Last week, I had the opportunity to take part in a conference call Q&A session with Joelle Carter who plays Ava on FX’s hit series, Justified [Wednesdays, 10/9C]. She spoke about Ava’s survival instincts and her burgeoning relationship with Walt Goggins’ Boyd Crowder – a relationship that is unique because, in the series premiere, she had just killed her abusive husband, who was Boyd’s brother.
Just as Justified is a unique series, Carter is a unique woman, with an interesting take on her part in the series.
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Joelle Carter: Yes, there are a few scenes where a whole bunch of the gang get together. I don’t get any one-on-one with any of the Bennetts until the very last episode. And that’s about all I can say.
How do you actually feel about Boyd?
J. Carter: How do I feel about Boyd as Ava?
Yes, as Ava. Do you want him with her, or do you just put up with him?
J. Carter: I think where we left off, the last episode when he offers the money to her, right? And then the cost of coming in— It’s interesting. I think it’s Ava and Boyd. Ava likes to have— She has a big heart and she really loves the idea that everyone can change and in the beginning I think she wanted to take a chance on that with Boyd, and I believe as its progressing, they’re kind of falling for each other a little bit and she wants to help him out because of these feelings she’s having and then he brings this in again, yet another complicated issue. But, I think that for Ava, she had this long, long relationship with Boyd and I believe he’s kind of always been in love with her and she really finds him interesting and she sees him exciting and we’ll see what happens!
Ava has such a complex relationship with both Raylan and Boyd. Do you find it difficult to keep all of the …of those relationships boiling under the surface?
J. Carter: I’m sorry, I find it difficult— I didn’t hear—
No, that’s fine. Do you find it difficult to keep all the subtleties of those relationships, the different intricacies of those relationships boiling under the surface?
J. Carter: Oh, I find it challenging and exciting. It’s wonderful when they write for you such complex situations because it is a challenge, but it’s thrilling. It’s great.
I wanted to know with Ava and Boyd being family and pretty much all that the other person has, like they’re each other’s support system, do you think that she’ll be able to keep him out of trouble?
J. Carter: Have you tried to keep a man out of trouble? I’m not sure. I don’t think Ava can keep herself out of trouble.
Right, but she has her shotgun just in case.
J. Carter: She does. You know I kind of see Ava as the— I think, you know, for Ava, she’s had a certain life if you look at Winona and Ava. Winona, she knows kind of what she wants, her picture of her and Raylan in the end and them saying, and him doing a job when he comes home, does the work nine to five. For Ava, I think she’s really just looking for love and someone that’s dedicated to her and for someone that will respect her and won’t hurt her. Boyd is a gentleman and he’s really devoted to her so far, and so that’s all she needs is a little more simple. I think she wishes they could stay out of trouble.
One of my favorite scenes from last week’s episode was with Ava and Boyd, so what is it like working with Walton and do you think she was smart to sort of let Boyd move in?
J. Carter: Working with Walton is such a wonderful experience. He’s a dynamic actor and you never worry that there won’t be something on the other side of the table coming at you. So, it’s really exciting and it’s an honor. I think in the end Ava had to do what she had to do to survive and to have Boyd living with her it’s help ends meet and it’s kind of opened her up to really discovering who she is a little bit more. So, I think it was a good idea.
Joelle, we’ve seen your character go from the slightly frantic, first time we ever meet Ava, to this strong put-together woman over the season one. How do you feel her character is going to grow through season two?
J. Carter: I think she’s really still trying to discover, to accept and to trust the shrink that’s inside of her. When called out, it’s there. It’s like a second instinct. She’s used to hard living and that’s the way she is, but I think she’s still trying to figure it all out as we all are usually. But, she definitely has developed and come a long way since season one which is nice.
When I heard of the show, right, it was an Elmore Leonard series which immediately creates a visual image and a tone, you hear about the star, you see the name, you see the ads and you think this is going to be a testosterone test, a boy’s show, and it is. It has all of those things, but it surprisingly has managed to paint rather nice intricate portraits of the female characters and I kind of want to get what’s it like being in the epicenter of that ‘man storm’?
