–How did you become a television writer and how did you come to write on Justified?
I went to film school after much pondering over what I was going to do with my life. I thought I was going to be a doctor, thought I was going to be a lawyer… but when I was in undergrad I took a class on comedy and I took a writing class and sort of remembered that I used to win awards when I was a kid – writing short stories and whatnot – and I had sort of gotten away from that.
–What age was that?
All through elementary school, actually even into junior high I dare say. But then I hit the antics of high school and just sort of forgot. And then when I took the MCAT, I did pretty well on everything but I got a point away from perfect on my writing sample. I was like, “oh yeah, I used to write stories and stuff.” It was all the typical early 20s “I don’t know what I want to do with my life, I don’t know what I want to commit to…” So I ended up taking a few years off. Decided I didn’t want to go to medical school… applied and got into law school, then didn’t go to law school… my mother was ready to disown me. I finally came to terms with the fact that I wanted to be in entertainment, so I applied to film school and got into USC.
–Were you in the writing program at USC?
I was actually in the graduate production program. Everybody wants to be a director in film school, but I saw all of my classmates sinking thousands and thousands of dollars into thesis films that would go nowhere. I took the “prep for thesis film” class taught by Brenda Goodman, and I remember Brenda looking around and saying, “this is a learning project. It’s not going to get you a 10-picture deal at Dreamworks. You’re no different and you’re no different and you’re no different.” It was super harsh but I took it to heart. I decided that I wasn’t going to make a thesis film: I was going to write a script for free, and then have something that I could possibly sell.
I ended up writing a couple of features with a partner . After graduation, we got little bites here and there… My friend Dana, who I had worked with, is now an executive over at 20th, and she’s the one who said, “I want you to write a couple TV samples. I can help you and I think you have a really good voice for TV.” At the time, I was writing comedy, so on my own, I wrote a Scrubs spec and a Curb Your Enthusiasm spec and long story short, Dana gave it to her friend who was a manager and he ended up signing me and then he got me my agents and my agents got me my first job on Hannah Montana…although, that took several years to all happen. After Hannah, I went on to ABC’s Better Off Ted and I realized I loved comedy but there was something missing for me. And I also came to realize that I was not the quick joke-maker like everybody else in the room and that bothered me considerably – to not be good at all parts of my job. So I talked to my manager about moving into drama and I ended up writing this pilot about the LAPD bomb squad… that was what Graham and Fred read. They gave me my first shot in drama. Really changed my life.
–You were able to brand yourself three times: From writing for kids, to writing adult comedy, to writing for drama. Was that a challenge?
Y’know the nice thing about Hannah Montana was that it was actually pretty funny and it’s not quite as silly as a lot of these kids’ comedies can be. It was a year after Hannah Montana that I got a job on Better Off Ted, which was a 20th show, so my friend Dana helped. The whole “who you know” thing is definitely important. I think that was a part of why, growing up, I never really thought of working in Entertainment as a real possibility. When I was a kid and watching all my John Hughes movies and 80s comedies over and over… I thought the idea of “who you know” meant like you had to know a network president or it was certain families that ran all this. I never realized that that meant that you knew an executive because you were assistants together and moved up together. For some reason that networking never occurred to me. It always seemed like this bigger, “you need to know the king,” thing.
–You’re the only female writer on the show this year. How’s that working for you?
You want the honest answer?
Uh, I don’t think I can give you the honest answer. [Laughs] No, really. I love these guys like they’re family. Every one of them is like a brother …or a second cousin. But it’s most definitely a challenge. You have to have a thick skin and you have to speak up for yourself. I do think unfortunately there’s a double standard in general for women, that if they speak up for themselves it’s not necessarily seen positively. They get branded a bitch or a nag or whatever. Whereas- [At this moment, “Foot Chase” co-writer Dave Andron is spotted poking his head in the room to eavesdrop on the interview.]
Dave: [feigning outrage] Oh is that how it is? [Dave tries to wedge the door off its doorstop, but it’s stuck.]
Ingrid: You know what he asked me? How it was being the only girl in the room.
Dave: Yeah. What’d you say? “It’s terrible. They’re awful to me.”
Ingrid: I would like to have the record reflect that Dave Andron came in and [tried to] slam my door and is having trouble figuring out how to do it. [Laughs]
Dave: Yeah I was going to but I can’t get it to—[Tries playing with lock]
Ingrid: Dude, it’s not like we’re going to be locked in here.
[Dave mimics Ingrid’s words back to her. Ingrid reciprocates with her own mimicking tone.]
Dave: I just wanted to do it for effect.
Ingrid: [to me] You have to put this in the interview.
–That leg stump in “Foot Chase” was pretty grisly. Were you a little shocked the first time you got to see that? At what point did you know you were cutting a foot off this season?
That was grisly even on set, it was like, “oh my god,” and then he took the torch to it… yeah that was brutal.I think [in the writers’ room]Taylor Elmore may have pitched it as a joke, and we were like, “let’s do it!” As soon as we knew we wanted to involve Josiah and that he had a tether, that foot was coming off.
–Ava has a great blackmailing scene in this episode, and the callback to the bear suit is perfect.
Yeah the Arnold stuff. I was actually really proud of the way that turned out… I can tell you this: those pictures that they had were actually the actress that was playing April. Those were her pictures from high school. [Prop Master] John Harrington was so excited to show me that mascot picture. It was some serious kismet.
–How is the room approaching Ava this season? What do you think her arc is?
She’s a full-blown member of Boyd’s crew and her arc is all about really learning and seeing in stark reality what it means to be a criminal, and the price you need to pay and the steps that you have to take and it really hits with the Ellen May stuff… At first she thinks that she can handle them until she’s faced with them… She didn’t think twice about killing Delroy. He killed two women. And Bowman used to beat the hell out of her, but Ellen May was an innocent. She was her charge. She saved Ellen May’s life… To have this come back on her in the way it has is brutal.
–I understand you took a trip to Harlan before you began this season. Did you get any new material from that trip?
This is the second time that I’d gone to Harlan and I went out there wondering what else we’d be able to get because we had gotten so much material from our original trip. I love it out there, man. The people out there are so real and so genuine… And their stories. I mean you couldn’t even write this stuff. It’s incredible. Constable Bob for example… I was driving along with a KSP trooper, doing a ride-along, and I kept seeing this car that had bar lights on it, but it was just white. I was like, “who is that?” and the officer I was with grinned at me and said, “oh, Ingrid… that would be the town constable,” and I got the whole rundown of how the Harlan constable operates…Obviously we took creative license with our constable, but that’s where it came from.
–Is there any one meal you have to get when you’re down there?
I always have to get chicken and dumplings… Imagine the inside of a pot pie but with clumps of dough that’s been boiled almost like gnocchi. It’s heavy as hell but it’s fantastic.
The whole reason for the timing when Chris Provenzano and I went up there this year was for the Polk Sallet Festival. Polk sallet is a weed that grows in the mountains up there that you can cook and eat. It’s a regional thing. If you eat too much of it… I don’t know if it can actually kill you but it can make you very sick. But if you cook it in small doses it’s okay… People had been warning us: “it’s an acquired taste, it’s an acquired taste,” but I thought it was delicious.
–Are there rides at the Festival?
Yeah it’s like a full on town festival. Rides and a big stage with musical guests. They actually had one big stage and then two smaller stages… I would say it was maybe eight city blocks. It’s huge.
–Have you ever pitched setting a season finale set at the Polk Sallet Festival?
I’d love to but I think [our producers] Don Kurt and John Vohlers would have heart attacks.