Joelle Carter has certainly had a wild ride in the
five seasons that she has been playing southern belle Ava Crowder on FX's acclaimed
modern western Justified.
When you meet a character
right as she is killing her abusive husband, you wouldn't think
there would be much more the show could do with her. However that was just the first step in the crazy,
cool, violent and sexy path for which Ava was destined.
has been in love with commitment-phobe US Marshal Raylan Givens,
played with cheerful humor and menace by series lead Timothy Olyphant.
Then she became involved with, and eventually married to, the deadliest
gangster in Harlan County, Kentucky. Boyd Crowder is played as a wild
mix of steely determination and evangelical humor by co-star Walton Goggins.
Over the years Ava has found herself drawn into the
worlds of shootouts, land wars, prostitution and murder. In season five,
Ava is in jail for a killing which she didn't commit, and is slowly
coming to terms with the fact that she may not get out anytime soon.
This unpredictable highway somehow makes sense for
Carter, though, a self-proclaimed Army brat who became an in-demand
model and then made the leap into acting. In a wide-ranging
career that is going on 15 years now, she has appeared in varied
films such as High Fidelity, American Pie 2, The Horse Whisperer
and It's Not You, It's Me. She has also appeared on
tons of TV series, including Law and Order, Grey's Anatomy,
Castle, Monk and Cold Case.
Still, Carter's breakout role is playing Ava Crowder, the
imperfect feminine heart and soul of the cock-sure underworld of
Harlan County. It has recently been announced that the sixth
season will be Justified's last, but that is over a
year away. As season five of
Justified continues to snake through its wonderfully
complicated Southern gothic storylines, Carter gave us a call to
catch us up on her character and her career.
What was it about
the script of
originally intrigued you?
If you've read Elmore Leonard, the flavor in which he
writes, which Graham [Yost] adapted [in such a] lovely [way] to the script. He
kept a lot of the short story ("Fire in the Hole") in the script.
Dialogue, actually. I loved the idea of a woman talking about
killing an abusive husband while she is seducing a US marshal. You
can't ask for better than that.
interesting to look back at Ava's character arc since the very
beginning of the show. First she kills her husband in self-defense
and becomes involved with Raylan, then eventually gets involved with
Boyd and starts doing more and more things that she never thought
she would. Now she's in jail. Have you been surprised by how much
she has changed over the seasons?
I have, and I'm so grateful to the writers for the journey
that I've been given to go [on] along with the character. You don't get
that often. Between Raylan and Boyd, Graham came to me and said,
"For the longevity of Ava, we have to send her to the dark side."
(laughs) It didn't make a lot of sense to me, but as I
started digesting it, I was like, I get it. It's family and they
fell in love. It started a journey and it's been wonderful to take
you've been playing Ava over the years, have you had any input into
her character – either suggesting things that would work for her or
the writers just adding little wrinkles into her because they have
gotten to know you and your abilities?
I think it's a little of both. A little of everything. I
bring a flavor to the words that they put on the paper. I'm lucky
that the words have, for me, that flavor behind them. For
Justified, I feel like one thing is written and another thing is
being said often. So, that's the real fun of it. Actors often have
their own take on something anyways. You find a happy medium,
usually with the director or the writer. (laughs) But they
pretty much let me go and once in a while they will give me a little
hint of what they are looking for. It's been a nice collaboration.
I think once you start playing a character and you live it and
breathe it, they start catering towards your own instincts and
characteristics, also, that you brought to the character.
Well, her accent
is definitely stronger than yours. How hard was it to get that
Yeah. I'm from the south. I'm from Georgia. I traveled
around the south a lot when I was young. It's in my repertoire, a
southern accent. To cater it a little bit more Kentucky, a little
bit more Ava, I just made it her own. It takes a little bit of
work. I'm knocking on wood, for me it's a bit easier this
particular accent than a lot [of others would be.]
The show is
fascinating because it balances humor with drama and extreme
violence. As an actress, is that an interesting mindset to get
Oh, yeah. It's very exciting. It keeps you on your toes.
(laughs) You're never sure what's going to happen next with
your character. Is she even going to be around next season?
has been in jail for the early episodes of this season. I haven't
seen this week's episode, but last I saw she had just been set up by
the guard and her cellmate and was sent to the State Penitentiary.
How long do you think Ava can last in jail? How long will Boyd
allow her to stay?
That's the big thing about this last episode: the rope has
gotten longer and Boyd is losing his grasp of keeping Ava safe.
She's now in a place that he doesn't control. He controls the
Harlan County Jail, so last episode was a small journey for Ava,
realizing she might just be on her own in a whole new world. And
she might not be getting out. That really hits her hard, so she has
to regroup and reinvent herself. That's what she's going to start
doing in this prison. You will see more of the prison life that we
didn't really see in the Harlan County Jail.
Justified has such strong, offbeat leads with Timothy
Olyphant and Walton Goggins. And yet they have very different
acting styles. What are they like to work with?
It's great. I love them both. They are very, very
different. (laughs) Which keeps you on your toes. Walton
is so passionate about his craft in acting. He always comes with a
certain amount of enthusiasm and straightforwardness. He's all
business when he's acting. He's very in character. Tim has a more
easy approach. He is completely dedicated to the show and making it
better and better and better. There might be a few more changes
when you are working with Tim. (laughs again) He's always
giving and a very gracious actor to work with.
Justified has always had some fascinating villains,
Margo Martindale and Mykelti Williamson and Jere Burns and Michael
Rapaport now and of course Walton as Boyd. Obviously you work most
with Walton, but other than him, who is your favorite villain?
