Whenever I conduct an interview, I bring a notepad, to remind myself of the questions I want to ask. To the untrained eye (i.e. everyone but me), my notes look like Charlie Kelly-esque scribbles of a mad man, but I need them, and I try to wait until the person I’m speaking to breaks eye contact, even if just for a second, to peek down at the pad. This was impossible with Abigail Spencer, who plays devoted sister Amantha to Aden Young’s Daniel Holden (Young recently participated in our UPROXX 20 series) on Sundance’s fantastic Rectify, which returns tonight. She locks eyes, and genuinely seems interested in what you’re saying. (This isn’t true of every actor.) What sounds intense, however, is actually pleasant, because Spencer is impossibly likable, well spoken, and a general delight to be around.
I recently spoke to her during the Austin Television Festival about season two of Rectify, whether the show’s “did he/didn’t he” mystery really matters, and Suits. Always Suits.
UPROXX: I just watched the season one finale for a second time, so thank you for depressing the sh*t out of me. Again.
SPENCER: You’re welcome.
UPROXX: Considering the depressing nature of the show, once a scene is done, do you guys have to laugh away the sadness?
SPENCER: A part of what we’re doing is restraining all that wild energy. Sometimes there’ll be crying. It can be really intense. We have a good time off set. I’m very fortunate because Amantha gets to hold a lot of the comedy and levity on the show, and looking for those moments I feel sometimes is Amantha’s whole purpose. So I dunno, we haven’t figured it out yet, the decompressing. We’re just kind of in it.
UPROXX: After all the season one critical acclaim, was there a different feel on set?
SPENCER: I think that with anything, you have to release yourself from trying to do something that you did before. So it wasn’t about that. I think it’s, we’re harder on ourselves than anyone possibly could be. So it’s how do we work within the schedule, because we had a very quick schedule this go-around, and more episodes to write. And also, when we did season one, most of the episodes were written. This time, they were not all written. So how do we just approach this year for what it is? We were just figuring it out as we went along. It was different, but ultimately, I probably grew the most by it being hard. It was grueling and fun, and I’m still processing it all.
UPROXX: You mentioned that Amantha provides some levity to the show, but she’s also a ball of stress. You seem like the opposite of that. So when you’re watching yourself, does it seem like an entirely different person?
SPENCER: I see shades of myself. I draw on what I need of myself for Amantha, but hopefully myself and Amantha are creating something new, and hopefully less and less of me appears and more of Amantha is always present. I see Amantha, but I saw parts of myself, too, which I think is good. I think that’s what makes it feel personal and available. But it’s hard being Amantha! I get on set, and I’m like, “I am sorry! Just know that if I’m not aware of whatever, I am just trying to serve Amantha and that’s it.”
UPROXX: Did you grow up in a small town?
SPENCER: Yeah. When I read the first script, I thought I had gone to high school with Ray McKinnon. Or that we had known each other in some capacity, because I couldn’t believe that someone had described so articulately my view of being counterculture in a small Southern town. There is a lot of counterculture in what Ray’s saying, and there’s a lot of standard. All the sides are presented, and it really resonated with me. And apparently with a lot of other people, too. We’re just trying to serve Ray’s vision.
UPROXX: Not everyone in the town you’re presenting is, shall we say, the most thoughtful human being. I know you film in rural Georgia, so I’m curious what their feelings for Rectify and its depiction of small-town life was like.
SPENCER: It’s crazy. We were shooting in one of the great local diners, Murphy’s. We were shooting there in episode two of season one when Amantha and John go there after their kind of attempt at intimacy, and in the unfiltered version, Amantha says, “God I hate this f*cking town.” I really blasted it out. After cut was yelled, and we were using real locals in the diner, they erupted in laughter. I’m thinking, oh my gosh, Amantha just got us kicked out of Griffin, especially a conservative southern town like that. And the woman who owns the place, she came in and she’s like, “We say that all the time. God I hate this f*cking town.” And I was like, “Oh, OK!” The people of Griffin love Rectify, and I think they love the mirror that’s being held up.
UPROXX: What do you think Amantha would be doing if she wasn’t so attached to her family?
SPENCER: I just read this book, Girl Boss. It’s by Sophia Amoruso, and she is the creator of Nasty Gal. It’s this huge clothing website, and she comes from nothing. It went from being an eBay store in her closet to a multi-multi-multi-million dollar company in seven years. I just finished reading it, and I was like, that’s Amantha! Her energy, her way of doing things the way they should be done, I mean, Daniel is out because of Amantha. And for someone to commit to that for 19 years of their life, imagine if she had put that energy into something else. A business or a corporation or a degree or a Master’s. I think Amantha could have done anything, as long as she was in charge *laughs*.
UPROXX: When Rectify premiered, Sundance wasn’t really known as a channel with original, scripted content. What made you take a chance on an unknown?
SPENCER: It’s exciting. Look at Netflix and hopefully Sundance Channel and some of these emerging networks. You have to do something different. You have to take a chance for it to work out. I felt like the content and the material and the team behind it, even if for some reason we never got to do more than one season, I knew I’d be so proud of that. There were never going to be any regrets.
UPROXX: Is season two a continuation of season one, or is it touching on different themes?
SPENCER: It’s both. We’re going to pick up right where we left off, a couple of hours later. But what’s going to happen, it’s going to keep growing, so naturally, the tree and the branches are going to grow. It’s really going to get bigger. We’re going to spend more time on the mystery. There is a case that is being solved. We’re going to spend a lot more time on everybody. And we’re going to learn a lot more about Daniel.
UPROXX: How invested should viewers be in the “did he/didn’t he do it” mystery?
SPENCER: I feel like it’s secondary. I think there is some investment, but I don’t think it’s the first thing…nobody’s asked me, “Do you think he did it?” It’s usually the question that comes later. Sometimes when we’re on set, we’re like, “Do you think he did it?!? Do you think he did it?!?” Everybody has a different thought on it.
UPROXX: What is the role that people on the street recognize you for the most?
SPENCER: It depends on where I am. If I’m in Los Angeles or New York, it’s usually Mad Men.
UPROXX: Unless you’re outside UCB, then it’s probably Burning Love.
SPENCER: (Laughs) If I’m in the comedy world, it’s Burning Love. If I travel, like airports, Suits and Burning Love. It’s really interesting, where I’m at really…I shot a movie in Boston, and Suits is very Harvard-centric, so I couldn’t walk anywhere. It was like, “I am famous in Boston!” It was awesome. It’s not one thing, and that’s such a gift as an actor. Jon Hamm and I became friendly shooting Mad Men. He was the same way. He was on a Lifetime show, he did a guest star on Providence, he was on What About Brian. He did a lot of guest stars, and nobody knew who he was until Mad Men. And that was kind of my thing, too. Nobody knew who I was until Mad Men, but I don’t think people are going to see what I’m capable of until Rectify.
UPROXX: What’s your pitch to someone who needs convincing to watch Rectify?
SPENCER: You won’t regret it.