On Saturday, the Atlanta Film Festival presented a preview of the new Sundance Channel series “Rectify.” The series is about Daniel Holden (Aden Young) a man who has spent 19 years on Death Row for the rape and murder of his teenage girlfriend. His conviction has been overturned due to new DNA evidence. Now Daniel is going back to his small Georgia hometown. A town divided between the belief that he is innocent and the belief that he should die for what he has done.
Actor Ray McKinnon (“Mud,” “The Blindside”) is the visionary behind this series, as he not only created “Rectify,” but also wrote and produced this Georgia lensed project. McKinnon brought his cast to the 2013 Atlanta Film Festival red carpet at the Plaza Theatre.
Actress Abigail Spencer plays Amantha, Daniel Holden’s sister.
So, you are on this new television show called “Rectify,” tell me a little about your character.
Spencer: Her name is Amantha Holden and she is the sister to Daniel Holden, who has been on death row for 20 years. She kind of represents the counter-culture in this small town of Pauley, Georgia. She is very fiery, very confrontational and yet a very vulnerable woman who is like a dog with a bone. She has been fighting for her brother’s freedom. The show picks up where her brother has been released from prison and with that release, now she has to deal with herself.
While this film is a character study of a man who is coming back to his home town after 19 years in prison, it’s also a mystery because it still needs to be determined who actually committed the murder, did Daniel do it or was it someone else. Does your character think that he did it?
Spencer: Oh no, she believes whole heartily that he is one hundred percent innocent. That’s part of her plight on the show. She is the one that brought in the group Justice Row, the organization that gets people off of death row solely based on DNA evidence. She believes in his innocence and I think that she will be rectified in the end.
How do you like working in Georgia?
Spencer: I love working in Georgia. I’m from Gulf Breeze, a small town in Florida, so I love it here. The South is treated like a character in the show. It’s very important that the show portray the culture that is here in the South.
Thank you so much
Actor Bruce McKinnon plays Ted Sr., Daniel’s step-father.
So Daniel comes back after spending 19 years on death row which has divided the town. How does this affect your character?
Bruce McKinnon: My character married Daniel’s mother after his father died of a heart attack. I own a tire store and we lost business when Daniel was put away. Now that he has come back, it’s going to suffer again. My character is a straight shooter, a compassionate man who always wants to do the right thing. He believes that Daniel is innocent and sort of circles the wagons around the family when all this goes down. My character is all about protecting his family and being willing to give it all up for the cause.
How important to the show is that fact that it is set and shot in Georgia?
Bruce McKinnon: Anytime you have a show that is set in a certain locale, even just the use of the land will lend to its sense of reality. And having actors that live here or have roots here; also contributes to that sense of reality for the show. It gives it a truth to liberate the story. It’s extremely important to the story, because this is about a combination of illusion and storytelling. When you have the real deal, an authentic setting, you can forget about the illusion part and concentrate on the storytelling. It’s fantastic to have that positive input to the story.
Thank you and good luck with the film
Actor Jayson Warner Smith is from Atlanta and plays Wendall Jelks, a prison mate of Daniel.
So who do you play on the show?
Smith: I play Wendall Jelks, he is the next door neighbor in prison with Daniel. My character is in a bunch of the show as a flashback section. I’m the guy that’s next door that is not his friend.
What is your character in for?
Smith: Well, you don’t really know but you do know that he is not a good person. The Georgia Innocence Project would not be able to get this guy out of prison. He likes young people in sad and horrible ways. Just not a good guy.
This is an interesting story that contains two different sub-stories; one about a man who spends half his life in prison and the other story is how he tries to put his life back together after getting out.
Smith: That’s exactly right. Daniel is incarcerated when he is eighteen years old. Put away for 19 years and then all of a sudden he is released. So after you get released and get through that first day, then what’s next? The first six episodes of this series are covering the first seven days of his life out of prison. Think about being locked away from society for twenty years and then coming out into a world that is filled with cell phones and internet. How that would shock you! And it’s about his coming back to a town where he was convicted of being a murderer. Aden Young, playing Daniel, is such a brilliant actor and I am glad I got to spend so much time with him.
Thank you so much
Actor Clayne Crawford plays Ted, Jr., the step-brother to Daniel
What can you tell me about your character Ted Jr. ?
Crawford: Well , he’s Republican that sees the world in black and white terms. He’s a guy that you can say he has felt the same way his entire life. Even when he is shown something, like the DNA evidence, that should change his opinion he just can’t and won’t wrap his mind around that fact. He is only going to believe what he believes and that is that. Teddy can come off sometimes as the antagonist, when in reality he is just a human being and that’s just how he sees things. He becomes threatened when everything he knows and feels starts coming apart. Which can be very scary for anyone. He may lose everything because of what is happening in his town, therefore he comes from a very defensive place. I saw the humanity in Teddy and I hope I brought that to the screen, because he is a very multi-layered individual but to most people he comes off as a jerk.
So by episode six, will we still not like Teddy or will are opinion have changed?
Crawford: No, you will still not like him. I don’t think you will ever like him, especially in the first episode but maybe by episode six you just might be confused about how you feel about this guy. I think you will feel for him and will start to slowly understand why he acts the ways he does. What I find fascinating about the show is the human element in it. It’s not that Daniel has been put away for 19 years, it’s how he, his family and the community deal with his release after he has been in prison that makes the story so good.
Actor Ray McKinnon (“Mud,” “The Blindside”) created, wrote and produced this series shot in Griffin, Georgia.
So what was the inspiration for creating “Rectify?”
Ray McKinnon: There were a number of cases that I followed in Illinois about a decade or so ago, where DNA exonerated quite a few people from death row, with some of the inmates having been in prison for decades. It really intrigued me wondering what it would be like to be freed and back in the world after being away for so long.
The show is really about not what they do on the first day they are out, it’s about what they do the day after that.
Ray McKinnon: Yeah, it’s about what they do on the second day and the third day. It’s like the film “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” that type of archetypal story that has been around forever. It’s a great story to see experiences from the perspective of someone’s else’s eyes, by seeing the world in a new way. Daniel is partly that person, experiencing things he never has before but he is also a lightning rod kind of a stranger, who came to town and polarizes it. I have always loved stories that deal with the dynamics of a family and with this show, I get to explore all of those things.
You have an incredible cast, including the legendary Hal Holbrook.
Ray McKinnon: Yes, to have Hal show up and do this for me, just fills me with gratitude. It was a real special treat for me to deal with such a wonderful man and such a talented actor. It was incredible, not just for me but for everyone in the cast and crew, to have someone on set that is of his stature.
Talk a little about how important it was to shoot here on location in Georgia.
Ray McKinnon: We have all seen movies about the South where they shot it on a sound stage or on location somewhere else. And you see something that just doesn’t fit, like a shot of some cactus or the Rocky Mountains and it totally takes you out of the story. I wanted to shoot what was real, plus we didn’t have the money to build a bunch of sets, so it was just easier to come down to Georgia and shoot what was real.
Thank you and I wish you much success with the series.
“Rectify” will premiere on Monday, April 22nd on the Sundance Channel. Sundance Channel Website
The 2013 Atlanta Film Festival will continue through Sunday, March 24th. Atlanta Film Festival Website