Aden Young Sends Off Rectify With a Walk Through His Most Memorable Scenes

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Aden Young as Daniel on Rectify. Photo: Jackson Lee Davis/SundanceTV

“There's a moment in season four that will turn your bones around — hopefully,” says Aden Young, the star of SundanceTV’s Rectify, which begins its final season Wednesday. Young is alluding to the episode in which viewers — and Daniel Holden himself — will find out if he murdered his girlfriend nearly two decades earlier. Young says he didn’t know himself until he came upon that “very intriguing piece of information” in the script, because that was the way he always wanted it.

“I've had many conversations with [creator Ray McKinnon] over the years about Daniel's guilt or his innocence and we'd agreed to allow that to be a philosophical conversation that's going to be a part of the story as opposed to a whodunit, and how to play him if he was in fact the murderer and how to play it if he was, in fact, wrongfully incarcerated for the murder,” he said. “It was always more of an intrigue to me about not knowing than it was about knowing. Allowing the ambiguity and the confusion of that night to reign as opposed to the knowledge of that night and the facts of the case to be in the forefront of my thinking created a much more complex process of working that I was intrigued by.”

When the final season of Rectify opens, Daniel has been out of prison less than six months and is living at the halfway house in Nashville, where his mother dropped him off in last season’s finale. SundanceTV’s slow-paced, Peabody-winning series has played out like a character study of a Georgia family, decimated two decades ago when Daniel was convicted of murder and sentenced to death as a teenager only to be torn apart again when he’s released on a technicality. Daniel himself doesn’t remember whether he is guilty of the murder; DNA has now cleared him of rape. But the series has never been about crime-solving; it’s about how the death of a teenager impacted everyone in a fictional Georgia town.

 Young says he’s not quite ready to say good-bye to Daniel Holden, but will never forget the last day of filming at the Parthenon in Nashville. “We could barely hear each other over this playground nearby,” Young said. “There were tourists walking into shops. We heard Chinook helicopters flying over the park. It was a day of great absurdity. Hopefully something is salvageable from it. It was a beautiful, beautiful day. It was a day of family and what it means to be a family and to make choices that are going to maybe lead you away from each other for the time being. It was the very sad moment when we were all finished.”

In an interview with Vulture, Young picked his most memorable scenes since debuting Daniel, in 2013.

Audition Scene: The Timing Between the Seconds (Season 1, Episode 2, “Sexual Peeling”)
I was shooting in Thailand and I got a phone call asking me to come to New York. I didn't think that made any sense, but they said they had already spoken to the production company in Thailand and they were willing to let me go for 72 hours. I didn't want to go because I had to hand-pull these Chinese noodles, which I've been learning to do for 18 months and make vermicelli with your hands out of dough, and it was going to be a big deal. Here were people on the other side of the world saying, "Oh, we can fly you over to Toronto and get a passport and come down to New York and do the audition, then we'll drive you straight back the airport, and you're going to be picked up in Bangkok and you'll go straight to set." I thought, well, has anyone actually talked to me about this? It was completely crazy, because I had to renew my passport in Canada in order for them to be able to hire me, because if I was an Australian citizen it would take much longer to get me a working visa and I wouldn't be eligible to work when they wanted to start shooting, and I would lose the role. So I get to Toronto, and they’ve sent an immigration attorney to fill out a passport application, and four hours later, they say they can’t give me a passport because I don’t have enough references. We couldn't get ahold of anyone in North America who'd known me for two years. Everyone was beginning to panic. I was looking through my phone and I suddenly remembered I had this speech from my late father that he'd written in the '60s about what it means to be a Canadian. So right before they were getting ready to close, I asked if they would listen to it. I thought it was about what it is to be a Canadian, but actually it was very much about what it is to come to Canada and what Canada has to offer to that person as an immigrant. In the end, I don’t know if the reference came through or if it was the recording, it was like a romantic comedy. They all had tears in their eyes and the lady looked up at me and said “Welcome home.”

