The Sundance Channel drama “Rectify” is back for its 3rd season starting Thursday July 9th at 10 E / 9 C. While attending the ATX Television Festival this June in Austin, Texas, I sat down to interview the star of the show Aden Young. Young plays Daniel Holden who after spending over half his life on death row, was released to due DNA evidence. At the end of season two, Daniel had to decide to take a deal that would make him leave town or stay and possibly be re-tried for a crime that he may or may not have committed while as a young teenager.
Talk a little about your character on the show to give people a bit of a background.
Aden Young: I play Daniel Holden on “Rectify”. It tells the story of a man who has been on death row and has his sentence vacated over the rape and murder of his childhood sweetheart, Hanna Dean. His sentence has been vacated due to new DNA evidence. He has not been exonerated, and it’s possible that he could be retried. But he’s been given this second chance, this new lease on life. In season one, we saw him over the course of 7 or 8 days exploring the new world. But it also was his world, a world that was reshaped by the night of the murder. He returned to a little town who found their identity was forever married to that heinous crime. Daniel is struggling to find a way to communicate with the people that he loved but had to push away in order to survive death row. It’s very much about being an infant in that new world. It’s like a family portrait was painted on a pane of glass and then someone smashing (sic) it. They have rebuilt it, making a wonderful new mosaic by starting a brand new family. They fought for his release and championed his innocence. It’s a broken portrait and then Daniel steps back in right in the middle of it and smashes it again. That’s what we saw in season two. Daniel is unaware of how tenuous that familial bond is. He was absent for that trauma, even though he experienced his own trauma. While Daniel experiences his isolation, his family experienced theirs. Like a teenager, he goes about with the idea of consequences. You know if you pull on a rope the tiger will come to town. We left him at the end of season two understanding that to gain any resemblance of freedom; he is going to have to accept the authority rule again. In order to be free, he is going to have to play by their rules. He sees this as a game. It’s a game that very easily could turn to kill him again. He’s survived death row and a brutal posse of people who were looking for vengeance. He begins to understand that in season two, and perhaps he can find forgiveness or maybe he has bigger plans. That’s where we leave him at the end of season two. With season three, if you look at it metaphorically; season one was about an infant, season two about a teenager and season three is about an adult leaving home for the first time in his life, really leaving home because which one has he spent more time in; the penitentiary or his mother’s house.
Today at the “Rectify” panel, you talked about what if he had gone back for his wallet or taken a different route, or not gone at all how different his life might be. As an actor do think about your character thinking like that?
Aden: Yeah, I think that Daniel would every night for all those years on death row think about it. I personally don’t want to be in that position, where at night the VCR in your head is on a loop, playing that night over, and over and over. And the fact that he can’t get a clear image, due to the fog and that snow of his brain, the more distorted it would become. To where due to all the recounting, he begins to believe that he just might be the perpetrator of a monstrous moment. We all carry that. We all carry that possibility inside us, no matter who you are. I know I have it. Have I ever carried out it? No. Do I marry lust with it? Could it become part of my sexual fantasy? Does that demon need to be brought out? It’s not that it’s not there; I just have the strength and the upbringing to never let it out.
Your character is so interesting because at times Daniel is genteel, but he does have that demon inside him. He can be violent; he was in season two when he assaulted his half-brother, Teddy. It’s like he is always in a battle to be in control of himself.
Aden: Yeah, exactly. He knows that he carries the monster inside of himself. It’s in all of us, and we try to keep it controlled…For Daniel to survive death row, the monster had to be front and center, ready to go at a moment’s notice, always primed. He gets out of there, and it’s like a solider coming back from Iraq. I’m going to ride in the middle of the road because that’s the safest place. He is driving down the middle of the road going a hundred miles an hour. He’s back from Iraq, and has been trained to kill. Daniel Holden is the same guy. He’s suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. For 17 years, they tried to kill him, and it was definitely going to happen at some point. He’s that door gunner coming back from Iraq, driving down the middle of the road, going if you make me; I will bring out my monster. And that’s frightening to show. The scene where Teddy asked Daniel if there were concierge visits on death row, and it brings out the rage in Daniel. Daniel’s rage is like “Are you going to strip me of my dignity as well?” “Is that why I escaped, just so a tool like you, an alpha chimp can go at a silverback?” “I’m going to skin you!” And that’s what he does. He skins him, right then and there. That’s what he does to Teddy. Teddy never recovers from it and from there Teddy set forth a series of events that have shown how twisted and broken Daniel is.
One of the things that I realized watching the first episode of the third season is that there really aren’t any villains on the show. Everyone on the show thinks they are right and that their actions are justified. Everyone thinks they are right. Whether it’s Amantha, who thinks her brother Daniel is innocent, or its Teddy, who thinks that Daniel is stealing his place in the family, or it’s the Senator who thinks I need to put Daniel away so that I can further my career, they all think they are right. I don’t think there is a villain in the show unless it’s the system itself.
