Once you’ve trimmed the turkey, got stuffed on stuffing, and crammed yourself with cranberry, take some time to relax with “The Mistletoe Inn,” the latest offering from Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas programming event. Starring one of our favorite multi-hyphenates, Alicia Witt, the movie debuts Thanksgiving night, making it the perfect final course for those looking to kick off the holiday season with a full heart… and stomach.
We recently sat down with Witt to discuss the strength of the Hallmark fandom, why she could relate to her character’s quest for creative confidence, and how she makes her music accessible for all listeners.
TrunkSpace: You’ve had a really diverse year, from “The Mistletoe Inn,” to “The Exorcist,” to “Twin Peaks,” and “Supernatural.” Has that always been the dream, to be able to do as many different types of roles and genres as possible?
Witt: Yes, that was always my reason for wanting to be an actor, is to play characters that are different from me, and play as many different kinds of roles as possible. I feel like I really get to do that at this point. I think it keeps me busy, and it keeps me on my toes. I get bored if I play the same role over and over again. I think about the last couple of years in particular, but really the entire time I’ve been doing this, there have been so many different kinds of roles that I think I’ve kept it challenging for myself.
TrunkSpace: Many of those television shows mentioned have massive fandoms, but truth be told, Hallmark’s fandom easily rivals them.
Witt: Most definitely. The interesting thing is that, for example, when I was on “The Walking Dead,” I did a lot of the conventions around that show, and I was so pleasantly surprised and thrilled to find that almost every other person that would come up to me, they were happy to have seen me on “The Walking Dead,” but they were most excited to talk to me because of the Hallmark movies. So, there’s actually a really big crossover audience as well, particularly for the Christmas films, because people who might watch something different during the rest of the year, pretty much everyone tunes in to Hallmark at Christmas because it’s such great family programming, and such great holiday programming.
TrunkSpace: You can’t have darkness without light, so for fans of “The Walking Dead,” tuning in to Hallmark Channel is a nice balance.
Witt: That’s exactly the thing. They’re both equally valid sides, and I try to live my day-to-day life more like the characters that I play in the Hallmark movies – more positive and more light. But I love exploring the darker side of things, too, because that is a very real element of the world in which we’re living. Yeah, you can’t have the darkness without the light, that’s so true. The job I’m working on right now, “The Exorcist,” which I actually just wrapped, is also a great example of that. It explores that side of us that we don’t talk about all that often, but it’s in there. I feel like these Hallmark Christmas movies celebrate all that’s special about the holiday season, and the coming together of families, and sometimes what’s challenging about that, but also what’s so important, and why it is the warmest time of the year.
TrunkSpace: It must feel extra special to have “The Mistletoe Inn” premiering on Thanksgiving, a night when so many families are already together?
Witt: I was so excited when I found out that was the night we’d be premiering. My movie last year, “The Christmas List,” also premiered on Thanksgiving and this makes me very happy and proud, and I know families are already together on that night. My family and friends in Nashville will all be together. We’re having a big joint dinner that we’re making together, and we’ll all be watching the movie for the first time together when it airs, and then I’ll be live tweeting and sharing that with the viewers for the very first time. I’m seriously so excited to see it. I’m not very big on watching my own work for the sake of watching my own work, but I love sharing these movies with people because they are so much fun, and I’m gonna be laughing as hard as anyone when we watch it.
TrunkSpace: Television moves at a breakneck pace as far as production is concerned. Because things happen so quickly on a movie like this, does that force you to come to set even more prepared in terms of knowing and connecting with your character, in this case, aspiring romance writer Kim?
Witt: This applies to everything that I do, but I tend to just absorb the script and think about the character while I’m working out or listening to music. The character just starts to find me and I figure out who she is and how she’d react to things. But it’s not so much a logical process as more of an intuitive one. When it comes to the lines, I actually learn those on the day. I happen to be really fast at learning lines, and I find that they’re a lot fresher if I don’t think about them too much. So, I let the character sink in for a few weeks beforehand, and then the lines themselves I don’t think too much about.
TrunkSpace: Was there something about Kim from a performance standpoint that you have yet to do with a character in the past? What was it that drew you to her?
