On FX’s drama series Justified, actress Joelle Carter plays Ava Crowder, the woman behind enigmatic bad boy Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). Now that the two are right in the thick of Harlan’s criminal activities Ava has chosen to go all-in, standing beside and supporting her man.
While at the TCA Winter Press Tour, Joelle Carter sat down with Collider for this exclusive interview about how her character has been evolving, finding her place among all of the men in Harlan, what Ava’s goals are now, working with both Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins, wanting to continue to do work of equal quality, her desire to direct, and the hope that she’ll get to do some comedy. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Collider: How has Ava Crowder been evolving this season?
JOELLE CARTER: Last season was a growing period for Ava, especially after being shot. She’s really dedicating herself to her journey with Boyd (Walton Goggins). She’s in a different place. I believe she’s ready to stand up and be the best woman beside her man that she can be. I believe Boyd is her North now, so whatever vision he has, it’s her duty to try to see it come clear. She’s surprising herself, as I am being surprised by the writing and the development, in my own mind, of Ava and what actually is inside her and the strength that lies in there. What she’s capable of is going to surprise people, as it’s surprising me.
As Ava gets more involved with Boyd, do you think she’ll stop giving Raylan such a hard time?
CARTER: I think it’s just their relationship. Even if they were still together, I think it would be like that. I think they’d still be giving each other a little bit of grief and a little bit of sass. It’s so much fun. We get together, and then Tim [Olyphant] says, “There’s this history we’ve built, so we’ve gotta bring it in, every time they see each other.” I think that’s what helps with the longevity of Boyd and Raylan. It’s the history and the relationship. Yeah, we’re in this situation right now and this is what we’re trying to achieve, but we can always bring in a little extra to spice it up.
What was the initial appeal of the character for you, and what do you enjoy most about playing who she is now?
CARTER: To me, it was like finding a little bird that had fallen out of the nest. It tried to take a journey, but wasn’t sure where it was going to go, especially with a broken wing. When you first met up with Ava, she was really damaged, but with her southern charm, she’s still trying to move on and be strong. She sees everything as an opportunity. It was great to step into such a traumatic and dynamic situation for a character, right from the beginning, and see how she was going to crawl, walk or run out of that. And then, they slammed her down again, with breaking up with Raylan. I wanted to see if that was going to end her, or if she was, yet again, going to stand up and find her way. It’s a great place to be, as an actress, to continue to find your way within this character.
As one of the few women among the men in the town, has it been challenging to find her place among them?
CARTER: Yes. It’s challenging because I think women definitely have to get things a different way than men do. Ava obviously has a very sexual side to herself, and it’s really fun to play her, in that sense because there’s always a different way that she achieves her goals. She could be soft and sweet, or she could be hard and violent.
What do you think the repercussions will be from her going all in with Boyd, this season, as he gets deeper into the criminal element of Harlan?
CARTER: Hopefully, it will be successful and powerful for both of them. There’s been some really intimate scenes where you see that the only person he really will show his weakness or insecurity with is Ava, and that’s nice. And, it’s nice to see how she helps him with that. If the writers stay true to where I feel it’s going, they’re really a couple that will support each other. They’re soulmates. If they go out, I’d like to see them go out together, like Bonnie and Clyde, with all the guns. That would be fun.
What do you think Ava’s goals are for herself now?
CARTER: It’s interesting. For me, because of the respect she receives from this man, who is probably the first man that she’s gotten this type of respect from, her mission is Boyd’s mission, but it’s also to prove to him that she’s the strong woman that he needs beside him. Within that, I think she’s proving a lot to herself, with what she can handle. She doesn’t think things through completely. She’s just like, “This is what needs to be done. Let’s figure out how to do it.” Later, there might be some consequences that she has to deal with.
How has it been to work with both Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins? What sort of dynamic do they each bring?
CARTER: I never know what either one of them are going to bring, and they’re both dynamically different. When Walton comes in, you know he’s thought it through, and he’s going to give it to you and change it with every take. Tim wants to throw things in there and throw things out you. He’ll give you lines and say, “I think this actually might be funny if you say it, instead of if I say it.” Tim’s a little more jokester-y. He’s all over the place. Walton is very about the craft of the business. It’s a different dynamic to act with, but both very challenging and satisfying.
Do you enjoy getting to play those moments of humor?
CARTER: Oh, yeah! Usually, when you’re in a scene like that, on another show it would be so heavy and uber-dramatic. On this show, you know that you might be playing that quality, but in the end, you’ll have this one line that you can slap in there and it takes you out of it, and you can walk away all strong and proud because someone is going to be laughing in the audience. It’s great! It’s like a machine. You start getting the flavor of this show, and then you don’t even know that that was going to be a funny moment unless you hear it with an audience.
