Based on a story by Elmore Leonard and adapted for TV by show runner Graham Yost, JUSTIFIED is now in its fourth season on FX, Tuesdays at 10 PM. Timothy Olyphant plays U.S. Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens, who has been brought back to his home turf of Harlan County, Kentucky. Raylan doesn’t always play by the rules, but his boyhood friend turned thorn in the side Boyd Crowder, played by Walton Goggins, has become a flat-out outlaw, running drugs, prostitutes and other illegal activities out of a local bar.
A woman the two men have in common is Ava Crowder, played by Joelle Carter. Ava grew up with Raylan. She was married to Bo’s brother – until she shot him dead for beating her. Ava took up with Raylan for awhile, but that ended and she gradually became involved with Boyd, both as his lover and as his business partner. Boyd has just proposed and Ava has accepted, even though Boyd has possibly just provoked the wrath of the Chicago mob.
Carter’s real-life off-duty activities including volunteering as a reader in the Los Angeles-based Read-a-Thon for Learning (formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic), which creates audio textbooks for students who have difficulty interpreting print. The Georgia-born actress has just wrapped shooting on this season of JUSITIFED and, in a phone interview, talks all things Ava.
ASSIGNMENT X: How did you originally become involved in JUSTIFIED?
JOELLE CARTER: I auditioned and they actually had to put me on tape, because I was leaving to do a movie up nearSanta Barbara. And I just stayed in the mix until they finally cast me.
AX: Was Ava always intended to be a regular character?
CARTER: No, Ava was potentially recurring, but Timothy and I had such great chemistry and I think I brought such a life to the character of Ava that they fell in love with her. We shot the pilot and then they asked me to come back – I was a series regular in Season 1.
AX: How did you originally see Ava?
CARTER: When I read the pilot and I got that first scene that I did with Tim, I felt like they took it right from the Elmore Leonard short story and there weren’t a lot of questions for me, especially for that scene, because she was so developed in the writing. She was from a small town, lived a small life, hooked up with the wrong guy. She had big dreams and she was a big-hearted character, but because she got with the wrong guy, she made her own prison. She must’ve had a lot of strength to do what she did to finally get herself out of the situation that she was in. I figured because she had been in the situation so long, she was probably really in love with this guy at one point. It was such a complicated character, and I embraced all of the aspects of her, and I loved the idea that I could play them all out right there in the scene with Tim in that first scene, because it was almost like her life had come to an end, but she saw a future as soon as Raylan walked in the door, that there was a world out there that maybe she could tap into.
AX: Ava has obviously gone through a whole lot of changes since we first met her. Can you talk about what you felt were some of the milestones in her transformation? Certainly the area of Harlan County that she and Boyd deal with, she is a very powerful person.
CARTER: Yeah, she’s definitely found a more powerful place in life, hasn’t she? [laughs] It might be the man she stands next to. Yeah. What journeys through every season she’s had, even though some of the seasons she wasn’t as dominant as she is this season, they’ve really taken her – even if it was off-screen – through so much. Like I said, it’s funny, because I think in the beginning she was so ready to just grab onto any kind of life that was something different from what she’s been living and she thought Raylan was that tool to get her there. I think she leaps before she thinks and occasionally gets herself into situations that aren’t going to pan out the way she intends them to. For instance, Raylan – for both of them, I think the relationship was a release. It was sexual, it was desire and it was fun and it was an escape from the real world, but that wasn’t a real relationship, and it obviously wasn’t going to last, because there were so many issues [laughs], obstacles against them. I think she got beat down a little bit after that, and then in Season 2, I think she had to really discover more who she was after this whole fiasco with killing her husband and everything, and I think she realized that maybe the world was a little bigger than she wanted to be a part of, and she went to what was safe – it was like home, what she knew. I know some people have a hard time believing that Boyd and Ava are the love story that Walton and I like to see them as, but I think they let them nurture that in Season 2. They were both healing from so much, and they really got to know each other and find a comfort in each other that’s so sweet, and in Season 3, they really built upon that. Ava this season, I wanted the character to step up and become a businesswoman and become a true partner for Boyd in more ways that just male/female partners, and it’s been nice to see her try to do that, but then once again, life hits her as it comes and [laughs] and I think she gets to a point, maybe now in this season, she’s not quite sure what she’s got herself into.
AX: Did the idea of Boyd and Ava as a couple launch in the writers room, or was that because of the chemistry between you and Walton Goggins?
