God's pained servant on SundanceTV drama 'Rectify'

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK (AP) — "You mean well, don't you?" says Daniel's mother to Tawney Talbot.

"I do mean well," says Tawney, meek but insistent. "I do."

And it brings her lots of grief.

She and many others, most of them well-meaning, are troubled by Daniel Holden, who in the SundanceTV drama "Rectify" has been released from prison after 20 years on death row for the rape and murder of his teenage girlfriend. New evidence raised doubt that he had committed the crime (neither his family nor we viewers know for sure), but as he tries to settle back into his small Georgia town, its citizens feud about his right to be there.

The series, which begins a 10-episode sophomore season on Thursday (9 p.m. EDT), continues its story of loss: the town's loss of fragile equilibrium after Daniel's disruptive return; the loss, still painfully felt, of the murdered girl; the irrecoverable loss of decades in prison by Daniel, who even regaining freedom remains a lost soul.

But no one feels loss more than Tawney, threatened by a loss of faith.

Played with righteous delicacy by Adelaide Clemens, Tawney is married to Daniel's stepbrother, and in the midst of much suspicion about Daniel's innocence, even from her husband, she remains a true believer, however much her faith is tested by God's puzzling plan.

TV drama seldom notices religion, other than in warm-and-fuzzy or wild-eyed extremes.

But in "Rectify," writer-creator Ray McKinnon has crafted a universe of small but fully defined characters including Tawney, through whom he explores both the blessings and pitfalls of spiritual devotion.

"I had read a lot of scripts with Christian characters, but Tawney felt multifaceted, not stereotypical," says Clemens. "As a former foster child, she feels the religious community is something to be celebrated and embraced. Christianity is how she makes sense of the world."

Even when it makes no sense to her.

As "Rectify" resumes, Daniel (played by Aden Young) lies in a coma after having been beaten by a group of thugs including his dead girlfriend's vengeful brother.

"I just don't understand why God would let something like this happen to him," says Tawney, at his bedside, meekly, "and I don't see how I ever will."

The 24-year-old Clemens says she's "not particularly religious." But while shooting the series in Griffin, Georgia, she sought out a church to help her tap into Tawney's world.

"I had an amazing time finding the right church," she says. "On Sundays, I would try one out and say, 'Hi, I'm Adelaide, I'm here while we work on a TV show, and I want to experience this.'"

She chose Eagles Way Church, which she calls "a really gorgeous church" whose congregation welcomes everyone — even (she says with a laugh) Australians, which she happens to be.

Raised in Sydney, Clemens says she loved movies as a girl and was drawn to a style of realistic acting that seems "almost like someone made a mistake, yet it's still there on film, unpredictable."

Those cinematic appetites served her well when, at 19, she moved to Los Angeles to seek her fortune. She quickly got an agent and logged credits including the HBO miniseries "Parade's End" and last year's remake of "The Great Gatsby."

Then Ray McKinnon (who shared a 2001 Oscar for the short film "The Accountant") began casting "Rectify," selecting J. Smith-Cameron as Daniel's mother, Abigail Spencer as his sister and Clayne Crawford as Tawney's husband.

Intrigued by Tawney's winsome torment, Clemens put her through a real-world practice run on the way to the audition, "something I try with a character sometimes to see if I have the conviction to do it." Clemens stopped at a Starbucks, where, her Aussie accent supplanted by Tawney's timid Southern lilt, she placed her order: "I'd just like a coffee ... any coffee you got."

"The woman behind the counter just didn't have time for that. It was hilarious," recalls Clemens, who knows something the abrupt barista clearly didn't: Blessed are the meek.


EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at and at Past stories available at