Abigail Spencer attracted to 'extraordinary writing' of Rectify

LIFE CHANGER: Abigail Spencer credits Ray McKinnon, Rectify's creator, for changing her life.
LIFE CHANGER: Abigail Spencer credits Ray McKinnon, Rectify's creator, for changing her life.

Working on Rectify has had a profound effect on Abigail Spencer, she tells James Croot.

Growing and opening out.

Not only do those words describe cult US drama Rectify as it heads into its second season, but also its breakout star Abigail Spencer. The 32-year-old Floridian plays Amantha Holden, the younger sister of a man (Aden Young) who spent 19 years on death row for an alleged rape before new DNA evidence led to him being released from prison. Spencer's performance in the slow-burning, six-part first season saw her nominated for many acting awards and catch the eye of many Hollywood producers. Now, she and the rest of the Rectify cast and crew are back for an extended 10-episode season of the show Spencer says "changed her life".

RECTIFY RETURNS: The second season of Rectify returns on Tuesday with a 10 episode run.
RECTIFY RETURNS: The second season of Rectify returns on Tuesday with a 10 episode run.

"I was in a place in my life where I thought I wanted to do something that was important in the world and I though would be good for me as a human," the former All My Children, Cowboys & Aliens and This Means War actress says down the phone line from New York. "Fortunately I met Ray McKinnon [Rectify's creator]."

When asked what attracted her to the series and the part, she quickly nominates "the extraordinary writing".

"When something comes along that is everything you could hope for as an actor it stands out. Five pages in I was like 'who is Ray McKinnon - did we go to school together? Did we grow up together?' Because I heard the way she talked, saw the way she walked, how she felt and I called my agent and said 'you've got to call Ray and let him know - I'm Amantha.'"

She says like all of the cast she has had many discussions with McKinnon over her character. "He wants to know what we think because we are living the character. He's an actor himself [starring in everything from Driving Miss Daisy to Mud] so he wants to give us a lot of responsibility. He trusts us and seeks things from us. It's our job to pull from Ray what his vision is."

Spencer had a say in Amantha's hair, make up, and costume - top to bottom - and also looked for character themes. "I kept feeling that Amantha in her private moments would always be looking for a place to lay down because events were all too much."

Even just acting it takes its toll, Spencer admits. "It's such an intense world that our show deals with and you want to do it justice. It can be very difficult to wipe your feet of it at the end of a day - sometimes I wish I could."

For Spencer, working on Rectify also means being apart from her five-and-a-half year old son Roman and constantly shuttling back and forth between the Georgia-set and her Los Angeles home. It's something she's sanguine about.

"That's the life of an actor right now - everything is shooting outside of Hollywood. It's the challenge anybody has when they're a working parent - it's about embracing that lifestyle and being very present as my son's mother throughout."

Despite the separation, Spencer says she enjoyed working in Griffin more this extended, second time around.

"The first time it was bit harried but this time I got to settle in. I actually lived with Adelaide Clemens, Luke Kirby and one of our producers in this beautiful house for five months - it was amazing. We wrapped about a month ago and since then I've really missed the lack of choice and simplicity of shooting and living in a small town."

When asked what she thinks has been the key to Rectify connecting with audiences, Spencer is effusive. "In my opinion, I think our souls crave something that moves us. I know when I'm engaging with or watching television or movies as much as I want to escape, I also want to grow, change and feel something. We can be desensitised by all our incredible innovations and technology and connectivity but sometimes I wonder if we're less connected on a soul level. I think Rectify opens you up - I feel that when I watch it. It's an experience that stays with me and I'm not the only one apparently. I'm excited when I go to screenings and people are so moved."

Working on Rectify has also opened up Spencer to new experiences, with the actress in big demand for other projects. "Ray McKinnon has changed my life. I've gotten to shoot several movies in our hiatuses and each producer has said 'we cast you because of seeing you on that show'. That's pretty crazy and it's done it for every actor on the show. We've all been acting a really long time but nobody knew who we are - until now."

Spencer says viewers can expect more of the same brilliant television and storytelling from the second season of Rectify. "Yes it is going to take a certain amount of patience, but I hope now that we've met everybody, you'll be able to see much deeper into the characters and who they are which should be really exciting for everyone. Our show doesn't have car crashes and shootouts - we have character, writing and humanity. To me, that conflict is just as riveting as watching Godzilla."

Rectify  8.30pm, Tuesday, Rialto