I managed to get to the audition. Ray [McKinnon] was there. We talked for 45 minutes, and just as I was about to walk out of his room, I said, “Having had this discussion with you, I feel that I'm wearing the wrong shirt. Do you mind if I wear your shirt?” He took off his shirt and I wore the shirt off his back to the audition. Ray pulled me aside and said, “I just want to tell you, just do everything I told you to do exactly. Or any way you want to.” Then he opened the door and I didn't know what the fuck that meant and there were 20 people there with iPads. I remember thinking, I'm not auditioning today; I'm working. I want to find a little piece of Daniel that I haven't seen. So this is just day one. I didn't feel any nerves. I walked around and said hello to everybody and they were all confused why an actor would be shaking hands with them saying hello. I said, “Don't get up, don't look at the first take. It's just me starting work, but have a look at the second take.” I got the role. It was the scene with Tawney (Adelaide Clemens) — “the time in between the seconds.” The actor who was playing in the room, I don't know her name, but she was spectacular. She gave so much to me. I'll never forget her. I'm very grateful. Hopefully if she reads this, she'll remember how good she was. Daniel’s a funny guy to play. He's a fun guy to have around when I get into his mind-set. You have a sharper way of looking at things. Part of me is very sad to let him go, but I know that that day is coming."

Daniel’s Family Reunion (Season 1, Episode 1, “Always There”)
On the first day of shooting, I had hair down to my shoulders, I had a beard, and I was on my way to set to shoot the opening sequence where Daniel strips in the prison. And I got about ten feet from  the trailer and I just said, "No, this can't be. This is wrong. I think we need to cut his hair." Because we were walking into a real prison, and it didn't make any sense that he would be allowed to have this based on the regulations on death row. I just went straight back to the makeup trailer and I said to beautiful [Jo Jo Stephens] who is the hairstylist, "We've got to cut his hair and I want you to do it in a way that you would do it in prison. Just do it in three minutes. They want me on set. We've got a big day, let's cut it!" And, of course, every producer in the world suddenly appeared and they were all freaking out. I showed them a couple of photos of me with short hair and they finally went, "Okay, let's do it." I said, "Well, just don't show the other actors," who I'd met because we'd all been in the makeup trailer, but they were all on set waiting for me to walk out these doors. I said, "Just don't let them see me until we shoot."

When I walked out that door, they didn't know who this guy was. They were looking at me all, "Who the fuck is that?" And it was me. I remember [J. Smith-Cameron], who played my mother, just the look on her face was one of utter confusion. And then when she realized it was me, it was almost otherworldly, you know? It was a moment that you very rarely get to do, and what a perfect moment for a show like this, how to begin it. We had the opportunity to shoot that scene of the great reveal of this ghost returning to these lives, and they couldn't even recognize who he was. Originally, it was written that Daniel was quite stoic and I took Ray aside and I said, "Perhaps, I think it's more emotional. Still stoic, but he recognizes something that touches him." He said, "We'll try it and we'll have a look." And I tried it and he said, "I think you got it." And that's where you see his return to his loved ones.

Feather Dance (Season 1, Episode 3, “Modern Times”)
The feather dance came out of one line in the script where Amantha (Abigail Spencer) is in Daniel's home and he's not doing anything. He doesn't want to leave his room. He's still confused about the space around him and she's trying to invite him out for the day. She's constantly trying to find a way to communicate with him and they just had one line for every time that she came to the door: Daniel is in his room. I said to Ray, "What's he doing in his room?" He said, "Well, he's probably sitting on his bed.” So we started to look at that and this very strange thing had occurred probably a night before we had the conversation where I went to move a pillow and this feather suddenly shot out of the pillow and just hung there in the air. I thought about what the softness of this would mean to somebody who's been living in concrete for so many years, to suddenly want that touch of the sunlight, to want the touch of the feathers, to want that tactile beauty to comfort him. So we began to talk about the idea that maybe he rips apart a pillow and a feather flies out and he just watches it. So I took a little feather to set, a tiny little thing, and we put it under a chair and at the right moment I pulled it out and threw it up into the air and I'm stark naked, I mean, I'm in front of the whole crew stark naked and we danced — this feather and I — and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was this feather and me dancing, and it was soft and it was wondrous. I remember at one point we started calling it Nijinsky. It was a sight to behold when we called "Cut," and everyone was just absolutely quiet for a while. 

