Willowy blonde Joelle Carter's past as a model stood in direct contrast to her acting career, which saw her tackle offbeat, even unlikable characters in projects like "Swimming" (2000), "High Fidelity," "Wonderland" (ABC, 2000) and "Inconceivable" (NBC, 2005). Her determination paid off in 2010 when she was cast as the hot-blooded femme fatale Ava Crowder on "Justified" (FX, 2010-15). Her turn, at once alluring and alarming, drew favorable reviews from critics and viewers alike, and signaled what appeared to be her formal introduction into the upper echelons of the entertainment industry.
Born Joelle Marie Carter on Oct. 10, 1972, she traveled extensively throughout her childhood due to her father being in the U.S. Army. Carter settled in Georgia for her high school years, where she excelled at sports, eventually earning a full scholarship for swimming and cross-country to Augusta State University. After studying theater and photography, Carter became involved in modeling, which brought her to New York City to work for Elite and Wilhemina Models. However, the city's theater scene had a greater hold on her attention, and she began her acting career with a bit part in Robert Redford's "The Horse Whisperer" (1998). Independent features like the short "Just One Time" (1998) and "Swimming" (2000) showed her range of talent and willingness to dive into character roles; in the former, she played a bride-to-be who explored the possibility of a ménage-a-trois with her fiancé, while in the latter, she was an alluring newcomer to a small beach town who struck up an unlikely sexual relationship with a young tomboy (Lauren Ambrose). That same year, she gave a brief but touching turn as Penny Hardwick, a past girlfriend of record storeowner and world-class relationship-phobe John Cusack in "High Fidelity" (2000). After being spurned for refusing his teenaged advances, Penny took up with the very next boy she met, which earned her a place on his list of most memorable breakups.
That same year, Carter made her debut as a series regular on "Wonderland," Peter Berg's controversial drama about life in a mental hospital. Carter was an ambitious resident MD who butted heads with Billy Burke's amorous doctor. The show was yanked after two episodes, sending Carter into rotation as a guest star and supporting player in features and on television. She was American president Harry Hamlin's daughter in the doomsday thriller "Quarantine" (ABC, 2000), and appeared in the underwhelming "American Pie 2" (2002) before returning to series work on "Inconceivable," as a scheming nurse at a fertility clinic. It also failed to find an audience, and was canceled after two episodes.
While balancing a busy schedule of independent films like "Cold Storage" (2009), a horror film starring her future "Justified" cast mate Nick Searcy, and television shows like "Monk" (USA, 2002-09), Carter made her debut as a producer with the thriller short "A Girl and a Gun" (2008). In 2010, she joined the cast of "Justified," a crime drama based on the work of legendary author Elmore Leonard. Carter played Ava Crowder, a childhood crush of the show's hero, taciturn U.S Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant). Time appeared to little dampen Ava's ardor for Givens, and their encounters during the first season were charged with sexual tension. The fact that Givens' chief foe, white supremacist and terrorist Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), was Ava's ex-husband, added some suspense to their encounters, most notably in the pilot, where she attempted to settle her beef with her former spouse by shooting him.
Cast (Feature Film)
Had early acting credit as guest star on NBC's "Law & Order"
First co-starring role in the festival-screened short, "Just One Time"; reprised role for the feature version in 1999
First feature film was a bit part in Robert Redford's "The Horse Whisperer"
Played John Cusack's high school ex-girlfriend in the comedy feature, "High Fidelity"
Played psychiatric intern Heather Miles in the short-lived ABC drama, "Wonderland"
Co-starred with Lauren Ambrose in the coming-of-age drama, "Swimming"
Had a small role in the comedy, "American Pie 2"
Appeared in three episodes of "Third Watch" (NBC)
Starred opposite Neve Campbell in "When Will I Be Loved?"
Co-produced the documentary, "Altered by Elvis"
Cast as Ava Crowder in the FX series "Justified"