Rectify

6 Questions with “RECTIFY” Star Michael O’Neill (Senator Foulkes)

Michael O’Neill, who plays Senator Roland Foulkes on RECTIFY, debates where his character sits on the good-guy/bad-guy spectrum and the realities of shooting a love scene.

Q: You grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. Do you have any personal experience with small-town politics?

A: A little bit. I’ve seen how self-important and self-aggrandizing one can become. I don’t think it starts out that way. I think there’s an actual germ of wanting to be of service, but when you drink the Kool-Aid, if you drink it very long, your color changes. I think it’s sort of universally true that after a while, the appetite gets to be more than one can contain.

Q: What’s the most fun part of playing a small-town Southern politician?

A: To be able to indulge someone with an insatiable appetite. The Senator likes what he likes when he likes it. I know that even in the very first time that we see him, when he appears to profess sympathy for poor Hannah’s demise at the hands of Daniel who he is convinced is guilty, he’s campaigning and glad-handing and making that eye contact and securing those votes and taking stage, as it were. Just the kind of insatiable appetite and self-importance that Foulkes has is just too much fun to describe.

Q: There are so many mysterious details of Hannah Dean’s murder that only the Senator seems to know. Have the writers let you in on any juicy details?

A: You’re going to have to tune in to find out those things because they’re story points and plot points. Here’s what’s pretty clear to me about the Senator’s interpretation of events: Once he begins to piece together the events of that night together, then he begins to give value to what best serves the prosecution. Anything that he didn’t find salient, not only did he try to put it to the back of the case, he just wanted it to go away. I don’t think that’s uncommon in prosecution. Once you’ve made an interpretation, you try to line up everything to fit your vision. And there’s that dangerous groupthink that starts to happen.


Q: The Senator seems to feel Daniel is 100 percent guilty. Are you someone who has such strong convictions?

A: I do. It’s part of the actor model. Once you’ve committed to something, you have to desperately find a belief and a conviction in it. There’s an old saying that if you believe, your audience will believe. I think the same is true in the Senator’s case. He brings himself to a place to such a conviction about it, that there’s no room for doubt. And the absence of doubt is a dangerous thing.

Q: You’ve played good guys and bad guys in your long TV career. Where do you think Senator Foulkes sits on that spectrum?

A: Some of the characters I’ve played have been so desperate. They’re at the very farthest end of that end spectrum. I do think that the Senator falls right of middle, or left of middle as it were, on the end of that scale. He does damage in a passive, in a by-product, way. I don’t think the Senator thinks that anything that he’s doing is bad. I think it’s pretty self-serving in the grand scheme of things. At some point he believed by doing what he did, and the nature of this trial and the nature of the way he framed the evidence, that he was doing the best for the community and the best for Hannah’s family.

Q: You have a rather shocking sex scene with Marcy the waitress. What was your reaction when you found out you’d be doing the scene?

A: At first I was like, “Oh my god, I get the girl! I’ve been doing this for thirty years and I finally get the girls.” When they told me I was going to get the girl, they didn’t tell me exactly how that scene was going to play out. It wasn’t so much I was getting the girl as getting adult satisfaction, if you know what I mean. It was so much fun on the one hand, but I know actors talk about this, it’s nerve-wracking. It’s not intimate, it’s not romantic, and you don’t know where to put your hand. Should we practice kissing or what should we do? [Laughs] It’s a foreign land that one goes to and never speaks the language quite the way you think you will. I was nervous as a cat, a cat on a screen door.

Click here to read an interview with Michael O’Neill’s co-star Aden Young.

Watch RECTIFY Thursdays 9/8c on SundanceTV.