For four seasons the acclaimed drama “Rectify” spun a gripping and intimate story about a Southern family grappling with the release of eldest son, Daniel (Aden Young), from prison for a brutal crime he had no memory of committing. J. Smith-Cameron played matriarch Janet, whose solid marriage to second husband Ted Sr. (Bruce McKinnon) was tested in the show’s final season. On a road trip to visit Daniel in Nashville in the episode “Pineapples In Paris,” the couple’s scenes together are a heartrending mix of combative conversations and melancholic silences indicative of series creator Ray McKinnon’s indelible dramatic style.
CAMERON: “We shot all our Nashville scenes at the whole end of the shooting schedule. That was one unusual time in “Rectify” when it was wildly out of order. When I saw it put together I was very appreciative of what Ray had given me to do, it was an unusually satisfying arc for that character.
“[Janet and Ted Sr.] are both so unaccustomed to doing anything outside of their comfort zone. I get the feeling they’ve never travelled. The trip to Nashville, which is almost a day trip, is a huge break from their routine. I think that’s true of a lot of people. And the feeling of, “OK, I know how we functioned as a family to raise the kids and pay the mortgage and pay for college, but now what?” It was a novel way to get at that very universal dynamic that long term relationships hit. Circumstances change. She asks him the question, “What do you want to do now that you can do anything?” And she’s so disappointed he doesn’t have an answer. From his point of view he’s threatened and confused.
“They look at each other, like “What do we even have in common?” That’s so true to life, it’s true of long marriages even without the extreme circumstances that this family goes through. And I really liked working with Bruce McKinnon, who’s a very big-hearted guy, a very authentic and down to Earth guy.
“Janet was always interesting to me because she’s so buttoned up. It’s so hard for her to let her hair down. She’s been in this bubble, and kind of isolated. When her world is broken open in the last season, it’s like the whole character blossoms. It felt like a gift from Ray. For so long to play someone who’s that pent up and that contained and that tense about it, to then have to be that vulnerable late in the story, go through those steps and come out the other side, is an unusual thing. It’s great when someone writes for a middle aged woman something that’s really really dimensional. I think there’s an audience for that. It’s compelling because you don’t usually get into the private thoughts of the mom, you don’t see that point of view. The arc of that was one of the best things I’ve ever had to play in theater, film or TV.
“I know that Ray is someone who has a very special connection with his mom. Ray and I are of an age, and his mother and my mother are of an age. My mother visited the set the season before the last, and Ray’s whole body language changed around her. He was incredibly decorous — Southern gentleman doesn’t even get at it. He praised me in a way a mother would want to hear, and he treated her like a little queen. I could tell from that his tenderness for his mother. I’ve always thought from the first episode of the show that he must have a really special mother and a special regard for her because I always felt it was an undercurrent in the whole story — this connection between mother and son.
“There was a scene in the first season where Janet lies down in bed clutching her purse. It wasn’t written but it was my idea, and they liked it because it was weird and stood out. The purse became like a security blanket. When we went to shoot a scene in Nashville someone had not packed the purse. I said, “She has to have her purse.” They had a black purse that was like the beige purse, but it wasn’t the same, and Janet never lets her purse out of her sight. So a very clever wardrobe person, Kim Rollins, went away and found shoe polish and sprayed the bag beige for the Nashville scenes, so I could have my security blanket. It was a little secret thing. Even the purse had a throughline.
“That amount of nuance was encouraged from us — because it was there, under the writing, waiting to be used — all of us did stuff like that. Making “Rectify” was one of those happy times when everyone was on the same page about getting the spirit of the show in the details.”