The stars of SundanceTV’s “Rectify” were out in full force to celebrate season two of the critically-acclaimed drama on Monday night, packing the Sundance Sunset Cinema for a screening of the season premiere before taking the party across the street to Chateau Marmont.
Guests sipped on champagne and iced tea with a kick in one of Chateau’s private bungalows, while the cast talked to Variety poolside about the success of the measured character drama, which Variety TV Critic Brian Lowry described as “consistently compelling.”
“Rectify” centers around Daniel Holden (Aden Young) who, after spending 19 years on death row for the rape and murder of his teenage girlfriend, has his conviction overturned thanks to newly discovered DNA evidence. Season one covered the first week following his release, culminating in a violent confrontation that saw Daniel beaten and left for dead by the vengeful brother of the girl he was alleged to have murdered.
Season two picks up where the finale left off, with Daniel emotionally and physically battered by his tumultuous first week of freedom, and Young admitted that Daniel is still a man who’s “desperately trying to find his way” in the new episodes.
“He’s entering this new phase in his life, very much the adolescent, and he doesn’t understand that there’s consequence, because he’s just not aware of social reality,” Young pointed out. “He’s laid some landmines as well with [stepbrother] Teddy and with [Teddy’s wife] Tawney and with [sister] Amantha, and even with his mother, and some of those go off. But he’s slightly oblivious to it because he’s on a quest to discover what life is and can be in all its glory and all its mud at the same time.”
While season one of “Rectify” was less preoccupied with whether Daniel was guilty of the crime he was convicted of and more fascinated by the subtle relationships between characters, Young said that Daniel will be forced to confront his past this year. “He’s finding his way back to feeling … what things can be, what they can taste like, feel like, smell like. How can he absorb this? And unfortunately, he can’t do it because he can’t leave the past behind. Because the past is this terrible anchor; it might have only lasted 35 seconds, but did he or didn’t he kill her? He has to go back and decide, ‘am I going to look for the truth, or am I going to ignore the truth? And maybe I’ll use the history as a way to set me free or entrap others or allow me to just get along with the little bit of life that I can lead, even though I’m destroying everything around me.'”
Daniel’s voyage of self-discovery will continue to have far-reaching implications for everyone around him, particularly his sister, Amantha (Abigail Spencer).
“Can you imagine spending your entire life, since you were 12 years old, fighting for your brother’s freedom, and he’s out one week and then he’s beat almost to death and he might die? It’s devastating,” Spencer said. “The [first three episodes] are going to be dealing with this fact and everybody trying to deal with what is actually going on, and their own emotions around it. And then … we like to call season one the birth, and now we’re dealing with adolescence, and everyone’s acting out, figuring out how to be a toddler and realize that the world isn’t all about you, so there’s a lot of that with Amantha.”
That extends to Amantha’s complicated relationship with Jon (Luke Kirby), Daniel’s lawyer. “It’s really hard this year, because Jon and Amantha are going to have to figure out who they are outside of Daniel being on death row, and who they are outside of him — are they anything outside of him? We’re asking some of those hard questions,” Spencer noted. “But hopefully we’re going to see why they’re fighting for their relationship, because I really do believe they’re in love.”
While the 6-episode first season covered a day per installment, Spencer confirmed that the 10-episode second season will “cover a lot more time” for the sake of propelling the story forward — although the focus is still on the characters and not on manufacturing narrative twists.
“It’s certainly a marathon, because our car chases happen between people; our nuclear devices are hidden in people’s souls, and we’re trying to defuse them, and Daniel at times might be lighting them, unknowingly,” Young agreed. “There’s so many aspects of the show, which … if you were to look at it on a piece of paper, you might go ‘nothing happens,’ but of course in that maelstrom of human emotion, lives are changed, people are destroyed, a new identity emerges for all the inhabitants of this landscape.”
Adelaide Clemens, who plays Tawney, the wife of Daniel’s antagonistic stepbrother Teddy (Clayne Crawford), admitted that the relationship between the three characters provides one of the most interesting dynamics of the new season. “It’s one that I think a lot of people want to equate very quickly, because it’s the forbidden love, it’s that fairytale thing, but ‘Rectify’ is really turning the tale of the forbidden love on its head,” she previewed. “I think people are going to be blown away … We had grips on set, we had PAs — who don’t have any time anyway — reading and crying and their eyes glued to our scripts. I’ve been been working now eight years in the industry, and I’ve never seen people on the crew so invested in what’s going on.”
According to the cast, the show’s particular magic is all due to creator Ray McKinnon, who also writes the majority of the episodes. “He is always there for the rehearsal so we can find the scene together and then we can fly,” Spencer said. “We love having him there, it’s his show, it’s his vision; we’re there to serve it.”
Clemens described the multi-hyphenate as “a genius filmmaker,” and admitted that she’s still in awe of him even after working together on the first season. “He’s Werner Herzog, he’s Scorsese; I know I sound crazy but I’m serious, he’s incredible,” she enthused. “I’ve worked with Baz Luhrmann, who I consider an auteur, and I think Ray is on that level.”
“Rectify” season two premieres Thursday, June 19 at 9 p.m. on SundanceTV.