After nineteen years in prison and five stayed executions, a freed man, Daniel Holden (Aden Young), heads home to the tiny Georgia town that still doubts his innocence in the murder of his girlfriend. The plot may not make for the feel-good hit of the spring, but with a Southern Gothic charm that plays like a mix of Sling Blade and a Flannery O’Connor short story, the Sundance Channel’s Rectify deserves a different superlative: the best new drama on television.
“he’s set free in a world he no longer understands”
Created and written by Ray McKinnon (also an actor known for his work on Deadwood and Sons of Anarchy), Rectify follows Daniel as he’s set free in a world he no longer understands, forcing him to make sense of a family that can’t relate, a town that hasn’t healed and politicians that are determined to put him back behind bars. (Plus cell phones and SmartWater.) It’s a powerful mix that has inspired comparisons to shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad—no surprise considering Rectify shares executive producers with the latter.
As the Sundance Channel’s first wholly owned and scripted show and second high-profile release this year after the Jane Campion mini-series Top of the Lake, Rectify also represents the network’s latest salvo in a battle for eyeballs with the likes of HBO, Showtime and FX. Despite that crowded cable space, Sundance sensed an opening for slow, contemplative programming that caters to its indie fan base—not to mention actors intrigued by quality scripts that require minimal time commitment.
“the murmurs of excitement that began at the first Sundance Film Festival Screening have grown into a roar”
It took those unique qualities to lure Rectify star Aden Young away from his wife and sons in Australia. Virtually unknown stateside, Young plays Daniel with an understated pain that has made the murmurs of excitement that began at the first Sundance Film Festival Screening grow into a roar. Now halfway through the show’s six-episode first season, Young talks about mastering a Georgian accent, wrestling with guilt and standing on the doorstep of Hollywood stardom.
How hard is it for an Australia-born actor to take on a Southern accent?
I think the perception from a lot of filmmakers is that actors should have a little bag that they can just reach into and grab a Scot or grab a German. The reality, of course, is that you have to work very hard on that. You have to really sink yourself into that accent and study it.
Was that your game plan with Rectify?
With Rectify I had very little time, but my father grew up in Missouri, so I’ve always had a slight bent toward that part of the world. So it was more a case of trying to remember my father’s accent and yet take him out of Missouri and plop him in Georgia.
Are you happy with the results?
I had three or four moments when we were filming where I was like, “I’d like to go again.” One particular word, “been,” was tough. Little things like that would slip through. There was one part in the trailer that didn’t have any additional voice recording that sounds quite Australian. I was like, “Whoops! Sorry about that, guys!”
Should the audience be doubting Daniel’s innocence? The show is careful to point out that he was freed but not necessarily exonerated.
That question is never forgotten: Who was he on that night 20 years ago? As a performer, I didn’t play it from a position of guilt or innocence. But I did play it with the guilt that a girl’s life was taken and in some way—whether I had my hands around her neck or not—she is dead because of me. That guilt plays through. But what’s interesting is that when you’re looking at the question of guilt or innocence, it’s not just Daniel’s.
This murder reshaped the identity of this town, so it’s also looking at the people who made the careers on the back of this case. When Daniel returns, it turns things upside down. That’s much more intriguing than it being a simple whodunit with people tiptoeing through the dark trying to find secrets.
The Sundance Channel seems to be making a run at the other big cable networks with Rectify. Could you sense that as you were filming?
I feel like Sundance said, “Let’s find a project that has a visionary behind it who wants to say something.” So for all the glitz and glam they’ve put behind it, their enthusiasm for Ray telling the story his way was the most attractive element. That’s what you long for, and I think that their excitement was contagious.
Are you prepared for all the ways your career will change with the show being such a hit?
I can’t say that I haven’t thought about that, and it certainly already has opened up doors that were closed on my foot prior. [Laughs] You hope very much that the show gets the audience it deserves, but as far as the accolades are concerned, someone once said to me L.A. is the only town where you can die of flattery. I agree with that. You just have to put it in a basket next to the bin because it really doesn’t mean anything.
So you haven’t started writing your Emmy speech just yet?
No. I’m not one of those people. [Laughs] I’m one of those people who would probably do something ridiculously stupid