J. Carter: The ‘man storm’! I like it. I’m going to use that. Yes, it is! It’s a lot of testosterone. There’s a lot of manly stuff out there beneath. I think it’s a challenge as it is and it is business. It’s a very male dominated business, so it’s kind of a real life challenge that’s come into play in the working world. I think that the writers and all of us have developed some really strong female characters that complement the male testosterone that we’re living in. That’s what makes it exciting, because we are the sauce, you know, the sensitive part to their lives, but you don’t mess with them and you see them stick up for themselves and you see them call the shots. I think do us justice.
Yes. Well your character in particular, I still haven’t necessarily pegged who she is and what she’s going to be and that’s very rare in the show where you can usually pigeon hole almost every character through the pilot episode, so it’s a testament to Graham and everybody that it’s definitely not your average show and that everything about it is unorthodox in terms of the current TV landscape. Was that obvious to you guys as you started making the show and as it’s evolved?
J. Carter: It’s become more obvious, especially with my character. I’ve talked with the writers and we kind of like that sometimes we don’t even know where it’s going and she doesn’t know where she’s going, but she is so complex that we discover along the journey with her different things and that’s a lovely unveiling. It’s been amazing to watch it unfold and to see us kind of embrace strongly the unknown and go for it.
I wanted to ask, the quiet moments that have been provided in the show with you and with Walton, the conversations you have on the porch, in the bedroom, what is going through Ava’s head in these scenes? Maybe, you can take us into a little bit kind of deeper into the character what she’s thinking as she tries to make contact with Boyd in the home.
J. Carter: You don’t see a lot of the relationship building and growing and that was a big challenge for me because then I would have these short scenes to do to show the audience, well this is where these people are now, and you can imagine maybe with us that they’ve been cohabitating together and learning more about each other. Just the idea of her going up to his bedroom because maybe she’s a little bored and she knows he’s there and she starts to enjoy his company a little bit more and she calls him out to be like, it’s okay if we get to know each other a little better. I want to know more about you. And then even on the porch, he shares some stuff with her. I found that for Ava to be a bit more intriguing. And it’s just that they’re starting to get a little more comfortable and these bad guys come. Then trouble comes up the way. And she’s like, "Well, I thought you told me you were—" I think for her Boyd is like the audience, someone that you think you know and then maybe you don’t know completely. And I believe what we’ll see as it goes along in them really coming to realize that they know each other a lot better than they thought they did and maybe these are the only people that can really know each other the way they do.
We’ve all been kind of waiting for this big moment for either one of your characters, but then in “Cottonmouth,” you both have these really big moments and of course, we’ll see a big moment. What was the buildup maybe once you got to see the script for “Cottonmouth”? Were you like, "Well finally, we get to really see Ava’s in the mix with Boyd."
J. Carter: Yes. I was promised something at the beginning of the season and it’s kind of unfolding, so when you finally get to a place where you’re like, "Well, I think this is when it’s happening now." Or, "This is when she’s making big decisions” it’s very gratifying. Yet for Ava, it’s like when you put one foot forward and then you take a half step back a little bit. She’s trying to go forward with some of it and then, she’s not sure about some of it. So, it’s a little more complicated than just knowing exactly what you’re going to play. She’s confused sometimes as I guess I am as the actress to, like, I know what this means, I know what that means and I’m still not sure if she’s a hundred percent this way. So, it’s fun; it’s challenging.
What is it about the character of Ava that first attracted you when you first read about her that made you want to play her?
J. Carter: I think it was the contradiction of her being this victim and yet being so bold and strong to seduce a man right after she shot her husband who had put her in a very trying and confined relationship for so long. I felt like they’re giving me the freedom by the way this is written to be this soft, vulnerable character, but to have a lot of strength to decide to live and go out and also try to figure out who she really is. So she has to be able to discover that. It’s really loaded.
How did you get involved in acting just in general?
J. Carter: I was living in New York City and I dabbled in some commercial work through my modeling and I really loved it and I just started studying in Manhattan and I fell in love with it.
I read that you’re from Georgia. I’m in Georgia right now.
