This weekend, the latest Jason Blum horror film Jessabelle premieres in theaters and on VOD. Sarah Snook stars as Jessie, a girl who moves back home after an accident and discovers VHS tapes of her mother, Kate (Joelle Carter). At first, Kate shares heartwarming thoughts for her future daughter, but soon scary voodoo predictions start to impact Jessie in the present.
We got to speak with Carter by phone this week. She’s been playing Ava Crowder for five seasons on FX’s Justified, which is entering its final season next year. So she shattered our illusions about VHS tapes and gave us some hints about Justified. Jessabelle opens November 7.
Nuke the Fridge: Did you get to shoot your videos on actual VHS videotape?
Joelle Carter: Oh, no, we didn’t. It was digital.
Nuke: Aw, man.
Joelle Carter: Now this interview’s done. That would’ve been super cool. I don’t know if they can find that tape anymore.
Nuke: Was the accent you’re doing close to what you do on Justified?
Joelle Carter: I think I tried to make it a little more not so backwoods, a little more country, more Georgia, although it’s supposed to take place in New Orleans and we shot in North Carolina. I’m sure it all goes back to my main southern [accent] but that was my attempt to try to make her a little different.
Nuke: Kate already knows more on the tapes than Jessie or the audience does, so was that difficult to play without giving too much away?
Joelle Carter: No, I don’t think so because you really have to take what’s going on in the moment and try to make that moment as real as possible. When you’re doing the tapes, she’s a woman that’s newly pregnant and in love with the idea that her baby someday is going to see these tapes even though it’s hard for her because she knows she’s also dying. And then as it goes along, I start getting more information, the character, and I have to relay that. So you’re playing the truth of every moment you can if you can keep your mind off of the next thing that’s going to happen. That’s what’s good about TV, when they kind of give you an outline of what’s going to happen that season but they don’t tell you everything because it helps to just concentrate on what you’re doing, not to think about the final end product.
Nuke: Outside of the videos, was the rest of your work on Jessabelle exciting or harrowing to do?
Joelle Carter: Yeah, it was all amazing working with Kevin. He is really a talented guy. He’s great with horror. He just has his vision all the way down to when we were doing ADR. Just the sound and how to make it all creepy. I really feel like this movie is almost more of a thriller than outright horror. I don’t know if they should label it as a horror film because it might disappoint some horror fans out there. I loved working with him and with Snook. I think she did an amazing job with Mark Webber. They had a great chemistry. I found some of the scenes for me really difficult because I had my daughter with me for the first time, so I didn’t want to do them too many times because that was a hard place to go for a mother.
Nuke: She was on the set with you?
Joelle Carter: She wasn’t on the set because the set was really backwoodsy. I remember there were a lot of ticks apparently so I didn’t want to take her, but she was in North Carolina with me. It was one of the first locations I actually took her with me. I was going to be down there for a couple weeks. It ended up more than a couple weeks and then my husband had to come down and visit. It was a lovely place to be and shoot so we had fun.
Nuke: Did you or any of the crew get ticks?
Joelle Carter: I did not get a tick but a lot of people did, to the point where when they were eating lunch, you would see them on each other and be like, “Oh my God, there’s one.” So they started taking precautions, wearing tall boots and getting repellants and stuff. It’s so crazy all the things that were happening in the story, yet we were all freaking out over little baby things. Like, “Agh, I don’t want it to get me.”
Nuke: Did you audition for Jessabelle?
Joelle Carter: I did. I put myself on tape and I sent it to them. I think it was a smart way to do it because most of my stuff is on tape. It was basically me recording one of the recordings and they loved it and hired me, so it was nice.
Nuke: Which scene did you do for your audition?
Joelle Carter: It was the first, the first recording, just the first scene where she first sees me.
Nuke: Are you a horror fan yourself?
Joelle Carter: I do like to be scared. I don’t like too much gore but I do like thrillers and obviously I can handle a bit of violence. I kind of get really creeped out with Devil stuff which is why I love all the voodoo-y stuff of this script. What I really loved about Jessabelle is that the end is potentially the beginning. Depending on how the audience responds to this, it could’ve just been the beginning of a story, without giving too much away.
Joelle Carter: We’re in our final season, season six. It’s a ride. It’s so much fun. It’s bittersweet actually but I think it’s going to be one of our best seasons ever. I mean, they’re just pulling out all the stops.
Nuke: What do you want for Ava by the end of Justified?
Joelle Carter: By the end, I want her to be alive. [Laughs] I really want Ava to be thinking about Ava and taking care of Ava at the end, to really come out of this on top for herself, what’s best for her. She’s in a very difficult situation.
Nuke: Are Ava and Boyd still together?
Joelle Carter: That’s to be revealed within the season. I think the way it ends, last season I get out of prison without his help and I know he made a deal with the marshals. The deal wasn’t to get me out. It was to leave him alone, so there’s always that hanging over our heads. But these two, they’re in love so I don’t know. We’ll see if they end up together or not.
Nuke: Does it feel like the home stretch now?
Joelle Carter: Yeah, I mean we’re only on the fifth, sixth and seventh episode. It’s fun. We’re all really trying to enjoy it every day, even though there are some long, grueling days. It’s weird. It’s just surreal a little bit that we’re going to put these characters to bed and all go off and do different shows.
Nuke: Are there plans for a big final wrap party?
Joelle Carter: They should be. There better be. I requested a honky tonk bull riding, fake bull riding, event. Instead of a Hollywoody glamorous wrap party, we should go all country. That’s the way I feel.
Nuke: What have been your favorite moments for Ava in Justified’s first five seasons?
Joelle Carter: I always go back to why I really wanted the job. In the pilot, where Raylan comes to Ava’s door, she invites him in and she’s seducing him while she’s telling him of the demise of her husband, how she shot her husband. It just gave me such a rich character all in one scene that I was like oh God, if I could play this role, it would be amazing. I really loved some of the more subtle moments with Boyd, when Boyd and Ava were really falling in love, season three or four, and definitely when he proposed to her. That was fun. I loved smacking Devil with a frying pan. [Laughs] You know, Ava’s a victim but she never lays down. She never quits or gives up. She’s always trying to find her way out of some really sh*tty situations. I love that about her, that it’s not in her DNA to quit or give up, not even really mourn too much about it, just move on. A lot of times she doesn’t think it through. She reacts, but I guess I love that about her too.