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Joelle Carter – The Ends Justify The Means

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

Joelle Carter stars in “Justified.”

Joelle Carter

The Ends Justify The Means

by Jay S. Jacobs

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.

She 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 Justified that 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.

It’s really 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 it.

As 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 right?

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 into?

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?

Ava 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.

Do you have a dream scenario for Ava that you'd love the writers to put together?

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 create. 

I was reading in an older interview with you that you would like to do more comedy. Obviously, in many ways Justified is 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. 

Is that 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 us about Jessebelle and The Living?

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. 

You 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.  But 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 – High Fidelity.

Woo hoo!

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.  [And] it 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 younger. 

What 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 huge.

Is there a certain movie that if you are in a bad mood it automatically cheers you up?

Not sure about now.  When I was younger, I used to always watch Tootsie.  I loved the idea of just disappearing into [another person].

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. 

Copyright ©2014 All rights reserved. Posted: February 21, 2014. 

Photo Credit: © 2014. Courtesy of FX. All rights reserved.

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