J. Carter: Well good, where are you?
J. Carter: Yes! I lived in Columbus, Fort Benning.
Yes, I read that you were an Army brat. Was it difficult to lose the accent?
J. Carter: Because we travelled so much, it wasn’t as hard as you would think, but the problem is we always lived in Georgia throughout our travels, so if I hear it, it comes back really fast and if I go back or if I’m around people, it’s really, if you partake in a beverage of the alcoholic types, it definitely will come out, the twang, yes. So, a little bit of a challenge but not as hard as maybe if I’d only lived in the south my whole life.
At the beginning of the show it was established that Ava had been a cheerleader with a crush on Raylan and I kind of guessed from there a very girly girl and she has not ended up where she thought she would in life and you get the feeling that maybe she contributed to that a little, but you also get the impression that she has adapted to some very different situations even above and beyond the ones that we’ve seen on the show. So, my question is could you speak to Ava’s survival instincts and the role that that plays in the series?
J. Carter: Do I speak to her survival instincts?
J. Carter: Well, you know, it’s interesting that you mention that. I’ve always had to do background work for Ava because there’s so much of her that hasn’t been revealed yet. And I think Baumann, her husband was the only man she ever really loved and their relationship in the beginning was like that young true love and, unfortunately, things didn’t turn out the way they thought they were. They were the couple, you know, that were going to leave town and make it and he just deteriorated, deteriorated, deteriorated until alcohol and abusive and yes, it really didn’t turn out the way they thought. And there’s a scene in the first season where she says she did try to leave, I think because she did love him and those relationships are really complicated, abusive relationships, where you think you’re strong enough to do it and then you don’t and then you come back and then they won’t let you go and it’s just— it was a lot that she went through in that one relationship and that’s why I feel like when she finds Raylan, she is like, "Oh this is a ticket out. And I’ve always had kind of these feelings for this guy and maybe I can go back to all of these dreams that I thought I wanted.” And I believe in the first season we kind of see she realizes, "Maybe I have to figure out what my new dreams are because those old dreams aren’t going to work."
Have you talked with Elmore about Ava and where he kind of had this vision of your character and were you able to kind of work in would you’d like to see as the season’s gone on?
J. Carter: Have I talked to Elmore to see where he would like to see Ava go as the season goes on? No, I haven’t. I have gotten messages through other —Tim …for season one and he said he adored the character of Ava and what we were doing with her, so that’s a big, big compliment. I’m sure that other people that have been writing and I know that Tim gets to talk with him some, I’m not sure if they’ve talked about Ava. I know originally the short story was just a short story. So, I’m not sure if he ever wrote any other episodes or any other short stories with Ava in them. But he seems very happy with the way we’re going.
Okay, and then you can also talk about the difference of your interactions with Timothy from last season where you’re kind of in this blind romance and then this season, every time you see Timothy on the same scene, you’re kind of lashing out at him or you’ve got your rattler snake out.
J. Carter: My claws out. You know what’s interesting about the first two scenes that we had together when he comes to the porch and he’s actually looking for Boyd, his character could have gone anywhere to find Boyd, but I believe he wanted to see if I was okay and he wanted to kind of warn me, he wanted me to not like do that, not let him live with me and he was wanting to make sure it wasn’t because I was trying to punish him. I think a little bit she was, she knew that that he wouldn’t like that but it comes down to the end is that he would was making a choice not to be a part of her life. So, this is a woman that lives in the moment and she has to go on.
In some of the other scenes, we were interested in a way that kind of interacts. I think it’s more of the circumstance of what’s happening and how they feel about what’s happening in the circumstance and maybe they feel the other person should be doing something different. I don’t think these two people hate each other. He might be disappointed in some of the choices that she’s making. She’s still disappointed.
I think Ava really fell hard for Raylan. She’s still got some scars there that she has to deal with it. Sometimes love and hate are really close together.
Is there any chance that we’ll see you in any scenes with Natalie? … last year kind of a moment of tension. Will there be a Winona-Ava thing?
J. Carter: There won’t be any Winona-Ava, well, yes we are in one scene together of unspoken words. So, yes you will see one.