Aden: It’s an interesting idea. To discuss it, you have to look at how cinema and television have portrayed villains through the ages and how; in present day you can get a show like “Rectify.” You know there was a script that was going around Hollywood and no one wanted to play the part because there was a scene where a man was bouncing a basketball on his head. Robert Duvall in “The Great Santini.” He saw the part for what it was and said “I’m going to play it.” He’s not a villain; he’s just a man who thinks he is right. But my God, you don’t want to be that boy. It’s an incredibly complex character that Duvall brings to life. He brought a character into the American mainstream, and America went “That’s interesting.” But then you had the death of American cinema and the independent theatre. Now we have these huge “tent pole” films with cartoon villains. America thinks it just wants these big films and then a little fellow named Ray McKinnon comes along and says that we all carry good and bad in each of us. Let’s do a study on that. Let’s do a show that isn’t black or white. Set it in the Deep South with social and economic troubles. That’s a Petri dish of extraordinary Greek drama. Everyone on the show is fighting for their survival. Whether it’s Amantha, whose struggle is to find her identity and where do I go from here. Or Tawny, Teddy’s wife, struggling with her spirituality. Teddy, who is struggling with his marriage and his right to be like it was just six weeks ago. Daniel’s mother who is struggling to keep her family together and having to deal with this ghost that appeared on her doorstep just a few short weeks ago. And in the middle of it all is Daniel, who society said “We are allowed to kill you.” “We want to kill you.” “You might be innocent, but we are going to kill you anyway.” So there isn’t a real villain. There is a sequence in the first episode of season, where Teddy walks into everyone having dinner, and he hasn’t seen Daniel in a long time, and he knows that Daniel spent the night with his wife. There is a standoff between Daniel and Teddy in that scene that reminded me of two men standing on a bridge, both wanting to get past each other.
This is a show where the tension keeps building and building, never quite relenting. Do you think that Daniel will ever find peace? Do you think he will figure out a way to live with himself? Or has he figured it out?
Aden: No, no, season three is the recognition that Daniel is driving in the middle of the road. That he cannot survive the game when he doesn’t understand the rules. And he can’t understand the rules until he understands the context of the rules. It’s been an interesting journey for me as a person. The learning the reactions to a character like Daniel. Some people have asked me, why isn’t he happier; he has a chance to live? If you think about it, he hasn’t had a chance to live. He lived under a death sentence. His family was destroyed. His life was destroyed. The only person he really loved, his girlfriend is dead. It’s not stuff you can get over. There is so much that is anchored to the abuse that he has suffered at the hands of the system. I did some research on long term incarceration. Daniel spends 23 hours a day in a box. 1 hour a day he is allowed to walk around a courtyard that has no natural light. Once a week, he’s allowed to shower.
And he doesn’t get to pick his neighbors.
Aden: And he doesn’t get to pick his neighbors.
We saw in season one and two that he has had two very different neighbors. One became a friend, the other a tormentor.
Aden: One was an angel, and one is the devil. And Daniel sits right in the middle; you don’t know which one he is. And Daniel can never let the devil know that he upsets him, or the devil will have a key and keep him up at night. That’s why when Daniel screams in prison; you can’t hear anything because he can’t let that scream out, because if he does, he’s lost.
When Ray sent you the script, I am sure you got very excited about playing the part. But once you started shooting, did you go “Oh my gosh, what have I gotten myself into?” It’s such an emotional role that you have to commit so much of yourself to.
Aden: No, I did. I am like a lot of actors; I’m not interested in yachts. I don’t need to finance a lifestyle like that. So because of that I have been able to work on a lot of interesting projects. Yeah, sometimes I stumble and take a part that I really shouldn’t have. But when something is as detailed and fulfilling as the experience of working on something that is full of Greek tragedy that it is spectacular. Ray has created a canvas for us all to immerse ourselves in doing what we love doing. And he has created a great stage of collaboration where we all feel a part of the shows continuing growth. And for that you couldn’t be happier. But what I wasn’t prepared for was finishing season one…So after the first season I had trouble letting go of him. So I had to learn how to do that. I knew I would need his knowledge again, so I couldn’t put him totally away, so after the season is over, I built a guest house and told him to stay there. Occasionally he knocks on the door to my house with pizza and beer, and I have to tell him, not now.
Let’s talk about filming in Georgia. You shoot in Griffin, which is only an hour away from Atlanta. That means that you can drive to Atlanta if you want to experience a big city, but you shoot in a town where they have really welcomed you with open arms.
Aden: Oh, absolutely. Part of the beauty of the show is the town itself. It makes the show real. It’s so great to walk down the street, and someone passes by you and say’s “Too blessed to be stressed!” And you go, “I’ve never heard that.” The town plays an important role. It keeps us in check. Rectify is an ensemble show and the town it part of it. We loved living in Griffin that once the show was done for the season, my family stayed for an extra month because we enjoyed it so much.
Thank you for talking to me today and good luck with the show.
Aden: Thank you.
Rectify premieres Thursday July 9th at 10 pm eastern / 9 pm central on the Sundance Channel.
For more of Mike’s interviews and reviews click here