Abigail Spencer of Rectify: "My role as an actor is not to make something work"

A new season

Abigail Spencer of Rectify: "My role as an actor is not to make something work"
Abigail Spencer's back for season three of Rectify stronger than ever

If you haven't caught on to Rectify, you immediately should. This critically-acclaimed drama will be back for its third season — and who better to prime us than the talented Abigail Spencer. You know her from her stints in Mad Men, Suits and True Detective, but it's in Rectify that her acting chops really command the screen. Playing Amantha Holden, the sister of wrongly convicted Daniel, she's all things a female lead aspires to be: Brazen, beautiful, vulnerable and vindictive.

The third season opens with her family coming to terms with Daniel's confession, further straining their relationship and setting off sirens in Georgia, where the drama's set. Spencer herself is a woman from the South, and here she tells us what led her to the role, and how she's punching above her weight in Hollywood.

Abigail Spencer in Rectify

Your late father, Yancy Spencer III is known as the father of Gulf Coast surfing. How has his influence made its mark on your work now?
My father loved the arts. So, to have a father who is supportive of having a life in the arts as opposed to unsupportive is huge. He also approached surfing as an art form — his whole goal was to be filled with ease as he surfed. And I feel like I am on a similar path with acting. It is more of a metaphysical influence.

Did you grow up surfing too? What was your lifestyle like growing up and why did you decide to get into acting?
I started surfing when I was three, but my mother didn't want me to get skin cancer so she put me into dance class. That set me on a path to acting through dancing and singing. This was all much to my father's chagrin, who wanted me to be the first female world champion surfer. But I happily handed that title off to Lisa Anderson.

You were called out during a taping of Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, which led to your first break. Looking back, what do you think would have happened if you weren't attending that taping? Have you met Regis and Kathie since then?
Well, if I hadn't gone to the taping I would have gone to Carnegie Melon for four years of school. I would have auditioned and looked for leads and maybe done Broadway Theater before coming out to Los Angeles. Which I would have been very happy to do. Yes, Kathie Lee has become a close friend and has been an integral support system in my life since the age of 17. Regis and I high five whenever it's appropriate.

What did your stint on Mad Men teach you about working in television, and what did you learn from working and watching your co-stars?
Matt Weiner specifically taught me that my role as an actor is not to make something work — it either works or it doesn't. And my job is to serve good writing and storytelling. It also taught me to seek out good writers and story tellers with a singular vision. What I learned from Jon Hamm was an incredible power of stillness and how to be lovely on set.

Abigail Spencer Rectify

What were the things in the script, which really drew you into Rectify?
Ray McKinnon is an incredible writer — not just the dialogue — but everything in between. He has a humanity and a fullness that is devastating, funny and totally unique. I am just very drawn to his point of view on the world and deeper matters of the heart.

What do you draw from your own life that you apply to Amantha in Rectify?
Too personal to share. But a lot.

Being from the South yourself, do you feel an extra responsibility to represent the people and culture of the South in an honest way?
Yes, I do feel a responsibility to represent; but I always feel a responsibility for any role or any other regions.

What is one uphill battle you constantly have to face in Hollywood?
Just one? There's so many, all the time. You are fighting to be authentic, to protect your artistry. You are defending your characters. At the moment, protecting your gender equality in the work force. There is colorblindness in the Hollywood workforce. There are a lot of battles to join forces with — they aren't all mine — but it's all in the point of view. I approach it by choosing to be a part of the change and be excited by joining forces with these incredible causes for change instead of being defeated or frustrated by them.

Which do you prefer, film or TV? Why?
I like both. The medium is not my end goal, it's about the story, the writing and people involved like the director; that is more important to me than where and on what it is viewed. But I do love film, like actual 35 mm film.

Who's your favourite actor right now in Hollywood, and whose career would you like to emulate?
I have many favorite actors. I love Tom Hardy, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cate Blanchett, Marion Cotillard, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, and Julia Roberts. Why choose just one? But Julianne Moore — I definitely look up to her career and her humanity moves me the most at the moment.

Rectify Season 3 premieres in Singapore on Sundance Channel on Singtel TV channel 401 on 22 October at 10PM.

Text: Adibah Isa

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