itself in the white-hot spotlight normally reserved for AMC home of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead—thanks to a slew of high-profile and critically acclaimed shows, like the gripping paraplegic unscripted series Push Girls, Jane Campion’s haunting mystery drama Top of the Lake, and now Rectify, a six-episode drama that begins Monday.
The network’s first wholly owned original series, Rectify, created by Ray McKinnon, is exactly the type of show that would have once aired on AMC. (Ironically enough, it was originally developed for the channel.) It’s a breathtaking work of immense beauty and a thought-provoking meditation on the nature of crime and punishment, of identity and solitude, of guilt and absolution. It is, quite simply, the best new show of 2013.
Sentenced to die for the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl, Daniel Holden (Aden Young) is released from prison after 19 years, when his original sentence is vacated, due to new DNA evidence that was overlooked at the time of his original trial. Thanks to the persistence of his headstrong sister, Amantha (a perfectly flinty Abigail Spencer), and his lawyer, Jon Stern (Luke Kirby), Daniel returns home to his mother (True Blood’s J. Smith-Cameron) and to a world he hasn’t seen since he was a teenager. In the small town of Paulie, Georgia, Daniel must rediscover a life forgotten and distant, while outside forces look to demonize him and swing the executioner’s axe once more.
With Rectify, McKinnon creates a world of light and darkness, and of heaven and hell, one that exerts a powerful gravity from which it is impossible to escape.
I watched the six-episode first season of Rectify with the sort of rapt attention one usually reserves for high-end television dramas these days, but with one distinct difference. Like Top of the Lake before it, I watched Rectify in two sittings, eagerly speeding through these six episodes with almost beatific devotion. I don’t want to call that “binge watching,” because binge has a rather negative connotation (it implies that you should, perhaps, feel guilt for overindulging). Instead, I see it as “holistic viewing,” attempting to judge the work on its complete form, rather than on just its individual parts.
In either case, however, Rectify embraces a gritty independent cinema feel, delivering installments (and a larger whole) that is both transcendent and weighty, and able to be enjoyed and felt on multiple levels. The twin overarching plots—Did Daniel commit this heinous crime and, if not, who did? How does Daniel readjust to life outside prison?—are merely a gateway for exploring a host of substantive issues, ranging from morality and religious belief to issues of connection and isolation.
After a two-decade stint on death row, Daniel emerges to a world that he does not recognize, and which largely sees him as a figure of scorn and hatred or, at the very least, curiosity and suspicion. Young delivers a dazzling performance as Daniel, a man metaphorically untethered from time and space. Daniel often feels as though he is still in high school, rather than a man in his late 30s; Young imbues a scene of him in the bath, staring at his reflection and the unfamiliar lines on his face, with a sense of wonder and dread. A DVD player becomes an emblem of time’s swift passage; an ancient video game console (and Sonic the Hedgehog) a connection to his lost youth.
Within Rectify, time itself seems fluid and yielding, as the action ricochets between Daniel’s reawakening to sensations and his time on death row, best embodied in his friendship with a fellow death row convict, Kerwin, played with immense compassion by Johnny Ray Gill. Here, in a virtual no-man’s land, Daniel finds himself trapped between an angel and devil, a sort of cinder block purgatory where, condemned to death, he awaits the final verdict. On the outside, Daniel finds himself adrift, and despite the well-meaning intentions of his family, he wanders, lost, in a vast wilderness. His saintly sister-in-law, Tawney (Adelaide Clemens, who could easily be a long-lost sibling of Michelle Williams and Carey Mulligan), offers Daniel a tether, seeing her faith as a way of saving his soul.
Daniel himself seems to exist outside or above human emotion, exhibiting a sort of Zen calm that is at odds with his situation. Young speaks in a deliberately slow, languid style—one that echoes the show itself—as if he is relearning human language word by word. But despite the morose overtones, the show thrives in its depiction of beauty, which it finds in the natural world and in the unexpected connections between people. A grove of trees becomes something profound, a sunrise something majestic, an embrace an electric current. Everything Daniel encounters—including himself—is a puzzle to be solved.
