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From Hallmark to Horror: Actress and Musician Alicia Witt Dishes on Her Intense New Role and Her Eclectic Career

Plus, learn about her upcoming Christmas album!

Alicia Witt is beloved for the many Hallmark Christmas movies she’s starred in, but her latest project couldn’t be more different from those cozy holiday staples. In the new horror movie Longlegs, she plays Ruth Harker, the mother of a young FBI agent tracking a terrifying serial killer. Without giving away any spoilers, we’ll just say her powerful performance is impossible to look away from.

A dark tale like Longlegs (directed by Oz Perkins, the son of the late Psycho star Anthony Perkins, and starring Nicolas Cage) is just the latest chapter in a long career that’s included an eclectic array of projects.

Witt was just 7 years old when she was discovered by the legendary director David Lynch, who cast her as Alia Atreides in his 1984 adaptation of Dune. He then gave her a small role in his cult-favorite TV series Twin Peaks, which she reprised in Twin Peaks: The Return in 2017.

The actress in 2017
Alicia Witt in 2017Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic/Getty

In the ’90s, Witt played Cybill Shepherd‘s teen daughter on Cybill. She then appeared in movies like Urban Legend, Two Weeks Notice and Last Holiday and shows like Friday Night Lights, Justified, Nashville and Orange Is the New Black. In 2013 she starred in her first Hallmark movie, and she’s been a fan favorite on the channel ever since.

On top of all that, Witt is also a talented pianist and singer-songwriter, and has been acclaimed for her musical abilities since childhood.

Alicia Witt spoke to Woman’s World about balancing horror and Hallmark, her upcoming Christmas album and more.

Woman’s World: What’s it like going from the comforting world of Hallmark to the darkness of a horror movie?

Alicia Witt: My base where I started out as an actor was in more intense roles, playing characters that were wrestling with lots of diametrically opposed forces and energies within themselves and figuring out what makes them tick. That’s really what got me longing to be an actor in the first place.

But growing up, I loved watching musicals like Rodgers and Hammerstein and Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music — these joyful movies where you watch the girl in them and she takes you along on the ride from beginning to end, and you feel like you are could be her while you’re watching the movie.

The actress in 2017
Alicia Witt in 2017Gregg DeGuire/WireImage/Getty

Those roles are so much fun to play. I think the first time I played a role like that was in a movie called Playing Mona Lisa, 25 years ago when I was 23. I still feel that that is one of my favorite things I’ve ever worked on.

These kinds of movies give you so much joy and lightness, and they’re super fun, but there are also shades of histories and backstories of what makes these characters tick.

One thing that I love about playing the darker roles that I really cut my teeth on and that have made up the bulk of my work over these four decades is that there’s the added challenge that you don’t have on a lighter movie, where you go deep into a character who’s really struggling with something, and then you go back out of it again.

I think to fully access the light in life, you have to acknowledge the dark.

The actress at Christmas Con 2022
Alicia Witt at Christmas Con 2022Michael S. Schwartz/Getty

WW: How did you come to be cast in Longlegs?

Alicia Witt: Based on what Oz told me at our first meeting on Zoom, he had seen my work in the more recent Twin Peaks, which is a reprisal of the character I played in the original show. So that work was the thing he had seen of mine specifically that led him to think I might be his Ruth.

I loved this character with a burning, intrinsic passion from the time I read her. I felt like I needed to play her and I prayed fervently that Oz would feel the same way. I’m just so grateful he felt I was Ruth, because we developed a real shorthand together and we have a lot of shared personal experiences, which is odd.

It was one of the most beautiful working relationships I’ve had between myself and a filmmaker on a set.

Alicia Witt in 'Longlegs' 2024
Alicia Witt and Lauren Acala in Longlegs (2024)Neon

WW: How do you feel that your acting and your music relate to one another?

Alicia Witt: I think one feeds the other, and whenever I have immersed myself more in music, I start craving the next acting that I can sink my teeth into, and vice versa.