Oh, Margo. (laughs) Margo's been my favorite. I
really love Wynn Duffy (Jere Burn's character). He's pretty fun.
Walton takes the prize pretty much. Particularly this season.
He's killing it. He really embraces his character. But Margo,
because she was a true female villain. You don't see that a lot.
She is up there in the lead.
you have a dream scenario for Ava that you'd love the writers to put
Yes. I want for Ava to survive. (laughs) I think
with the journey that she has had up until now, for her character to
die would be so unjust. I really feel personally about that.
Walton talks about for him, he's about to put his character to rest
in the last season. It would make him feel better to know that Boyd
isn't out there somewhere. For me, for the fans and for the
journey of Ava, I think for her to stay alive would be great. I
also think at some point I really want her to have a heart to heart
with Raylan and make him admit that he is who he is. He's from where
he's from. He's no different than us, just because he carries a
badge, especially with his own sense of justice. I think for
Ava that would be a nice thing to hear.
Why do you think
that most of the truly imaginative shows have been shifting to cable
from the traditional network model?
I think the main networks really reached out to people in
the beginning. Now, people are so diverse in their TV watching and
cable provides for creators to be a little more risky or a little
outside of the box. In the end, for me, it becomes a little more
entertaining. I seek out shows that are slightly different, not in
the norm. There had to be a recipe for what a comedy should be and
what a drama should be. Now it's just all a free for all. That's
probably why it's spanning out. They are just searching for places
where they can have their freedom to create what they want to
reading in an older interview with you that you would like to do
more comedy. Obviously, in many ways
very funny, but it's not straight comedy. Is that still a goal of
yours as an actress?
Yeah. This past hiatus, right before we started shooting,
I got to shoot a comedy with Rick Gomez, who played one of our DAs
on the show.
Jessebelle or The Living? I see those are two films you
have coming up...
Oh, no. Right now, I think it's going to be called And Or
None of the Above. It was originally called The Week of the
Apes. It was so much fun to do. Rick is really funny. And
they said I have good comedy chops. I hope it's going to do well.
What is it about?
Rick plays a guy who... to sum it up, I guess he's really
hit bottom in his life. He's planned a whole week with his wife to
celebrate their anniversary. He wakes up and he has a letter on the
fridge saying she ain't coming back. (chuckles) So it's
about him living through this week and trying to cancel the party
and trying to figure himself out.
What can you tell
Yeah, Jessebelle is a thriller-horror that Lionsgate
is putting out. It's a wonderful script. I always tell everyone
that the end is almost a new beginning. It's one of those where you
sit on the edge of your seat. It's a little unnerving. A wonderful
cast and great director. I'm excited for it to come out. I've been
waiting. I think people are really going to like that one. The
Living is a very dark indie film with an up-and-coming
writer/director. I haven't even gotten to see any of it yet, but it
was a wonderful shooting experience and a great, great cast.
started out as a model. When and how did you decide to make the
leap into acting? Do you think the skills you learned in modeling
helped you get a leg up?
I started modeling mainly because it provided me [the
opportunity] to travel. I always wanted to travel. I think being
an army brat, I had gotten used to a life that is not the norm.
Constantly moving, you never know. Meeting new people. The
modeling world provided more of the same. You have this hunger for
things to change. I was constantly going to different countries.
Then when I came back... (laughs) I thought I
was going to get into acting to have a stable, normal career.
it's again another avenue where you just don't know what's going to
happen and you put in your work. So, in some ways, I guess it
prepared me for the lifestyle of acting. And then, I guess in some
ways when you do model shoots you have to create characters for the
storyline, so maybe.
You were in one
of my favorite movies of all time –
I know you didn't
have a huge role in it, but I can't talk to you without asking you
about your experience in making the movie. How did you get
involved in it and what was it like to be in?
I auditioned. I got to audition with John Cusack. We had
great chemistry. I was so young. This was one of my first really
big breaks. I was just giddy. It was great. I got to go to
Chicago, the town he's from. It was a big family affair, kind of.
His sister (Joan Cusack) was in it. It was his long-time writing
partner (Steve Pink). I can't say anything bad about that
experience. (laughs) I got to work with one of the stars I
had been crushed out on as a young girl. It was a lot of fun.
was a comedy.
Who were some of
the actors who inspired you to get into acting?
Of course, Meryl Streep. Glenn Close. As I got older and
more into acting, some of the new people come in. All the oldies
really inspired me. I watched so many older movies when I was
was the first movie you ever saw that really blew you away? Made
you say: oh wow, I want to do that.
That would be Miss Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment.
I watched that movie so many times. I loved her. I loved her
in everything she did. She was one of the big influences. She was
Is there a
certain movie that if you are in a bad mood it automatically cheers
Not sure about now. When I was younger, I used to
always watch Tootsie. I loved the idea of just disappearing into
What kinds of
things bring you back to the old days? What makes you nostalgic?
Family. S'mores. (laughs) Time at the beach.
What would people
be surprised to know about you?
Surprised to know about me? (laughs) Well, because
Ava is so dynamic, I think a lot of people are surprised to know
that I am generally shy. I'm not so much [any more], but it's still
a first instinct that comes out until I overcome the moment. Then
I'm all in.
How would you
like for people to see your career?
I think I would mostly like to be known as an actress with chops,
you know? I hope the future provides many different avenues so that
they can see I'm a true character actress.
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