Johnny Ray Gill Breathes Life Into Rectify Character
By Nancy Dunham
The unfolding scene seemed innocent enough. Two guys walked down a Los Angeles street shooting some footage for a small film, before they put the gear in their bags and began to walk toward their cars.
Everything changed when five police cars screeched to a halt near the men and officers sprang from the cars, demanding the would-be filmmakers submit to a search and questioning. “It was an interesting experience,” said actor Johnny Ray Gill, who with his friend was the subject of the police scrutiny. “They were yelling for us to ‘Get against the wall’ and I just kept saying ‘I haven’t given you permission to do this. You can’t violate my civil liberties. Did I commit a crime?’” Police released Gill and his friend, later saying that they were alarmed the two had
taken photos of police security at a nearby station. Gill and his friend maintain they didn’t even know such a station was nearby.
For the actor—who portrays prison inmate Kerwin Whitman in Rectify on the Sundance Channel, the incident underscored why he is passionate about acting, especially on this series. “I want to give [Whitman] a unique sense of humanity,” he said of the character,
which he likens to the “spiritual best friend” of Daniel Holden (Aden Young) the show’s main character, a Georgia man released from prison after 20 years on Death Row. “African American men and Latino men are always portrayed as cardboard, interchangeable images,” said Gill, whose past acting work includes roles on television series including True Blood, Bones, and Harry’s Law. “It’s my job as an artist to replace that stereotype, to give the character humanity and breathe life and depth into him, to make him human.”