As Sundance Channel’s surprise breakout hit, RECTIFY returns for its fourth and final season. The tale of Daniel Holden (Aden Young), a young man released from Death’s Row after serving 19 years incarcerated for a crime he may not have committed, RECTIFY examines what his re-entry into his family and community would be like. Seasons 1 through 3 showed the incremental assimilation process over the days, weeks and months following his release and explored how the underlying murder case could lead straight back to Daniel as well turning the spotlight on other suspects previously not considered. J. Smith-Cameron portrays Daniel’s mother Janet, Bruce McKinnon portrays Daniel’s stepfather Ted Sr., and Jake Austin Walker portrays Daniel’s younger brother Jared. In an exclusive interview, J., Bruce and Jake talked about their experience working on the final season of RECTIFY.
I have followed your show and I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s really a work of art and I hope you guys are proud of that. If you’re allowed to share, what’s up for the Talbots next season? I know of course they’ve had some changes with Daniel having moved out, Teddy (Clayne Crawford) possibly having moved in, Amantha (Abigail Spencer) out there doing whatever she’s doing.
J.: As Daniel begins to try to make a life for himself, he leaves all this emotional turmoil in his wake because the family has all been about worrying that he was going to get executed and then it’s all been about how is he going to be re-acclimated into society. Then he gets to that place and where do they go? What do they do? These people are very splintered and relationships get tested. Absolutely, all the relationships in the show get really tested.
Are they fragmenting further? It seemed like there were lots of stress-points last season.
JAKE: Yeah. The way I’ve always kind of thought of the show is: the first season it was like a storm. Do you know what I mean? Daniel was the storm. He came in. Second season, they are dealing with the storm. Third season is the storm’s going away. And now season four is the cleanup after. Daniel’s doing his thing now. Like he’s kind of rebuilding himself as a person and they are all cleaning up. They are all finding out now that the storm has come in and they have realized who they are — who are characters are. And the show’s got more depth into it. I feel like this season is a lot of rebuilding and continuing. The biggest thing for this season and for all the characters is finally finding their place — that this part of them is gone and they know he’s doing his thing. It’s like: what do they do?
BRUCE: There’s a secondary storm now though, and I’m thinking that’s a good thing. Because it’s like to Ted Sr. — when you said that, I just saw this big anchor — part of this thing is he is kind of like an anchor and tries to do right for all concerned. And you’ve got to remember too how much time has passed: it is just a little over two months that all this stuff has been going on.
J.: It’s a little blurry the time passage. Ray was pointing out how between Season 1 and Season 2, it’s like a few weeks and then Season 2, likewise. And then between Season 3 and 4, some time has passed and you realize it right away.
BRUCE: But you’ve got this anchor and you’ve got an anchor rope, and because of all this turmoil, it’s starting to get frayed and frayed and it’s getting ready to snap. I think the aftermath of this storm, as Jake was saying, has taken its toll and there’s fractures.
JAKE: I think that’s another thing like you were saying J., is how each season is like the characters don’t really have too much time to sit,. They are not really sitting and staying. I guess there’s like a constant movement between the seasons. Our characters are always going and thinking. I think the difference between the third and fourth season is that we as characters and as actors have had time to sit and think about everything that’s happened. I mean throughout the seasons, it’s just something would happen and there they were and there’s this obstacle. They are overcoming it right to the next obstacle. And now it’s like they have hopped through all the obstacles. So it’s what do they do.
BRUCE: This is the first time since Daniel’s come back that he goes away. And now they are back together as a family unit without him. Revising that dynamic after he’s come through.
J.: But everything’s all changed.
BRUCE: Everything has changed. And can we re-capture that.
It seems as if the family is healing a little bit. Like last season we saw Amantha, Jared and Teddy playing together with the card game. Then there was overtures between Janet and Ted Sr., as a couple. But at the same time it seems like the family isn’t quite sure if is going to survive and if that momentary calm was going to continue.
BRUCE: You know, that’s the question: what’s going to happen? Because the human condition is so complex and so fragile and any little puff of wind could take you up into another thing. That’s what’s so cool about our show is that it explores all that fragility.
J.: And Daniel — the whole character, his personality and also just his circumstances — he’s kind of a “tabula rasa” and what happens is all of us get ourselves reflected back. What we see in him sort of has this weird boomerang emotionally for us.
JAKE: He’s a mirror, almost.