Despite the intensity of the townspeople’s gaze and the palpable heat of their hatred, Young’s Daniel retains a sense of wonder about the world around him as he rediscovers what it means to be human. Daniel’s release from prison creates ripples throughout Paulie, and his presence has unforeseen consequences for all of his family’s members. Rifts form where there were none; the marriage between Daniel’s thorny step-brother, Ted Jr. (Clayne Crawford), and Tawney suddenly splintering under scrutiny. And when Ted Jr. trains his rancor onto Daniel, the results are startling.
Rectify deftly walks a wire-thin tightrope when it comes to Daniel’s guilt or innocence. What happened the night of Hannah’s murder remains a tantalizing mystery, one with clues sprinkled throughout the six episodes. While Daniel attempts to come to terms with his hard-earned freedom, others—including a venal state senator (Michael O’Neill) and a lazy sheriff (J.D. Evermore)—look to pin the blame for Hannah’s rape and murder back onWith Rectify, McKinnon creates a world of light and darkness, and of heaven and hell, one that exerts a powerful gravity from which it is impossible to escape. Still, there are glimpses of pure joy to be found here, moments of profound beauty and intensity that are unlike anything else on television. And when Amantha comes across Daniel dancing to Cracker’s “Low” on his ancient Walkman in the attic, and she can’t help but smile, it reminds us that, even in the valley of the shadow of death, the human spirit is unbreakable.
Rectify, the Sundance Channel’s first original scripted series, is a heavy order on paper: It follows Daniel Holden (Aden Young), who spent 20 years on death row for the rape and murder of a teenage girl before his conviction is vacated with the appearance of new DNA evidence. This means Daniel’s freedom as well as the possibility of another trial — two things that equal a week’s worth of small-town Georgia strife for Daniel and his family, including his younger sister/biggest defender Amantha (Abigail Spencer) and parents. Jessica Shaw wrote in this week’s Entertainment Weekly, “There’s no shortage of cinematically shot and finely acted moments … Rectify’s many stories are strung together with a wonderful, airy pacing.”
In advance of the show’s premiere on April 22, Sundance partnered with BuzzFeed for a special binge screening of the entire first season (a six-hour affair) as well as a cast Q&A. The result is a specific appreciation for Rectify, which is full of flavor but wanting for balance, as well as some illuminating dish from the actors:
Rectify is slow — like, really slow. But that’s by design: Each episode is roughly one day, meaning the entire first season barely covers Daniel’s first week out of prison. That means that, yes, the series joins other very pretty, very thoughtful cable shows like Mad Men and Treme that move with a pre-planned purpose. In this case, it’s to help the audience live inside each moment of each new day just as Daniel and his family must. “It’s certainly a unique thing to spend a whole summer shooting one week,” said J. Smith-Cameron, who plays Daniel’s mother Janet. “So we were all going through trying to imagine what his first few steps into the world after death row were like. It was a lot of work, to keep coming back to ‘point zero’ and not assume more things had been digested.”
Rectify won’t give you all the answers. As Shaw noted in the magazine, the series can seem “resolution free,” which is true for its driving questions — Is Daniel really guilty; and if not, who is? — and also not. Creator Ray McKinnon, who wrote the majority of the season in addition to directing the finale, has woven those questions into the show’s skeleton, and they are rarely far from the focus of each episode. That doesn’t mean, however, that the season’s end will come down on side or the other of its main character’s innocence, despite some satisfyingly tricky foreshadowing. A crucial twist at the end of the pilot doesn’t come to full fruition until nearly the end of the season. As Smith-Cameron explained it, “I think that Daniel’s not sure what happened, so therefore it’s impossible to know.”
Rectify, ultimately, is about love. Smith-Cameron called it “deep feeling.” Daniel’s re-entry into the world causes many hairline fractures in his family, including with Amantha’s convictions about his post-prison life as well as with his stepbrother, Teddy (Clayne Crawford) and Teddy’s wife, Tawney (Adelaide Clemens), who gets some of the most open-hearted material. And indeed the show embraces a broad, if inscrutable, emotional palette: Characters often break down in tears or withhold themselves, just outside a scene. Bruce McKinnon, who plays Daniel’s forgiving stepfather Ted, said the trick is in finding your own “sense of truth” in the world — good advice for viewers, too. “How does it happen?” he said. “I think it’s just a path I chose to follow and have my own sense of faith.”
