After nearly 20 years in jail, Daniel Holden is getting released. He’s not exonerated; it’s just that newly discovered DNA evidence regarding the brutal rape and murder of his high-school sweetheart has made it necessary to set Holden free. It’s just that life on the outside for the next seven days isn’t so easy.
That’s what’s happening on Rectify, the much-ballyhooed Sundance Channel series premiering on Monday, April 22nd at 9 p.m. The brainchild of actor-director Ray McKinnon, Rectify follows Holden (Aden Young) as he attempts to ease back into life on the outside all the while tangling with the not-so-benevolent forces of his family, his town and the dark truth about what really happened on that fateful night.
Here, Young submits to our questions about Holden, prison and why it’s important to start a TV series in the buff.
Your character has been in prison, in solitary confinement, for almost two decades. How did you prepare for that?
You start in the moments that you have experienced yourself. As an actor you live a life of isolation. Working in different cities, you learn to be somebody who goes to a restaurant on his own. You amplify the solitude you understand and in doing that you strip away what it is you love the most in life. You strip away the ties you have with your family and friends and you abandon yourself to the idea of that distance and the knowledge that the world you live in is trying to kill you. That provides you the ammunition to imagine what it would be like.
You’ve said that when you started on the show, you didn’t know whether or not Daniel was guilty.
I asked Ray when we started whether he was going to tell me. He said, “I don’t know, would you like me to?” So I wrestled with the idea. As an actor you have to come from a certain place of knowledge and I came back with the realization that it would be heartbreaking either way.
Were there other things that were kept from you?
There was an overview of what was going to happen over the course of the series, but the scripts were still being developed while we were shooting. So we would receive them and do a quick rehearsal in the middle of shooting another episode. It was always a revelation, every week.
When we see Daniel in prison, he seems very calm. He’s meditating and discussing books. Are you as calm?
I’d love to be the sort of person who could do that. It would take away so much anxiety to be so deep inside your psyche, without a thought in that meditative world. In the decision to survive until you couldn’t, you would have to get to a place of one-ness with yourself. We examined what other prisoner’s experiences have been like, those with long incarcerations or the death penalty and solitary confinement, which is the most torturous aspect of all of this because you’re left along with your thoughts, and your thoughts can eat you alive.
What’s your own version of blocking out the outside world?
I find if you breathe in as hard as you can for 15 minutes, you can feel your toes the way you should. You need that oxygen. I generally try to do that when I’m hung over. But I don’t have the stresses that Daniel has. I also play ice hockey to get my confusion out.
What was it like filming in a working prison?
It was a jail, essentially a holding penitentiary for people awaiting trial. It was hard but terrific. It was very real in the sense that the script said, “Daniel strips,” so I stripped and I had all these people clamoring, saying, “You can’t strip. We’re in a jail, you can’t just get naked!” In a way I had to start the whole process naked because there was no way to create the necessary feelings if you had anything withheld. It all had to be raw. So the best way to start this journey of Daniel’s was to enter this world with nothing to hide behind.
We were in a cordoned-off area, but there were glass partitions. Prisoners walked by at one point and I could see them looking at me from a distance. There was a lot of hubbub, but I am glad I did it.
So, there’s nudity. What else can we expect from the first season?
There are so many elements to the show: people can look at the investigation—Daniel’s released but not exonerated—or is it a show about a man who has lost everything and is suddenly thrust into this sunlit world that’s so blinding it’s almost black. Is it a show about how a family is destroyed by the events of one night? Everything’s broken and the pieces don’t fit together as evenly as we might like. In that, you witness this epic of all sorts of people desperate to reconnect with each other.