J.: Yes like my character [Janet] is struggling with feelings of shame and regret. And I just get it mirrored back from him. So all of us have things like that, that we’re karmically trying to what do we do now that Daniel’s beginning to heal and repair and try to be part of society.
Are we going to see them try to continue that relationship with Daniel or are they going to be grateful that he’s kind of stepped away from their everyday lives?
J.: I think they all differ. As the mama, as Janet, I want the connection and I think it’s a big source of tension in Season 4.
BRUCE: As Ted, is my whole thing is to protect the family and he is, of course. I mean, to me, Daniel’s always been unconditionally-loved by me. But now it’s becoming less black-and-white with decisions. To me as Ted Sr., I just want what’s best for all concerned and even though I’m starting to crack on the inside and on the outside.
JAKE: Yeah, I think we all take pride in about the show. We don’t necessarily have to depend on big action ordeals and stuff. It’s very real world. When something comes through your life — it’s the idea of letting go. I mean, I feel like everyone has shared their own type of reflection with Daniel. They’ve all shared their own story in their relationship with him. And I think there’s parts for every character where they have to let him go.
BRUCE: They’re learning their own truth.
JAKE: Yeah, exactly.
What is something you’re most proud of for each of your characters? What was like a moment you really felt like that character was just something you admired or enjoyed portraying?
JAKE: In these four seasons, we see Jared really trying — as any teenager — trying to figure out who he is as a person. And then here comes this storm, as Daniel. Jared did know a little bit about Daniel and kept up with his cases and stuff. I think even for me growing up, it’s a fundamental part of your life. And I think it was one of those things where I’m most proud of Jared because I think this season he finally figures out what he wants to be and who he wants to be as a person. He’s talked to Teddy and Teddy says, “You’re nothing like him.” He’s talked to Daniel and Daniel says the same. Like, we’re not the same. And that’s good and I think it’s the first time for Jared — personally he’s found himself. He knows what he wants to do. He’s got a set plan. I think that’s what I’m proud of the most of Jared: is that he’s officially overcome these obstacles and sometimes he’s had to play the parent himself. When everything was going wrong, he had to give himself his own answers no matter how much he tried looking for others. He had to answer stuff himself. I think that’s what I’m most proud of of my character.
BRUCE: I guess, just really trying to do his best to stick with his own journey in life — his own philosophy of how he needs to handle life, which is just trying to do the right thing. And as we go into Season 4, I’m very proud of him for really honestly trying to examine his soul and really being able to look at it honestly, no matter what happens. And just really trying to follow a truthful path even though he may be wrong at times. At least he’s not a manipulator and he really tries to listen and answer unconditionally without any kind of quippy belittling people to really try to make decisions.
J.: In some way, I think Ted Sr. is like the moral compass of our show. He’s like the one good man that keeps the…
BRUCE: [Laughs] In the face of that compass again, it’s starting to crack.
J.: In my case, I feel like Janet is pent-up and really passive, or you might say passive-aggressive, at times. I don’t think she thinks of it that way but she’s just very buttoned-up and very inhibited. And what I’m really excited for her — I don’t know if proud is the right word, but what I’m really thrilled about is that that façade begins to crack in Season 4. One of the interesting storylines, I think, is that she begins to be more assertive and actually aggressive. You’ve never seen those colors from Janet and that’s kind of thrilling because that’s such an architect — that kind of very demure, but soft spoken southern lady who might be just falling apart inside, but she keeps it together. In Season 4, we get to see what happens when someone is not willing to keep all that energy that it takes and that begins to crumble. It’s really interesting to watch. It’s a really an interesting human story.
It’s almost like the façade is coming off all the characters and they are forced to see their inner selves.
BRUCE: And they didn’t even know they had one to begin with.
J.: They didn’t know, right.
JAKE: I guess one of my last things is to take everything you know about the characters and that you think you know about them and then this season dives even deeper. Like we get to the core of all these characters this season. We really find out like what breaks them. This season you’ll get the full picture of everything. Like you said, the facades we didn’t even know we had and stuff.
BRUCE: And the audience immersing themselves in this will identify somewhere along the way and invest themselves within it. And maybe learn something of their own facades and their own truth.
What was kind of like the lightning moment for you when you realized you were doing a show that actually the world was responding to? That you, as a person and as an actor, realized that the show was actually having an effect on the world outside.
BRUCE: Wow, that’s a good question.
