One on One with Joelle Carter

Much like Shaft, Justified‘s Boyd Crowder is a complicated man and no one understands him but his woman.

As this season has progressed, Boyd and Ava’s relationship has blossomed into a really moving love story about two people looking for a better life for themselves and their future generations. Of course, they are looking to pay for that life by selling drugs and running a prostitution ring. And with just one episode left this season, that perfect life looks to be in jeopardy as their criminal exploits begin catching up to them.

Playing the wonderfully complex Ava Crowder is Joelle Carter, a talented model-turned-actor who uses her own experiences growing up in Georgia to relate to Ava’s life in Harlan County, Kentucky. With the season finale of Justified airing tonight on FX, Carter took a few moments to talk to us about the joys of gardening, the sweetness of being proposed to over a box of cash and the chances Boyd and Ava live happily ever after in Clover Hill.

How did you get into acting?

When I was younger, all I really wanted to do was travel. I came to Manhattan to pursue that via modeling. And then, I just started doing commercials randomly and I got behind the scenes and in front of the scenes and then I was just drawn to the whole idea of acting. I started studying it in studios and the rest is history.

When I was younger, I think I was very shy and creative and in my own world. That’s the kind of same thing as acting, in a way, I guess. You get to be other people an be in their world and that drew me.

Was there a point where you officially made the switch or did you just gradually take on more and more acting jobs?

I came back from a European jaunt at one point and got involved in the William Esper Studio, which is a two and a half year program. They don’t really like for you to take other jobs to discontinue your enrollment. Your acting presence is very important for them, so I had to kind of give up everything and start to study.

How did the part of Ava Crowder in Justified come along? What was the audition process like and what did they initially tell you about the character?

Ava was brilliantly written. It was pretty much word for word the way you see it in the pilot. A lot of it came from the Elmore Leonard short story “Fire in the Hole.”

I got the audition and they put it on tape. I guess the right people saw it. I know they went around the country for a while casting the whole show, waiting for Timothy [Olyphant] to be completely on board.

They just said, “Your still in the mix. You’re still in the mix.” And then one day they said, “You’re Ava, so come to Pittsburgh and play her.”

It all worked out. I really, really wanted this part because I knew I could sink my teeth into her. I had a lot of experience, being from the South, being in that world. Not the outlaw world, but in the world of southern [culture].

You grew up in the South?

I did. I grew up in Georgia.

Besides growing up in Georgia, were there other aspects of Ava that drew you to the character?

She was a wonderfully flawed character. She was this woman that was so weak that she stayed in an abusive relationship, but so strong that she got herself out of it. She was immediately introduced to us at a point where she was willing to grab anything in life and take it by the horns. And that one thing that came to the door was Raylan Givens. So she rode that for a while.

It was such a broad character. She was extremely sexual and wonderfully vibrant. There was so much that drew me to Ava and the world that she was in.

How do you think she went from the character we saw in the pilot to where she is now? She went from looking for a way out to doubling down and carving out a life of crime with Boyd where even though there are signs this season that she isn’t fully comfortable in that world, she’s certainly not trying to get out anymore.

You know, I think she’s really the kind of girl that takes life as it comes to her. She doesn’t schedule for it or plan for it. I don’t even know if she’s dreamed of a certain life for herself as far as just dreamed about what life might be out there.

She took that small ride to Lexington with Raylan just to taste what the outside world was. I think she wasn’t completely in her full strength. So it shot her back down and she went to the comfort of home and what was known in a way. That was Harlan and those people.

I think she met Boyd at the time that she was reinventing herself and he was reinventing himself and together they got to support that and also support each other. And that’s what I think mainly drives her forward now is just this wonderful love story and how these two people really connect and value each other and enjoy each other and don’t try to change each other. It makes you stronger in some ways.

The fascinating thing about their relationship is that if you can look past the details it is this really sweet love story that has developed. The proposal scene this year, in particular, was just this really nice moment with these characters that really care about each other. But the world around them has a lot of ugliness in it.

I know. It was so sweet and so earned, I feel like. It was so wonderful that it wasn’t an ordinary proposal and that he didn’t completely get to plan it out. He did it over a box of cash. [Laughs.] It had their own flavor to it. And it was beautiful and they both didn’t even think twice about it. He’s like, “I’m going to do it” and she’s like, “I’m going to accept.” I don’t think it could have been any more perfect for them.

Do you think that they actually have it in them to buy a house in Clover Hill and live happily ever after? Do you think they’d be content with that life or is it something they could never truly be happy with and committed to?

I don’t know. I think Ava can strive to live in the world that Boyd lives in, but as we’ve seen, she’s not quite up to everything it takes to be a down and dirty outlaw. That’s okay with Boyd, but I’m not sure that they could leave it all behind. I do believe they are both attracted to each other because of the excitement of the uncertainty of what they are.

I think that they like to believe that they could. For their future longevity, it would be nice that the outcome would be that they live in that nice house in Clover Hill. Because without that, I think that their time is limited on the planet. The life they live now is not the safest.

If you were in control of Ava’s fate, is that what you would want for the character? Would you want her to end up in Clover Hill with Boyd?

I think it would have been nice. [Laughs.] I think for them it would be nice to think you grow old together and have kids and that their kids could have a better life. I think that’s kind of what we all hope for – to be happy and to have a little bit more than we had growing up. I don’t know how much of a reality it is for them though.

After Ava was unable to pull the trigger on Ellen May, where does that leave her?

They have a sweet little moment at the end of [episode] 11 where he just says “Do you believe in me?” and she does. She believes in him and she also wants to believe that he can figure a way out for them. And so, she holds onto that because I think all she wants right now is a life with him, whatever that means. As long as she can accept the fact that she can only go so far within that life, then she can accept the fact that he might not be able to leave it.

But 13 holds a lot of interesting aspects to it. It’s going to put them in yet another challenging position.

What else is on the horizon for you?

I have a wonderful thriller coming out I think January 10, 2014. It was originally called Jezebel, but now I believe its changed to Ghosts. Lionsgate is putting it out. I just actually got to see it. It’s thrilling and wonderful. I love it.

I have a short I just produced. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with that. I haven’t seen it in its finished reality yet.

And I don’t know. They’re are promising some interesting things this hiatus, so we’ll see what I end up doing.

You co-produced the documentary Altered by Elvis as well. Is producing something you are looking to do a lot more of going forward?

I’m not sure. That was a while back and we really wanted to do a documentary with our friends in it. And it really came out well. I liked producing this short. I think there’s a feature in my future – an indie that I want to do. I kind of like the other side of it. So we’ll see. I’m getting a taste of it to see if it’s really for me.

What would you be doing for a living if you never got into acting?

I really love cooking, so maybe some kind of cooking, something like that.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

I think there’s a lot of things most people don’t know about me. [Laughs.] I don’t know.

That I love to garden. We’ve had a garden for two seasons now. It’s wonderful to go out and have our own food that we grow. Originally, I was inspired by my daughter to do it because I wanted her to see you can grow your own food and where food comes from so she’d enjoy it when she’s eating it.

Interview by Joel Murphy. The season finale of Justified airs tonight at 10 pm on FX.

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