CARTER: It launched in the writers room. The character of Raylan in the book isn’t with one woman ever. They tamed him down a little bit [laughs], because him and Winona [Raylan’s ex-wife, played by Natalie Zea] get back together in that end of the first season there. So it’s nice that they have that conflict for this character that can’t really completely settle down with the one woman he’s obviously in love with just because of his nature, and that he’s more married to his work than he is his wife. That being said, I wasn’t going to be with Raylan for very long, and so for the longevity of the character of Ava, Graham said, “You’re going to the dark side.” [laughs] “You and Boyd will …” I don’t think they knew it was going to be the love story that it ended up being, but they placed him in my home and were like, “Let’s see what happens with Boyd and Ava, if this will work or not.” It’s hard not to have chemistry with Walton Goggins – he’s so amazing.
AX: Is there a period of Ava’s life that’s been particularly fun for you to play?
CARTER: You know, I really like her when we first met her, because she was so full of sass and life and everything that came at her, she’d just find a twist on it and try to make it something to learn from or something to grab onto. I was telling the writers at the beginning of the [pre-production] year, I wanted that to come back, because she’s been through a lot up to the point. I think whatever situation she’s put into, it naturally comes out that Ava’s going to have this way of being, kind of fresh and sexy with just the Southern way of threatening to kill someone with a smile on your face [laughs]. But I think it was the beginning and then now.
AX: Are the writers receptive to your suggestions as an actor?
CARTER: Yeah. I think they pulled Walton and Tim in first in that arena. Now, because we’ve lived these characters for the last three, four years, they’re open to our suggestions and our questions about where they’re taking the character. I have pitched some things that have definitely been turned down because it’s not the way that they see it, that they want it to go. In that sense, it’s nice, it’s almost like real life, because you’re not quite sure where your character’s going or what’s going to happen. You take it as it comes and you develop around it.
AX: How far ahead do you know what’s going to happen? Do they give you a heads-up way in advance, or do you just know it when you get the script?
CARTER: Well, we have an outline of what the idea, what the season’s going to be, and as it unfolds, it kind of takes a life and a journey of its own. You [get] an idea where the characters are going. I think they thought maybe Boyd and Ava would get married this season. Because of how the season unfolded, there wasn’t an opportunity for that, but there was an opportunity for the proposal, which was very nice.
AX: At this point, do you think Ava’s genuinely optimistic about what may happen for her and Boyd, or do you think she’s just hanging in there for Boyd’s sake, or she’s hanging in there because she doesn’t know where else to go?
CARTER: I feel like when she came to him with her doubts and her understanding of what she was now in, the proposal and his dedication to a better life for them and their children has kind of put her in an optimistic point of view. I think we see them at their highest in this next episode, which is nice, but before the episode ends, they’ll be beaten down again [laughs].
AX: Well, they’re stuck between many nefarious forces, although they’ve certainly come up with a very good way of saying “go to hell” to the upper class of Harlan County.
CARTER: I know, right? Don’t mess with us. They’re not afraid of a hard outcome.
AX: This is a perhaps absurdly specific question, but it seemed initially that Ava went to Boyd and said, “Look, we have to kill Ellen May,” but now it seems like Boyd is trying to take responsibility for the decision to take it off of Ava. Was it always really Boyd’s decision, or is Boyd just trying to make Ava feel better?
CARTER: I feel like you wanted to see what she was going to do with that. I think he wanted to spare her making that decision. Even though he’s pulled her into this world, I think he tries to protect her from it at the same time, so I think he actually really tried to find an alternative way to get rid of Ellen May [Abby Miller], which he probably would have never done if Ava wasn’t in the picture. And I think Ava was going along with [having Ellen Mae killed], because Ellen May is so unpredictable, she just knew that if they don’t get rid of this woman, it’s the end of all of what they are, everything, them and their world and their life. So she’s trying to swallow the idea that she has to do this, it has to be done. Ultimately, Boyd’s the one making it happen, but as we see, maybe it didn’t really happen [laughs]. I think the thing that keeps going on in Ava’s mind – there’s an idea, “Yeah, we just need to get rid of her, we need to get rid of the problem,” but then there’s the reality of doing it that they really make Ava face this season, and it’s the reality that’s interesting to see in the end, what she can and can’t do, and what that means to her and this world.
AX: What would you say Ava’s relationship is to Raylan at this point in the story?
CARTER: I think that they really did care about each other and they have this history. They grew up together and she knows the old Raylan and she knows the new Raylan, and they’ll always have this chemistry that’s undeniable. So I don’t know what would happen if they were put around that dinner table in the pilot again [laughs] in the evolution of what they all are now. I think she would of course stand by Boyd, but it would be hard for her to pull the trigger on Raylan, definitely.
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Article: Exclusive Interview with JUSTIFIED star Joelle Carter on Season 4 – Part 1