JAKE: I can say the biggest moment and when it hit me and I realized just how much of like a gift this show is I’d go out on auditions and to this day, I haven’t been to one audition where a producer or a director or even like the casting people and they’re like, “RECTIFY is amazing.” Like there is no either/or. When I meet people it’s either, “I’ve seen it and I’m obsessed” or “I haven’t seen it.” I’ve never witnessed any in between. And that’s just amazing to hear. Like the fans are so diehard. That’s why we have the show is because of how loving and into the show the fans are.
J.: We’ve also been very lucky because one thing that Ray [McKinnon] was really good about was when he cast it, if I may say. But also, he’s marshaled or done quality control. The whole thing is very bold but also now true to itself. It’s pace — the channel let him do that and it’s this peculiar odd-duck of a show. What’s great is that the critics and journalists seem to right away appreciate the nuance in it and the mystery and the depth to it. Because the model of how people watch TV and discover TV is they don’t always watch it while it’s being aired. Sometimes it might amass a huge audience, but over a decade as people watch it on Netflix or something. So putting that aside, because that’s sort of trickling out, that’s how it is slowly expanding. But the incredible warm reception we got from journalists and critics was incredibly gratifying because it was almost as if the sort of thought-y piece. Like they were waiting for it — and it was so gratifying.
BRUCE: And the adjectives describing it! I never was much of a social media person, but on Twitter when I started getting people from like France and Spain and Iran and all over the world making these wonderful insightful comments and being so appreciative of the show, that’s when I thought, “Oh, wow.”. It was really humbling. Like I knew it was always special, but almost every show you kind of go into not really knowing how it’s going to be accepted again with the critics.
J.: And with social media.
BRUCE: And social media, which is two very important things.
J.: And nothing from our show has ever pandered to an audience or pandered to them. That’s what I mean. It’s like boldly peculiar. I don’t like to use the word “slow” because it’s so packed with content that, to me when I watch it, it isn’t slow because there’s all these things happening that aren’t necessarily said aloud.
BRUCE: Aden [Young] said that somebody said something to him about it being “slow” and I loved his answer, which was that it’s about the concept of time. Daniel came off of Death Row and his concept of time is totally warped. So you’re actually getting a part of what his concept in time is like. So that’s part of our show — you experience much what everybody’s going through. That’s what’s cool about it. It’s an immersion show.
It is remarkable. I wasn’t prepared for when I first started watching it. I thought, “Oh god, this is just going to be one of those shows that’s going to make me cry all the time.”
J.: Yes, and instead, you don’t cry all the time. What you do is you’re in awe. Just awestruck by it.
BRUCE: And there’s no bad guys. Everybody’s coming from their own sense of truth. Everybody has their own reason for doing things and their own sense of truth. So like somebody said, it’s not your normal procedural drama. It’s not.
J.: But also there’s a lot of dry deadpan kind of humor in it, which is great because it is so emotional. One thing I think that Ray happened to have done with the whole cast is he cast all of us in our own way — we’re all completely different kinds of actors, but we have this one thing in common which is that in the top drawer — if we were a bureau drawer — in our top drawer is this well of emotion. What he was always trying to get us to do is keep the drawer shut, but he had to sense that it was there. And he happened to have got a good collective of people who could operate on that.
BRUCE: And also you know like in “To Kill A Mockingbird” the movie that had such a magical quality that you couldn’t really put your finger on why. It has that same thing too and I don’t know how to explain that. It’s authentic, poetic, real. It’s like watching a novel on television.
JAKE: It’s humane. It’s like you’re sitting in there with the family. I think that’s one of my favorite compliments is someone said, “I didn’t feel like I was watching actors. I felt like I was just sitting inside watching a family.”
BRUCE: And I’m a fan — all of us are fans — of this crazy guy, and we know the scripts, but we’ll sit there watching it like we don’t. Because we get sucked into it too. It’s the strangest thing.
I always came away from it feeling awestruck and like it was watching art, living art. I would just watch that color palette and the characters, and it was so rich with every scene, and you just couldn’t stop watching it.
BRUCE: Oh, thank you.
Jake: That’s great!
J.: It is our pleasure. Lovely to hear that.
To see where the final chapter of RECTIFY leads and where the Talbot family ends up, be sure to tune in for the Season 4 premiere on Wednesday, October 26th at 10:00 p.m. on the Sundance Channel. It is sure to be extraordinary.