Interview: Joelle Carter Brings Spark to FX’s Brilliant ‘Justified’

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CHICAGO – Joelle Carter was one of those actresses who was probably a familiar face through small roles in films like “American Pie 2” and “High Fidelity” or through a number of TV guest appearances, but it was her excellent work on the first season of the FX hit “Justified” that brought her to a new level of fame. She gave us a call this week to discuss the second season of her great show and offer some insight into the process of creating Ava Crowder, working with Timothy Olyphant, the city of Chicago, and even the long-term potential of the show. Where are you at in filming?

Joelle Carter: We’re starting the last episode today. The end of #12. How has this season been different for you?

Carter: Well, Ava is more involved with other characters besides Timothy’s. So, that’s fun. She goes back home. She’s digging into herself and home and figuring out that she kind of belongs there. She might be more comfortable. I think she always thought she needed to get out but she might just be a hometown girl.

Joelle Carter
Joelle Carter
Photo credit: FX You think in the first season that she was more “ready to run”?

Carter: Yeah. Ava’s really kind of “in the moment.” She can’t really plan for the future. She’s never been given that luxury. Every day she might have been killed by her husband. That’s interesting because I think she’s not alone on that show — there’s a lot of people in the world of “Justified” who kind of operate out of quick instinct. “This works for me now.”

Carter: I believe it’s an environmental thing. It’s the country they live in. You’re surviving; you’re not just living.

Joelle Carter
Joelle Carter
Photo credit: FX Exactly. When you started season two, how much did you know about the entire arc of the season? Did they give you an outline or is it more episode to episode?

Carter: Some of the actors know more. I didn’t know a lot. They gave me a map. They said, “We want this to happen. We want this to be the end result of season two.” And I was like, “OK, I love that.” But then it was a slow burn to get there. In a lot of ways, that’s the only way to do it and for it to be justified, for lack of a better word (laughs). I’m proud of the work that I ended up doing. It seemed like a lot had to happen in really small scenes but it came across. It was frustrating but it all happened the way it should [have]. What was frustrating? Not knowing for sure where your character was headed?

Carter: Sometimes. And even getting the episodes and the scenes and heading to the set and kind of not knowing “how is my character here when she was there last week?” It’s about really digging in deep with the director and the other actor. And this show has that kind of deep-digging creative process?

Carter: It’s a little more open than a lot of shows that I’ve worked on. But maybe it’s like that when you get the shows that are more character-based because when you start living as these characters then they come to you too. How much input do you have? Can you say, “Hey, I know this character by now and I don’t think Ava would say this or do this”?

Carter: Yes. You can say “I think that maybe this would be interesting,” and they’ll think about it. How is Timothy unique as a co-star?

Carter: He has a lot of energy. I don’t know if I was working his hours if I could…he must sleep really well when he goes home. I believe that at the place that he is in his career — taking this and not knowing what would happen after the pilot — was a risk for him. He loves Elmore Leonard to death. He’s read probably everything he’s written. Leonard’s books are like a Bible to him. So it was a challenge that he tried to put on the writers and the other actors.

Joelle Carter
Joelle Carter
Photo credit: FX What’s been the most difficult aspect of this job for you? Something specific or general — whatever comes to mind.

Carter: Not knowing the answers in the 2nd season. I get a scene and there’s a lot of different aspects to it. In my craft, it’s about answering questions. Sometimes, I have to make up answers. But that’s the beauty of television. They can bring in new aspects and new characters. Have you been surprised at all by the rabid fan response? I get asked about “Justified” all the time.

Carter: I wasn’t expecting anything. I was really excited to play Ava with Timothy and Elmore Leonard — I thought it was like a gift. And then they called back and said I was going to be a regular and it was like Christmas. After we had shot most of the first season, we saw the pilot and I remember looking at Tim and thinking “this is good.”

Joelle Carter
Joelle Carter
Photo credit: FX What do you think it is that has attracted fans?

Carter: It’s different than anything else on TV — style, subject matter, people, region. It’s a little risky. They’ll kill off a character or bring someone back from the dead. If the characters are someone they can fall in love with — bad or good — then you want to know what’s going to happen next. You have some experience filming in Chicago with “High Fidelity” and expressed love for the city? What’s different about Chicago?

Carter: It was a long time ago. It has such a rich music scene. When I was there, it was very windy. I’ve been there for some weddings too — the jazz, blues, theatre. You do a mix of TV and film — is there one you like more than the other?

Carter: I think that the beauty of shooting “Justified” is that it allows us time to do film. You can juggle both. TV is just getting better and better and better. I always love a good movie though because there’s more of a structure — it has to be planned out. They’re only going to have a certain amount of time. There’s a nice feeling when you really get engrossed in your character and the story. I read that you were working on a script to possibly co-direct?

Carter: I am. I’m working on a feature and a book to make into a TV show. It’s a woman in Miami who was a judge and now she’s retired and she’s writing novels about a lawyer in Miami who’s half-Jewish and half-Baptist. She’s strong and fun and I’m interested to see how we can pull it together. Right now, we’re dissecting the books to make sure there’s enough in there to pitch. Do you guys know if you’re coming back for season three?

Carter: I haven’t heard. But people think. I would be stunned. Have you thought about how long you’re willing to do this thing? What if it’s on as long as “The Shield” — seven years? You willing to do this that long?

Carter: (Laughs.) I would love to see what they would do with Ava over seven years. I would totally feel grateful.

Be grateful for Joelle Carter’s work on “Justified” on Wednesday nights on FX. Check local listings. content director Brian Tallerico

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