Daniel (Aden Young) made it off death row, but can he make it on his own away from home? The fourth and final season of Sundance’s Rectify picks up after sweet, troubled Daniel — who might or might not be a murderer; even he’s not sure — is banished from Georgia as part of his plea deal and starts life anew at a Tennessee house for recently freed prisoners. With eight episodes left, we talked with Young about saying goodbye.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve said before that you turned down the role at first. What changed?
ADEN YOUNG: It’s very rare that you come across something that immediately you have an understanding of how to play the character. I had read the first episode, and I thought, I kind of get an idea, but it wasn’t until I’d read the second episode and went to sleep and woke up at 3:30 in the morning with this feeling of, “Well, now I’m sort of doomed. I know who he is. And I think I’d like to investigate further.”
What kind of discussions do you and showrunner Ray McKinnon have about Daniel’s guilt or innocence?
It began with a question, “Are you going to tell me?” And he said, “Well, would you like to know?” And then we began really looking at that reality of, is it possible for an actor to play the role without that very cut-in-stone idea of guilt or innocence? And it was a really interesting challenge because we both were really intrigued by the idea of the elasticity of memory. And how much recent studies suggest that even witnesses interviewed within 45 minutes of a crime can get it completely wrong. For years, that’s been upheld as the golden egg of any investigation, that you have the evidence of a firsthand witness. And now they’re beginning to believe that actually, depending on the trauma associated with the witness and their experience during the crime or during the event, that can shift their perception of what actually happened dramatically. So you can only imagine what that does to somebody involved in a very traumatic event like witnessing a crime or committing a crime, how that begins to shift. And with each recall of that event, it also becomes this other event.
So getting back to the truth of something was really intriguing for both of us. We focused a lot more on that and what would happen, maybe if Daniel wasn’t necessarily sure anymore because he wasn’t willing to trust it either which way. Because he does feel an incredible guilt toward what happened. If you could imagine for 20 years, you’re in a box for 23 hours a day, and the reason you’re there and the reason that your family suffered and the reason that other families suffered, especially Hanna Dean’s family, you would go back to that night and look at the minutiae again and again and again and again to such a point where the recounting would have morphed the whole event into something almost abstract from reality. To me, there was a lot more information in looking at it from that perspective.
Do you lean toward one or the other?
Oh, I certainly know what happened.
Does that mean we are going to find out by the end of this season whether or not he did it?
That’s not what I said. [Laughs] What you’re going to find out is one of the most gradual, incremental, spectacular reveals of possible truth and possible fiction at the same time. As far as the whodunit aspect of it, I think people are really going to be enthralled by Ray’s handling of it.
Will more details from Hanna’s murder emerge?
Absolutely. Over time, people like to get things off their chest — especially when they feel the pressure of a whole town and a whole family’s grief coming bearing down on them.
Next season, Daniel is alone in Nashville, in a way, away from his family. How’s he going to deal with that?
So much of Daniel’s journey is projected back onto him by his family and how much they’ve suffered and how much they’ve had an expectation of him that has been unfulfilled. To remove him from that and the place among his own, he really has to look at himself and what he wants and whether he wants to continue with his journey. We’ve seen Daniel struggle for his life one way or another and have to deal with the ramifications of struggling, because part of him is already dead. He’s already gone the distance. When you lie down on a gurney with your legs strapped and the IV already planted in your arm waiting for the clock to tick to six, or the governor’s call, you’ve got to be in a place where you’ve given up, where you’ve said farewell to existence. And for Daniel to have experienced five stays of execution, it really brings home what he’s gone through and what he’s suffered. In so many ways, it’s almost like a ghost appearing when he appears in Paulie. And now with his opportunity to go to Nashville and try to make a life for himself, it’s a bit like Humpty Dumpty looking for all the king’s men. Are they going to have the ability to put him back together again?
And he’s going to be living with a roommate for the first time.
He’s going to be living with several. How does a man who’s been so long on his own and so much in his own mind deal with that? Deal with the reality of having another personal vessel alongside him, also on a journey of trying to make their way in the world for whatever reason? And at what stage are they at as well? There’s going to be extraordinary conflict and also companionship there as well.
The trailer for the new season showed Caitlin FitzGerald. What can you tell me about her character?
I don’t want to give away too much of who she is and how they meet, but he certainly sees in her an ability to grasp life no matter what the complications are. And that gives him a bit of strength in looking at his own journey. And how that unfolds is wonderfully poetic and sweet, and also at times, remarkably absurd.
What about the character of Daniel will stick with you most?
He’s a great reminder to me of what wonder means, and how we oftentimes overlook what beauty we are surrounded by. Not only in natural beauty, but in people as well. Daniel had an ability to see that, and unfortunately at times, not to see it, so he can remind me of me and at the same time, inspire me to be a little bit more open to the wonder of the universe.
How has the show ending affected you?
It’s been a remarkable journey to take, having Daniel Holden inside your psyche for so long — but it’s also been a great relief in some ways, to say goodbye after having spent five years with him, day in and day out. [Laughs]
Describe the final season in one sentence.
No matter how far you go, you can never get away from yourself.
Rectify‘s final season premieres on Sundance Oct. 26 at 10 p.m. ET. The first three seasons are currently streaming on Netflix.