It was such a beautiful conversation between Ray and I exploring how this guy would make his day.  I mean, who else would make a TV show of a guy walking around his house? There were so many personal experiences that we were able to look at. Years ago, I had a love affair with a woman in France, and she sent me a cassette when it was over and it was all this music we had enjoyed together. Whenever I would paint I would put this on and whenever the music was done I would quickly turn it over, rewind it and start the other side, and one day maybe six years after I'd seen her, and without listening really to the music it just played through, and all of a sudden there was her voice, and I'd never heard it. It was a love letter she'd written to me. And that became the basis of the Hanna Dean birthday tape, where Daniel goes to the attic and plays that "I love you, Daniel Holden” tape. There were so many personal experiences that went into this because more than anything I wanted to tell the truth in this story with how hurt and broken this man was, and in order to do that I had to look at my own life in a way that was perhaps unhealthy, but very confessional.

Freezing With Kerwin (Season 2, Episode 1, “Running With the Bull”)
I picked this scene out for fun because it's such a touching, beautiful scene. It was so wonderful to reunite with Johnny Ray Gill after having him say good-bye to me in such a memorable fashion, as he walks to his doom. And here we are in this black-and-white landscape that we've been gifted by a rare storm in Georgia. It was otherworldly. But something I remember more than anything, and why I brought it up: We were freezing to death. We were shaking. And they were long takes. At the end of four minutes, we would be shaking uncontrollably and then we'd have to do it all over again. I don't even think we had socks on. It was just one of those filmmaking experiences that so many people were so moved by what was occurring, but behind the scenes was completely the opposite.

The Horror Inside George’s Trailer (Season 2, Episode 7, “Weird As You”)
This is the scene where Daniel goes off with Trey Willis (Sean Bridgers) to Florida to George’s trailer. What I remember most is how it felt never-ending. That was a scene that was an incredibly difficult thing to shoot because you could see in the writing that for the first time there was this real doubt in Daniel that maybe he did do it, maybe he was capable of that atrocity. And that was a frightening day to shoot that scene because I realized he was from then on going to be getting further into the idea that maybe he should be considered guilty, and maybe his life should have been taken from him.

Trey is putting to Daniel that Hanna was sleeping with half the town and his rage killed her. All this information's being spewed forth by this manipulative monster, this sociopath. And the drugs keep coming.  It was this never-ending day, I just remember being like when is this day gonna finish? It kept getting darker and darker. What was so funny about it was I had put my back out in the middle of the scene, and I just left set immediately and went to the chiropractor. I have a lot of memories from that scene because of all the horror that took place there and the fact that I was physically, you know, almost crippled by the end of it. And at the end of it, Sean, says “I have to laugh in this moment. Do you mind if I tell you a story and when it's time for me to laugh, you tell me the punch line?" And I said, "What are you kidding me? You already know the punch line." And he said, "Yeah, but it makes me laugh every time I tell it. And so I'd like you to tell me the punch line." So, sure enough, we rolled the cameras and I said the punch line to him and he cackled like a 2-year-old hearing a fart, you know? It was the weirdest way to end the day's shoot. I'll never, ever forget it. It was perhaps the only way to walk away from that scene with a sense of normality after all that we'd descended into.

The Cold Gulf Waters (Season 3, Episode 6, “The Source”)
Season three was a very difficult season because of the frustration Daniel feels being out on probation and having the world once again take control of him, even though he's accepted his freedom by accepting this plea deal and having to confess again to this murder. A lot of people in the audience were very upset by that. But, you know, Daniel has the opportunity to remain outside the hell that is death row and the hell that was Wendall (Jayson Warner Smith). And he chooses to do so, but in choosing that he’s not quite aware what it will mean to him to be once again under the thumb of so much authority. The scene I remember more than any other, again, was a scene of great cold where Janet (J. Smith-Cameron) and I sit on the beach and we ponder the future that lies ahead for us both, and then I take a little dip in the ocean. It was the coldest water I've ever been in because we had been out in the wind, freezing to death all day. And, again, when you're trying to look serene and I'm taking a dip in the beautiful Gulf waters, well, it wasn't the beautiful Gulf waters. But that was quite an adventure.

It was actually one of those days you never want to experience as a filmmaker. Instead of turning the camera off, someone had turned it on. So when they went to roll, they turned it off.  There was so much confusion! Twenty guys and girls freezing in the water. But that was such a great opportunity to do a few scenes with J. — what a talented and beautiful actress. If you think she's good onscreen, wait till you see her in real life, she's really a force to be reckoned with. She's beauty.