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 HarlanCounty. 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.