Witt: She reminded me a lot of myself when I was starting out as a singer/songwriter. Because I could relate to her sense that she had this talent that, on one level she knows that she’s good at writing, and she knows that she could do it seriously and have a book deal and all of that, but because she’s a grown up living in the real world, with a real job and all of that, she needs that extra boost to get the confidence to start doing it in earnest. And at the beginning of the movie she doesn’t quite have that yet, and it’s not being helped at all by the fact that she’s been dating this real piece of work, known as Garth, who I just love that character so much in the movie. He takes himself way too seriously and believes that his work is more important than Kim’s and actually dumps her within the first five minutes because he’s decided he needs to date a more serious writer, and his career’s moving up and hers isn’t. I actually dated a singer/songwriter very similar to Garth when I was just starting out as a singer/songwriter. I had wrote a song called “About Me,” that I’ve released, that I actually wrote after that guy broke up with me.
TrunkSpace: So there was a real connection to the character as far as her journey was concerned.
Witt: Oh, I totally related. For me, it was quite a few years ago, but it kept bringing me back. I kept having flashbacks of this guy that I had dated. There was a lot that… like when Zeke (played by David Alpay) is giving Kim feedback on her writing, I could relate to that vulnerability of receiving feedback for the first time on my songwriting, or my performances. When you’re first starting out it feels like such a rejection that, if every song you write isn’t a potential hit, then you should just quit and not write songs anymore. And that’s not the way it works, you have to write hundreds of songs before you start becoming a good songwriter. Many of those songs nobody will ever hear, and it’s the same way with writing. You have to be willing to make mistakes, and write something that isn’t perfect to get to the point where you are good. So I felt like that was a real parallel and something that I could relate to in Kim.
TrunkSpace: You mentioned having a similar experience hearing feedback on your songwriting for the first time. Do you write primarily from a personal space, or do you take a more storyteller’s approach?
Witt: I have done that, the latter, but most of the time it is personal experiences and things that I am feeling. And it can be just a moment, it could be a passing feeling that I have for someone or for a situation, and you turn it into a song. If you were to tell that person, “This song’s about you,” they might be confused, and they might not get it. But, people can inspire a song without the entire story of the song being 100 percent accurate to what the real scenario is. It’s all over the place, and some of the songs I’ve written are about some of the things that have happened to people I know, and sometimes just things that I’m imagining.
TrunkSpace: So can criticism and feedback be more difficult to hear because you tend to write from such a personal space?
Witt: I think it was in the beginning. Now, I don’t take it personally because it really isn’t. I mean, to make a song something that other people, who haven’t had your specific experience, can relate to and apply to their own lives, you do need to adjust them sometimes. Sometimes it’s not good to have them be too specific. Other times you need the opposite – you need to make it more specific. There are moments when you put something into a song that didn’t happen at all, that’s got nothing to do with what your true experience was with it, but sometimes that’s gonna make for a better song that more people can access.
TrunkSpace: And that’s the beauty of music, an entire group of people can each find something different in a single song and relate to it in a different way.
Witt: Yes, completely. That’s what I love most about music.
TrunkSpace: And you have a new EP in the works, correct?
Witt: It’s due out soon. I did this Kickstarter campaign, which just was such an honor, and the album is done and it’s ready, and I’m just trying to figure out how best to release it because it’s produced by Jacquire King, who has an extraordinary track record. And it’s safe to say they’re the best recordings I’ve ever been part of, and I just want to do the best that I can by them and figure out if they’re going to be distributed by a label, or if I self-release again, or what. So far, my music career has pretty much been self-generated, though I’m trying to explore the possibility of finding the right person to help me with it, but if that doesn’t happen I will just self-release it again, and book a tour, and get going with it. I can’t wait to share it with everyone, though.
TrunkSpace: Finally, Alicia, as people plan to gather around with family and watch the premiere of “The Mistletoe Inn” tomorrow night, what do you believe it is that continues to draw people to Christmas movies like this one?
Witt: I think that at this point, when you tune into Hallmark Channel, especially at Christmas time, you know that you’re going to see programming that will make you smile, make you feel good no matter what’s going on in the wold, or in the news, or in your own family. And at this time of year, even though it is the time for families to get together, and in theory it’s all warm and fuzzy, there’s sometimes a lot of tension. You have family members who don’t see each other all year long and then they get together and they may not get along the way that we would like, but Hallmark can actually help make that better. I hear this a lot from people who come up to me all year long and tell me that my movies have helped their families to grow closer at the holidays. And it’s just a great channel to leave on and help you get in the mood. At least the ones that I’m a part of, I try to find some kind of offbeat humor in every one of them. And there’s a few moments that I’ve seen in this one that especially make me smile. They let me be a little bit goofy and silly, and I have as much fun making them as I do watching them. I’m really proud to be on yet another one this year.
“The Mistletoe Inn” premieres Thanksgiving night on Hallmark Channel.