For your work outside of Justified, what do you look for in a role? Do you feel like you’ve been spoiled?
CARTER: Yeah, you don’t want to do anything of less quality. You get offers or scripts for stuff, and you’re like, “Oh, man! I might have done that before, for money, but right now, it’s going to bore the shit out of me to go on the set and do this.” I thought it was important to seek out more sophisticated, dignified or professional women, just to get a fully rounded body of work. There was an episode of Prime Suspect that I did, that they offered to me. They were like, “Well, she’s dressed down and she has an accent,” and I was like, “Yes, that’s acting! That’s a part of it all. We can do more than one thing!” It makes you a little nervous sometimes that they’re going to stereotype you. This is the best part I’ve had and I’m enjoying it. There’s a lot of texture and different levels to Ava, and stuff they haven’t even discovered yet, which is exciting for me. We know nothing about her family. We only know that she was married to Boyd’s brother, and she killed him because she was abused. There’s a lot in there that could still come out.
Has anything most surprised you about her and what you’re learned about who she is?
CARTER: Teaming up with Boyd. In the pilot, she couldn’t stand him. They did a great job of making that actually work because they let it build so slowly. They really got to know each other differently than how they had known each other. Even from Season 1 to 2, I was getting the scripts and was like, “How the fuck did Boyd end up living in Ava’s house?” I don’t think they even know what they were going to do with it. I was told by Graham [Yost] that it was a way to give Ava longevity on the show. Raylan with Winona (Natalie Zea) is a lot longer-lived than any relationship in any of Elmore Leonard’s books. He goes from woman to woman. So, I’m glad that they did that. It takes her to a much darker life, so that’s good, too.
Is it difficult to sign on for something, when you don’t really know who you’ll be playing yet?
CARTER: It’s difficult because you’re taking a chance with potentially five years of your life. You could be stuck on a show and bored out of your mind, or you could be really fulfilled. It didn’t happen with me, with Ava. I did the pilot as a guest star, and then they decided to keep her and I didn’t have a second thought about saying yes because she’s great. For this particular project, it wasn’t difficult. I’ve done a few others where I’m like, “I have no idea if this show’s going to be good or if it’s going to go.” Sometimes when you get on a show, you’re like, “Oh, god, maybe it won’t last and they’ll just can it, and I’ll make a little money and get to work with some other people.” There’s always that risk. I remember talking to Tim and he said, “I took a leap of faith. I know it’s based on this short story and I know I like the pilot, but I don’t know what they’re going to do with it.” For him, at a different place in his career, it was more of a risk. Now, I don’t see anyone else playing Raylan.
Is there a type of role you’d love to do or a genre you’d like to work in, that you haven’t had the chance to do yet?
CARTER: Yeah, comedy. I’d like to play a mixture of Lucille Ball meets Murphy Brown meets Glenn Close on Damages, to keep a little bit of the darkness in there. I like dark comedy a lot.
Are you getting any closer to directing?
CARTER: I want to. I shadowed Adam Arkin and that made me feel more confident in the fact that I could do it because it’s not as scary as I thought. You see there’s so many people playing so many roles in making the actual product happen that you’re not responsible for everything. That leads me to potentially wanting to direct a short on my break.
Is that something you’ve always wanted to do?
CARTER: Directing TV never really attracted me that much, but now that I’m in a place where they potentially might let me, I want to maybe put my feet in the water. But, for film and something more intimate and on a smaller level, it’s because my husband edits and shoots and we’ve done projects together before, and I have so many talented friends. Maybe once I do it, I won’t want to do it again, but I just really want to do an indie feature. Now, with a kid and the show taking up time, it would have to be a project that I really, really want to do. I just went back south to Florida this holiday season, and it’s so rich in character. It’s like Justified, in a way, where it can be its own character, and my husband was like, “This is where we should do it. We should do a story down here.” So, it might take place in Florida.
What initially drew you to acting?
CARTER: I went to New York for modeling, and then started doing commercials. I was just there to make money and travel because I only wanted to travel when I was younger. Once I had traveled for a couple years, I took my first acting class and just fell in love with it. I was always a really shy person, and it was a way to live out other parts of myself that I didn’t really know were in there, kind of like Ava. I was like, “Oh, wow, I have a lot of strength in there. I have a lot of sexuality in there.” I’m not going to use that in my real life, so it’s fun to have an excuse to play the roles. I think everyone should take an acting class. It’s like therapy because you get to learn a lot about yourself, if it’s the right teacher. You’re putting yourself up there in front of people, and it takes a lot of the intimidation of everyday away.