'Justified's' Mary Steenburgen on Katherine's Cat and Mouse Game With Ava

Justified S06E02 Still - P 2015
Michael Becker/FOX

Justified S06E02 Still - P 2015

[Warning: Major spoilers ahead for Justified's "The Trash and the Snake."]

Justified's Ava (Joelle Carter) may have spent most of this season paranoid that Boyd (Walton Goggins) would learn that she was released early from prison once she agreed to be Raylan's (Timothy Olyphant) informant, but she had another person to be concerned about: Katherine Hale (Mary Steenburgen).

Ava and Katherine had been on different paths thus far, but they collided during Tuesday's "The Trash and the Snake" episode as Katherine paid Ava a visit, and suggested they get to know each other better over lunch. A little bit of drinking (and cocaine) later, the duo shared a few heartfelt conversations — as well as petty theft from a jewelry store — and seemed to be getting along swimmingly ... until Katherine, nonchalantly, asked Ava about her early release and why the guard who accused her of stabbing him suddenly recanted his tale. Ava attempted to bluff her way out of it — and Katherine let her leave the room — but Ava realized she was in trouble.

"It's all about that last moment before I let her know I know the name of the guard and the whole situation with what else she's been up to. I know more about her story than she had any idea I did," Steenburgen told The Hollywood Reporter. "The rest of [the encounter] is Katherine amusing herself at Ava's expense; she sometimes enjoys Ava. Katherine probably sees a little bit of herself in Ava, though I think Katherine feels she's probably smarter than Ava — or she thinks that anyway. But mostly, I think she's enjoying being a cat, playing with the mouse she caught that day."

See more On the Set of 'Justified's' Final Season

But despite Katherine's game, Steenburgen acknowledged there was an element of truth in the conversations the women had. "I think she's enjoying [the situation] — when she was a little drunk and talking about sex and Avery," she said. "And the Clinton story [about Hillary's ex-boyfriend]. I think, funnily enough, that Hillary Clinton story is about her; it's about Katherine. Because so much of her life, she's existed in a man's world, and she's been defining the men that she's been with. And she's been far more powerful than anybody, except a very few people like Jere Burns' character [Wynn Duffy] knows. She's had to, a lot of times, keep on someone's arm, when in fact, she was very often, if not calling the shots, at least helping her husband figure out what they were going to be … I think that when she's talking to Ava and telling that story, she's really telling a story about herself."

And while Ava and Katherine's day of adventure ended up being Ava's worst nightmare, Steenburgen was delighted by the opportunity to get the chance to work with Carter. "I love Joelle; she's fantastic," she gushed. "The two regrets I had on this show were I never got to work with Timothy, really. We had like one tiny, tiny moment together, and I didn't get to work with Joelle more than I did. I had so much fun with her. She's wonderful. Wonderful actor, wonderful person."

Going forward, Katherine is squarely fixated on revenge, her heart is a bit more conflicted. "I think the truth is, Avery Markham (Sam Elliott) is the love of her life," Steenburgen allowed. "It's a very dark line. There's other influences in her world, and certainly revenge, clearly, being a massively motivating factor for her. I think she breathes revenge. It's almost a magnet to her, that she's powerless to control. If that were not the case, I think that Avery Markham is the love of her life."

As Steenburgen wraps up Justified's final season, she's keeping busy with a gaggle of other projects, including a guest spot on Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, and Fox's upcoming comedy Last Man on Earth.

"My agents and managers deserve a special Emmy award for scheduling," she laughed. "I tried at one point early on to put my head into [the various shooting schedules], and immediately went, 'Whoa, just tell me where I'm going every day and I'll learn my lines, and I'll be there.' There were some days where I did two shows in the same day — last week I was on Justified, and then went to [film] Last Man on Earth. It's this crazy scheduling thing. I'm lucky, I have a lot of energy, and am up for it physically … because my children are grown, this is the one time in my life I could pull it off. I've had a great time doing it — being able to say yes to a couple of amazing shows." 

Were you surprised by Katherine's con on Ava? (And are you surprised she let her leave?!)

Justified airs on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX. 

Twitter: @marisaroffman