When I was filming Longlegs, I was also filming The Masked Singer, so I was flying back and forth to L.A. And then I came back to Nashville, where I live, and I wanted to release some music in conjunction with the unmasking episode of the show. So I got into the studio and one of the songs that arrived a few days after I returned home from working on the movie in Vancouver was called “Always Tuesday.”

It felt as though it had been channeled out of some other place in much the same way that with Ruth, I felt like she had been channeled from another place. I don’t fully know how she came to be.

I don’t feel that I made her. I did the work and thought about her a lot and meditated and journaled and tried to make decisions about who she was, but in terms of how she would be on a physical or vocal or reactive level, that was all in the moment and out of my hands. This song, which came right after I got home from Longlegs, probably wouldn’t have been born had I not had the experience of channeling Ruth.

Alicia Witt onstage in 2024
Alicia Witt onstage in 2024Mickey Bernal/Getty

Acting and music each keep me balanced. When I used to live in L.A. and I was focused fully on acting, before I started being brave enough to record and perform my own music live, I had much more of that “young actor waiting by the phone to ring” energy.

Now I’ve got so much else going on. So when the phone rings and it’s something like Longlegs, I know from the way I feel inside that this is something I’m supposed to be doing. When the next thing comes along that gets me this excited, I’ll know it, and it’s not a matter of just taking whatever comes.

It’s a life I feel incredibly grateful to have, and a balance I haven’t always had, but I have it now.

Alicia Witt in 2018
Alicia Witt in 2018Paul Archuleta/Getty

WW: You’re currently working on a Christmas album, which is sure to delight all your Hallmark fans. Can you tell us a little about that?

Alicia Witt: I am so excited to release it, my goodness. I’m still in the mixing phase as we speak. The production has finished. It’s 12 songs, with nine original Christmas songs and three standards.

It’s the first full-length album that I’ve produced. I am the producer, it’s not a co-production. And I made it in Music City, here in Nashville, surrounded by the absolute best musicians, studios and engineers.

We just did the album art a few weeks ago, and as a fully independent music artist, I can’t even wrap my head around it, but it is going to be out and available for pre-order extremely soon. The album will be available by the end of October to buy on vinyl and CD. And the first single will be out the first week of November.

Alicia Witt with Santa at a Hallmark event in 2019
Alicia Witt with Santa at a Hallmark event in 2019Paul Archuleta/Getty

WW: Having been in the entertainment industry since childhood, how have you managed to stay grounded over the years?

Alicia Witt: It’s partly because at the age of 7 I did that first movie, but I wasn’t a child actor per se. I stayed living in Worcester, Massachusetts. I was competing in piano competitions. So from the age of 7, I was studying piano very intently, and competing and winning these national and international contests. That filled up most of my time rather than acting at that point.

It was just the one movie, the David Lynch Dune that I was in, that was enough to let me know I wanted to do that for the rest of my life. So I started begging my parents from about age 10 to move to L.A. It was a very grounded thing when it happened.

It wasn’t as though I was a kid with an agent where that was the only focus of my energy. It was really a dream, and then moving to L.A. as a teenager, I didn’t go there to party or live it up or be wild. I was there because I wanted to be a professional actor. I wanted to make a living as an actor and be successful at it, and felt deep inside me that that was my destiny.

Alicia Witt in 1996
Alicia Witt in 1996Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty

So even when I had the first few years and I only got a few roles and I was playing piano to support myself five nights a week, I believed that I was going to be a successful actor somehow, some way. I think that helped me stay grounded.

Also, there were some very big movie roles that I didn’t get, and was the runner-up for. I look back and I think those roles would have changed my life, and I don’t know if I would have been ready for that.

I think I can see the trajectory as it’s happened, and I’m really grateful for everything. I am very grounded, living in Nashville and getting to have my acting life every bit as much as I did when I lived in L.A. I get to do it on my terms.

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