Rectify Interview: Johnny Ray Gill Talks About Kerwin, Kinetic Energy & GOT

How does one do time knowing that this will end in their demise no matter what they do?

While each of us will inevitably face their mortality, those on death row have a different perspective on it. That is one of the themes explored in the new Sundance Channel series, Rectify, which tells the story of Daniel Holden, a death row inmate who gets released after 19 years due to new DNA evidence.

As we follow his journey back to the outside world, we also see flashbacks of his time on death row in which we are introduced to one of his friends and fellow inmate, Kerwin Whitman played by the wickedly talented Johnny Ray Gill.

TV Equals had the tremendous pleasure of chatting to this rising star about his character Kerwin, what we can expect from the series and more. Check out what he had to say below and don’t miss him in the upcoming episodes of Rectify which airs Mondays at 10 pm on Sundance Channel.

This is a fascinating series to watch. What do you think is the best way to describe the series to someone who hasn’t heard of it yet?

Johnny Ray Gill: The best way to describe the series. It’s a character study. It’s not a traditional television show. People tell me it can be very slow, but I don’t think it’s slow if you need things to blow up every five seconds, but it basically follows the story of a gentleman who’s been released from prison, because of DNA evidence, that’s been supposedly convicted of raping and killing his girlfriend.

And how would you describe your character, Kerwin?

Johnny Ray Gill: You see Kerwin through flashbacks, but I would describe him as Daniel’s best friend. I think they form a bond on death row. Obviously when you’re there for such an extreme amount of time, I think you find out that you actually need human interaction to survive. But I think that their friendship begins to transcend time and space almost, it becomes something that’s very eternal and spiritual, for lack of a better word to describe it. You see Kerwin through flashbacks throughout the entire series, and you get the chance to peek in to their interactions. They really become each other’s backbone so that they can try to move forward the best that they can under the circumstances.

What attracted you to this role?

Johnny Ray Gill: Well, what attracted is I had an audition. I’m very new here in Los Angeles. So when you come out here, you kind of have to audition for whatever you can. But as I got into the nuance, because I got to read the scripts and obviously I got more time as an artist, I was attracted to the part because I was allowed to give this character the humanity that’s so often not given to characters like Kerwin. That was the most attractive thing for me.

So he’s more of a layered character?

Johnny Ray Gill: Yeah. I think that Kerwin is very multidimensional. It gives you the chance to see what it’s the tragedy of being on death row. When we’re out in the world, you don’t realize how much in prison you can be, when you’re in the world. Then the tragedy is that you come inside this box that is half the size of your bathroom, and then all of a sudden he starts to read. He starts to find out new things about the planet, find out these thoughts that he never knew he had before reading Sophocles and Shakespeare and [JRR] Tolkien and all these other individuals. You’re in this box and all you can really learn to do is die well. The character very much reminded me of Jefferson from ‘A Lesson Before Dying,’ by Earnest J. Gaines. It’s very tragic and kind of a beautiful mess. It’s a beautifully told story, but very messy.

How was it to shoot those scenes where Kerwin and Aden [Young] are talking through a wall? Was he there when you were shooting those scenes, or is someone else feeding you the lines?

Johnny Ray Gill: Oh, no, he was there. We shot that, we were surrounded by concrete and the whole close quarters and the whole nine. There’s a little vent that sometimes we speak through, but it was a fantastic experience in a very tragic way because you have to find a way to connect through these walls. Daniel would be there, and it was just about trying to find that power, that kinetic energy that existed between us. It’s crazy because it’s almost like telepathy, to get to know someone by just the sound of your voice and how they feel about certain things, and the emotions that come through.

I think that one of the most fantastic things, in working on it, is that you find out that time that someone is different. Then you see when Aden comes out, throughout the rest of the series, the time for these individuals are so much different. You can ask a question and not get a response for two, three, four hours, five days. So we got to explore that while we were working on the project to ultimately find out what the scenes where. Like I said, because of that relationship and the given circumstances, the friendship that is formed is much different than anything that I feel like would happen on the outside because it’s not tainted by lies and deceit. It’s not tainted by Facebook and Twitter, and all these other walls that we have out here in “the real world”. It was like going to another dimension almost, working on the project. So it was crazy stuff. It was good.

What’s been the most memorable moment for you on this project?

Johnny Ray Gill: Episode six. That was one of the hardest things that I’ve had to do as an artist, working on those scenes. I don’t want to give too much away but all these things that were discussing right now, they’re multiplied exponentially as we move from episode to episode because each flashback, there’s more depth. You learn more about Kerwin. You learn more about Daniel’s time in prison, and you get to explore the paradox between those walls and then the walls on the outside and him trying to reacclimatize himself to society and his family and all those things.

So episode six was definitely the most memorable moment, but also just during the read-throughs. The script is so fantastic. It was like doing a play on camera, which is never usually the case with TV stuff. I think we’re moving more in that direction because so many networks are now doing scripted shows. Thank goodness the reality thing is kind of going out. You do have fantastic shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and some of these other shows that are out right now. ‘Mad Men’ and all of those things. So just being able to work on something so juicy, and then like I said, episode six. Just wait until you get there.

Do you have any upcoming projects you can talk about?

Johnny Ray Gill: Right now I’m just kind of knee deep in postproduction for my short film, ‘Father Rest.’ We’re on the festival circuit right now. I just found out that we won Best Narrative Short at the Green Lens Environmental Film Festival, in Illinois, which is fantastic. I’m looking forward to hearing about all the other film festivals that we submitted to and are waiting to hear back from as 2013 inches along. So I’m just kind of embracing that right now and we’ll see what else happens as 2013 rears its head.

If you could guest star on any TV show, which one would it be?

Johnny Ray Gill: ‘Game of Thrones,’ hands down. I would love to inject a little color into the show.

(Top Photo credit: richard wright)