Actress Joelle Carter has been everybody’s favorite femme fatale in “Justified” for six years and 78 episodes. As the FX cult-favorite series comes to an end on Tuesday, the fate of her character, Ava Crowder, is still in question — she’s caught halfway between Boyd Crowder and Raylan Givens.
Carter, 42, has an offscreen life that doesn’t much resemble that of Ava’s. She lives in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles with her husband and their 4-year-old daughter, Luna.
We caught up with her by telephone early on a recent morning, just as Luna was waking up. We heard barking in the background, which she explained was the family terrier, Waffles. Which led us to our first question.
Q: Wait. You have a dog named “Waffles”?
A: Yes. My husband is like, “I never felt more masculine.”
Q: When you saw the final pages of the script, what was your reaction?
A: “We did it!” This season was filled with schedule conflicts and lots of collaboration. It’s always been a show of collaboration, but the writers really honored that we had breathed life into these characters. We had a lot of say. It got complicated there in the middle and it was hard to pull it together. … After episode 10, Walton (Goggins, who plays Boyd) flew off (to be in Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”) and we knew we could only get him back a certain amount of days. We shot a lot out of sequence.
Q: What was the last scene you guys actually filmed?
A: It was out of order, but I think it was a scene in the finale. I better not say — I signed the confidentiality agreement!
Q: While we’re on the finale, I have it down as my prediction that the person Ava called when she was running down the mountain in last week’s show, and the person she has a secret plan to get away with, is Wynn Duffy.
A: Wynn! The cockroach you can’t get rid of. It’s a good guess. All I’m saying. (Laughs.)
Q: Other than you yourself not being a part-time pimp and a shiv-stabbing prison inmate, what’s the biggest difference between you and Ava? The most difficult thing for you to play, week after week, for six years?
A: I would say she’s more outwardly sexual than I am. She uses it as a weapon and as a way to get things that she wants. She knows she has this quality and isn’t hesitant to pull it and use it. She uses it more as fun than I ever would.
Q: Ava has rolled in the haystacks of Harlan with both Raylan and Boyd. So, um, not to be indelicate, but who’d she rather?
A: That is the question of the year! I always get that question, and I always say, “A woman doesn’t kiss and tell.” Seriously, the way Ava decided between the two of them was that Raylan wasn’t available for what they could be, but Boyd was. Boyd and Ava had a really complicated relationship. They were like two orphans lost at sea and they really wanted to cling onto somebody. They wanted to play-act love, and they wanted to trust one another. They tried real hard.
Q: You were born in Georgia, and mostly raised there, with a father named Jimmy Carter.
A: My dad used to say he was the handsome one. He had some issues with (having the same name as the president). He would make reservations somewhere and people would be like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I only took it bad when people would call me “Amy.”
Q: Your name is “Joelle Marie,” a mighty fine Southern name. Did your dad call you by both names when he was unhappy with you?
A: You know, I always do that, maybe that’s where I got it from. My husband’s name is Andrew, but I never call him that unless I’m angry. It’s always “Andy this” and “Andy that,” but then when I’m mad, it’s “Andrew Bates!”
Q: The show is so good about things Southern. I’m guessing that’s at least in part because you, Walton and several of the other actors and writers are actually from the South.
A: People who live in accent-heavy areas still have specific ways about them, so I was careful to pay attention to that. There were a lot of documentaries I viewed to get a feel for the area — “Harlan County U.S.A.” was one — so I really tuned into that and drew from my background. The twang is easy to come back. … Timothy Olyphant (who grew up in Hawaii and California) always said, “My character has been away a while, so my accent should be more subtle.” Walton and I got to bring out some of the South in a dance sequence. We were supposed to leave this party scene at Mags Bennett’s place after completing a deal. The script said we were just to leave. But Walton goes over and tells them, “Hey, I was a professional clogger. I think we should have a victory dance.”
Q: I thought that was a stunt double!
A: No, no. He was going off, the whole crowd was cheering. That was him. And I was standing there like, “What am I supposed to do with this?”
Q: The show has always been about these three kids from Harlan — Raylan, Boyd and Ava — who are from mean, impoverished, violent roots, with all this moral squalor, and they want so bad to get out of it. But the question is always, “Can you really leave that behind when it is so much of you?”
A: That’s just it. You want to get out so bad, to leave and find out what you’re missing. Then you get out there and it’s so foreign to you that you can’t help but miss it, being back home. They really brought it back home this season.
Q: There was a great scene earlier this year, where Ava is telling off Raylan, who’s been away and come back, saying, “Hey, your neck is just as red as mine.”
A: I actually pitched that line. I thought it was important for Ava to call Raylan out about that, that he’s cut from the same cloth.
Q: Last question: What are you working on now?
A: I’m about to leave for Europe, actually. I’m going to be there for a month. Going to two weddings and then travel by myself for a little while. Before I was heavily into acting, I modeled and traveled for four years. I miss it and I love to do it.
The series finale of “Justified” will air at 10 p.m. EDT Tuesday on FX.