'Justified': Joelle Carter's Ava is 'trying to identify a new part of herself'

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joelle-carter-justified-gi.jpgJoelle Carter is still a key part of "Justified," but the way Season 5 has been structured, it's almost like she's part of another show.

Her character, Ava Crowder, has spent the entire season in lockup -- first a county jail, then a state prison -- after being arrested for the murder of Delroy Baker (which happened back in the third season). Aside from occasional interaction with her fiance, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), she's been cut off from the rest of the regular characters. Carter misses her co-stars, but she says getting to be front and center in her own story has been "wonderful."

"I feel honored that they gave me my own storyline -- they don't do that a lot," Carter tells Zap2it. "They said they had complete faith in me, and they were glad they did. So I'm happy everyone's happy. In the beginning I wasn't sure what they were doing with my character, and as they moved me to the state prison, I was confused about my feelings -- I felt isolated from everyone else. But I started thinking this is exactly how Ava is feeling, so it was in some ways nice -- I got to use the circumstances to play the character."

Carter also talked with us about a big decision Ava faces in Tuesday's (March 18) episode and what the remainder of the season holds for her.

Zap2it: How has it been working mostly with a new group of actors this season?
Joelle Carter: Walton and I would see each other randomly, and we'd be like, "I miss you!" You get used to having and trusting that person that's across from you. You start to get to know them and know what it's going to be like. Even when I have my few scenes with Timothy [Olyphant] now, I'm always so excited because I know the history of the characters, and I know him and how we function as artists. It's a little scary, but it's also exciting, and they cast such wonderful women. Even the background women were so amazing, and they got into it and came back week after week. ... It made for a wonderful atmosphere. I think I was lucky. I was thrown away from the family, but I kind of built a new one.

Has Ava's situation led you to discover some new things about the character?
I knew she was -- I always understood Ava in a very basic way, and I was able to convey that through my acting. That's maybe why I got the part. It's been lovely to go on the journey with her and see how she's constantly finding her strength deep inside. She always goes toward the strong action, even if she kind of doesn't want to. No matter what they put her through, she keeps her humanity, which is -- I wasn't sure if they were going to take her toward a more Margo [Martindale, who played Mags Bennett in Season 2] character. But Ava keeps her loyalties, and she keeps that integrity that she has. She makes her decisions even to kill based on the situation and maybe protection, not just for the flavor of killing like a lot of the killing on the show. So in some way, it's justified. [laughs]

What's her reaction going to be to the nurse telling her at the end of episode 9 that she has to kill Judith [Dale Dickey]?
I think she's left feeling like, "Can I get a break?" [laughs] ... And the nurse is right -- she's got all the power, and I'm left with a choice. I have to kill this woman or figure out another way, so that's what we'll see in the next episode, how she works her way around that and if she has to do it or if she gets out of doing it.

If and when Ava's ordeal ends, how will her relationship with Boyd be affected?
It's interesting, because the one thing she was able to do in prison is think about all her decisions and choices up to now. I think you see a little bit of it in this past episode -- she's starting to get to the point where it's harder to see him -- even though she needed to ask him for something so big -- when she first saw him, it was so amazing, but it was a realization that was not a tangible thing for her anymore. I think she's slowly going to start trying to distance herself from him, just for her own survival, and maybe feel a little let down by the situation, let down by him. He's maybe going to go through the same thing. They're going to be in a completely new place if she gets out, and it's going to be hard. They're going to have to rebuild, I believe.

They both have gone through so much this season and will have gone through more by the end of the season. But I hope she gets out and I hope they stay in love [laughs]. He was her shield, and now she has no shield. She's trying to identify a new part of herself. ... The thing is she has no illusions anymore. She kind of walks face-first into the fire, and her eyes are open. She knows who she is as a survivor, and she's resilient. It's like, is there a place now for Boyd in that new identity, or will going back to his way of life, that criminal life, will that suit her? Is she going to have a choice?

When Ava cuts her hair in prison, was that real or did you wear a wig?
No, we made a choice. I said it once, and I'll say it again, I'm kind of disappointed in the editing of that scene. Don Kurt, who directed it, had one take where you don't cut away at all. You can tell I cut my own hair. It was an amazing take, but for some reason they got all fancy with the editing. My husband was even like, "Are you wearing a wig?" I was like, "You know I cut my hair!" ... But a wig would have been too complicated to continue shooting, so they said it's either you've got to cut it, or we'll go another way. I thought and thought about it, and I really liked the idea that it was her moment reinvent herself and to be like, "Here I am, and this is who I'm going to be."

It seems like a lot of this season has been about unintended consequences for everyone. Should we be nervous about where that leads?
I can't remember what Graham said the theme of the season is, but it's along the lines of, "Be careful who let in." Be mindful of who you trust. It's proven over and over again with Dewey and his decisions and Boyd and Raylan and especially Ava. I don't think Ava's ever let her guard down too much. ... I think she's started to really kind of admire Dale Dickey's character, and that's what will make the next episode even harder. She's always facing, "Do I choose myself, or do I stick with my values and do what I can live with?" It should make you nervous. [laughs]

Why do you think she put so much trust in Boyd to deliver heroin for her when she wasn't sure what was happening with him?
I think knowing how he works, I think she had full trust she could do this. But also, just because of the nature of the way things are going and how little she's been able to see him ... she's also a little bit not sure. That's why, in the scene with the nurse when she says, "Your man really delivered," she's just like, "Whew." It was a huge relief, because I think there was a smidgen of doubt.

Is there anything else you can say about Ava's story in the final episodes?
She gets inventive. She thinks she gets herself into a pretty good place twice, and it's sabotaged twice. That's all I can give you. The way it ends is ... it's a hard ending for Ava, but fairly hopeful. There's some great scenes coming up with Tim -- that's a little teaser there.

"Justified" airs at 10 p.m. ET/PT Tuesdays on FX.
Photo/Video credit: Getty Images