‘Justified’ star Joelle Carter: From shrinking violet, to reluctant model, to adoptive mother

February 8

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You’d never know by seeing actress Joelle Carter play Ava Crowder, the steel magnolia on FX’s “Justified,” that she was born a shrinking violet.

She is the child of an Army officer who worked in accounts payable and retired a lieutenant colonel. Life was pretty regimented, Carter said.

“I was almost tragically shy, like clinically. I should’ve been admitted somewhere,” she said in the sunny courtyard of a hotel here. “I think my parents knew, but maybe they didn’t think much about it. It’s hard walking the Earth shy. You miss out on a lot.”

“When you are shy you live a lot in your own head,” she said. “You live in fantasy a lot, and I think that helped with the acting and in some ways helped with situations like [auditions]. You just make the most of it.”

Her timidity didn’t prevent her from hauling off to New York at 19 to become a model. But it wasn’t her idea. A photographer and her mother sent photos he’d taken of her to several modeling agencies, which responded enthusiastically.

“Living in Georgia, I never wanted to model,” Carter said. “But I had the travel bug big time when I was young.”

“I think because I had an all-American look, I was great for catalogs,” she said. “They constantly sent me overseas for editorial, but I would always come back with catalog jobs. I was fine with that. It served my purpose to see the world.”

Though she felt intimidated, she persisted. “The first entry into modeling doesn’t build your confidence,” she said. “They pull out the tape measure and pick you apart.

“I’m a curvy woman, so I was definitely told I was ‘too curvy.’ They constantly wanted to buy me a boob job. There were agencies all over the world that were, like, ‘We’ll buy you a boob job,’ because I could get, I guess, more lingerie and bathing-suit jobs like that. At the time — for my parents — that would’ve been a knife in the heart. So it wasn’t an option.”

Modeling led to a fascination with acting and a move to Los Angeles, where she was cast in the NBC series “Inconceivable.” She also landed parts in “American Pie 2,” as well as the TV series “Wonderland” and “Third Watch.”

“My husband and I had an apartment near the Cloisters in New York and they allowed us to sublease, so we were out here,” she said. “Even when the show didn’t go, we thought we’d hang out. He fell in love with it, and we did not go back. It took me longer.”

Nearly four years ago, Carter and her husband of nine years, editor Andy Bates, executed the biggest leap of their lives. They adopted a little girl from birth.

“We started the process and I’d just got ‘Justified,’ ” she recalled. “By the time we shot the first season the adoption had gone through, and we got her that summer during hiatus. We were in the room. I cut the cord. It was a wonderful birth family that was very gracious. We keep in contact. She’ll know who they are.”

“One thing you learn, we did some research before we decided what kind of adopting we wanted to do,” she said. “We wanted to do domestic and open because the biggest difficulty with kids who are adopted is they don’t know.

“There’s always questions. If you can get rid of the questions, it’s not such a big deal: ‘This wonderful woman carried you for nine months and nobody can be your birth-mother but her. And she cared enough to find us. She chose us, and she placed you with us.’ I forget she’s adopted sometimes.”

Still, Carter, 41, was worried about the outcome. They had already suffered two birth-mom misses.

“They can change their minds,” she said. “I was afraid it wasn’t going to happen. It was one of the most amazing experiences and most tragically horrific, hard experiences I’ve ever had.

“When she finally signed the papers we still were stuck mourning with them because they weren’t the kind of birth family that really wanted to give up a baby and the responsibilities. They were in the circumstances that they had to. So we were mourning with them before we left to visit my husband’s family.

“We were in the car — it had been three or four days — we were, like: ‘Wow, we can celebrate, and it almost feels odd. We can really celebrate that this has happened to us and we have her.’ So in my own way I like to say I had my own labor pains.

“Doing that gave me confidence and belief and trust that you can go for something and it will happen. It taught me don’t let go of a dream. But it did feel odd leaving the hospital with this little baby. They don’t give you a license or a test or anything — they’re just like, ‘Here you go — make sure she stays alive.’ ”

— McClatchy-Tribune

Justified

(one hour) airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

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