Sundance Channel's "Rectify," the haunting six-episode drama about a man who's released from prison after spending nearly 20 years locked up for a crime he may not have committed, was initially conceived for a limited-series run. But before even half of those episodes had aired, Sundance Channel execs ordered a second season, which is great news for viewers left wondering what became of newly freed Daniel Holden (Aden Young), his fiercely supportive sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer), and the rest of his family.
Spencer, previously best known for her role as one of Don Draper's (many) loves on "Mad Men," has already received a Critics' Choice Television Award nomination for her role on the series, and her name is being mentioned on many lists as a potential Emmy nominee for "Rectify." Spencer talked to Yahoo! TV about what attracted her to the series, her character's unusual name, the possibility of returning to Don Draper's world, and her acting hero, with whom she's co-starring in an upcoming movie.
What drew you to the role, first of all?
Well, it was a really interesting circumstance with how the script came into my life. I actually overheard another actor talking about the piece, and he was trying to get in on it. I was like, "What is it about?" And there was something about how he was describing it. … It stuck with me, and I called my agent, and said, "What's 'Rectify?'" I was, like, "It's the best script of the year. Send it over right now."
I read the first five pages and by page five, I had to just go back to the title page. Who is Ray McKinnon? Were we separated at birth? Why have we not met before? I could just hear the way Amantha talked, the way she walked, [her] sense of humor. It stuck with me, and I just had to play her. It was like a deep passion overtook me. That was kind of what got me, the writing and Ray McKinnon. I really responded to his storytelling and his point of view.
There are a lot of ways you could describe Amantha, but above all, she is the person you would most want on your side in any tough situation.
Luke Kirby, who plays Jon Stern, called her "the warrior" — "Amantha the warrior." I love that. I'm really inspired because it's overwhelming to play, to be someone who is so dogged and unrelenting, with her fervor and her support. I look up to her in that way. It's just unabashed. It's clear. You do want someone like that on your side, but I think the circumstance and part of the drama of the show is, what if that person that you are doing all that for doesn't want it anymore? It's a bit crushing, and that's what I thought was so heartbreaking about Amantha. She really has to find her own identity. Even though she's strong and powerful and very self-assured, she's totally vulnerable in the same breath.
The other thing that is sad about the character is that she is so powerful and confident and smart and outspoken, you think about how, if she had been able to channel all of that into her own life, she'd be running the world right now.
It's interesting because some of the backstory is that she's been living in Atlanta, living near the prison, and just working at an electrical company, a gas and electric company, doing a desk job so she can devote all of her energy into [her brother]. It's like, "Oh, now, what if she had gone to college?" What if she had really pursued her own endeavors? That's what's so interesting, and what I'm so excited about for Season 2, that we get to explore those what if"s or what are those hopes and dreams that haven't been realized? What will her life really look like now, and what will her relationship with Jon Stern and her brother be like now? I'm really interested in seeing Amantha try to deal with her own life.
[Related: 'Rectify' Cast Defends the Show's Slow Pace]
Amantha is such an unusual name … it sounds very appropriately Southern, but was it difficult to get used to? Did everyone keep saying "Amanda" at first?
(Laughs) I never heard it before. I thought it was amazing, because it's like Samantha, Amanda … I just love the hybrid of it all. Then I found out that Ray has family friends, and their daughter's name is Amantha. It's a real name. We definitely got a lot out of it on set. When [J. Smith-Cameron], who plays [Amantha's mom] Janet, and I, whenever we'd have a scene together, we'd arrive and everyone would say, "Jamantha's here." We definitely hybrided and used it for comedy whenever possible.
Amantha believes Daniel is innocent, but it's an open question on the show. Do you think it's important that the audience ever knows, definitely, whether Daniel was truly wrongly convicted of murder?
I do think that the most interesting explanation is everyone's own personal truth, how everyone has created their lives based on this one moment. What kind of chaos would ensue if the actual truth came out? Would anyone believe it, if it went against what they believed? But I think it would be very interesting to know. It could be a really incredible moment if that was to come out, because it could totally shift our perspective. But will we ever know? I don't know … I think the pursuit is what keeps the story going.
Were you and your castmates surprised to be renewed for a second season?
I'm always surprised when you get to do anything that you love so much. (Laughs) I feel like it's all a miracle, a miracle that this show even got made. It was that the timing was great and Sundance, looking for their first scripted series … and "Rectify" surfaced within what people are calling our golden age of television. There is something happening, especially on cable, right now. [But] I had hoped … I definitely hoped for a Season 2, because I just want to know what happens to everybody. I care about [these characters] so much. I'm so glad that people really felt that there was more to the story.
You played one of Don Draper's love interests, Suzanne, the teacher, in Season 3 of "Mad Men." That relationship was left pretty open-ended. Has there ever been any discussion about her returning?
People ask me that all the time. I think before Megan … but Megan reminds me a lot of Suzanne. I remember when I started watching Season 4 and I saw Megan pass by the first time, I told my friend, "He's going to marry her." (Laughs) I just had this feeling, because she reminded me of Suzanne. She has a lot of the same qualities that I felt like Don was really looking for and drawn to. But I think it would be amazing [to return]. What I love about that show is that characters can come back. Paul came back with the Hare Krishnas in Season 5, he came back into this world with Harry Crane. I love that. I love when people get interwoven. And I love [Suzanne], that character, so much, so it would be a thrill to play her again, if they found some fantastic way for them to meet again.
Are you filming right now on the film adaptation of Jonathan Tropper's novel "This Is Where I Leave You"? That's such a great book, and great movie cast.
Oh, my God. The table reading was, like, bananas. Just sitting in that room across from Jane Fonda, staring deeply into her eyes. (Laughs) It was just magical. She's definitely one of my actress heroes. I love her work, and I think she's fascinating and so wonderful. I mean, she's just one of the most wonderful people I've met. There's also Tina Fey and Jason Bateman, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Adam Driver, who I think is the bee's knees, and Rose Byrne. Everyone's so wonderful. This is great material. I read that book, and I was like, "Oh, my gosh. If they make this movie, I have to be in this movie."
The "Rectify: Season 1" DVD boxed set is now available from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Check out photos of Spencer:
Other noteworthy new TV DVD releases:
"Body of Proof: The Complete Third Season" (ABC Studios)
It's the final season, sadly, of the Dana Delany/Jeri Ryan/Mark Valley drama, which comes with bonus materials like a blooper reel and featurettes on the show's props, special effects, and how a Walt Disney Studio lot was dressed to look like the show's Philadelphia setting.
"Drop Dead Diva: The Complete Fourth Season" (Sony Home Entertainment)
Outtakes and deleted scenes are the among the bonus materials on this collection of the show's 13 Season 4 episodes. The fifth season, which nearly didn't happen since Lifetime canceled the show in January, only to unexpectedly revive it in March, premieres June 23.
"Workaholics: Season Three" Blu-ray (Comedy Central)
Bloopers, alternate scenes, and a "drunkumentary" await fans of the comedy about TelAmeriCorp slackers and roomies Adam, Anders, and Blake, who, in Season 4, fell in love with a webcam women, became obsessed with betting on high school sports, and started making their own jerky (a whole cow's worth).