A second season is definitely on the radar. Sundance Channel President Sarah Barnett was on hand to introduce the binge screening and she said that Sundance would very much like to see a second season, which will (no spoilers) presumably continue untangling the fallout from Daniel’s freedom. When asked to “wildly speculate” about what might go down in another season of Rectify — Would they want more information about the court case? More exploration into Daniel’s soul? — Smith-Cameron answered, “All of the above!”
Three young men in the waterlands of coastal South Carolina rob a backwoods juke joint and flee up the coast to Myrtle Beach, armed with psychedelics, their souped-up Cutlass and a thirst for adventure. But for one of the three, this journey is a quest for strength and courage in the face of a painful past
Info about his character:
(Rectify, Leverage, 24, A Walk to Remember)
Laid-back, good-looking. Down-to-earth with natural good humor. Jeans and sweater is dressing up. He’s been through hard times, but has found a way to grow from the past. This is what Joseph needs to emulate. His is the key voice of the film, articulating its themes and creating reference points in Joseph’s transformation.
Instead of warmly welcoming Daniel home, Ted Jr. feels this turn of events leaves him with everything to lose. He is most worried about the family tire business. By rights it belongs to Daniel, but Ted Jr. knows this would destroy what he and his dad have labored to restore. Insecure and manipulative, Ted Jr. will go to great lengths to hold on to his livelihood – even if Daniel’s freedom is at stake.
Like a redneck puppy with an automatic weapon, Barry Battles’s The Baytown Outlaws just wants to be loved—and shoot up a bunch of stuff at the same time. You could say that the film demands that you leave your critical eye at the door, but it’s closer to the truth to say that it’s just going to do what it wants, and you can either enjoy yourself or just leave the theater. Except, to paraphrase Sally Field, it also not-so-secretly does want you to like it, to really, really like it.
The film begins as the three Oodie Brothers (Clayne Crawford, Travis Fimmel, and Daniel Cudmore), a trigger-happy trio of hit men, force their way into a gangbanger hideout looking to retrieve a fugitive. They wind up killing everyone in sight. After seeing the boys get away without a scratch or the slightest sniff from the local police, Celeste (Eva Longoria) recruits them to rescue her teenage godson, Rob (Thomas Brodie Sangster), from her estranged psychopath ex-husband, Carlos (Billy Bob Thornton).
And then the fun begins. With the sheriff (Andre Breughel) unhappily being pushed by an eager DEA agent (Paul Wesley) to stay on their trail, the Oodie Brothers make an assault on Carlos’s compound, grab Rob (whom they discover is wheelchair-bound with cerebral palsy), and head out of town. Carlos survives the attack, however, and sends out teams of assassins to intercept the Oodies and take Rob back. A band of lethal whores, some African-American road pirates (complete with an armored tank-car), and some tree-climbing Native American snipers all stand in the way of the Oodies and Rob making it alive to Celeste.
The Oodies—half-cocked mastermind big brother Brick (Crawford), mute physical giant Lincoln (Cudmore), and comical idiot little brother G.I. McQueen (Fimmel)—bond quickly with Rob while on the run. Despite their Klan heritage, courtesy of their outlaw daddy, and subsequent rougher-than-rough orphaned upbringing, these guys have heart. The kid isn’t just a paycheck—they’ve more or less adopted him. And as the infuriated Carlos keeps raising the stakes, the Oodies keep thwarting the killers he sends their way.
Battles and co-screenwriter Griffin Hood throw violence, bloodshed, and cornball jokes at the screen with equally rapid-fire delivery. While their efforts to infuse the story with “heart” are handled with the same amount of nuance and care—which is to say, none at all—Baytown Outlaws maintains its raggedy puppy-dog charm. Thornton chews the scenery and spits it out just as you’d hope he would in a movie like this, and Crawford, Cudmore, and Fimmel have the right chemistry as the renegade brothers.
The degree to which you laugh or wince will depend on your taste for this type of shenanigan-filled entertainment. Even if Roger Corman doesn’t hold a hallowed place in your film universe and you would rather eat nails than see the South rise again, you will likely still have your share of giddy moments watching The Baytown Outlaws, better judgment be damned.