Once upon a time, Alicia Witt played a quick-witted sarcastic teen on a sitcom (it was "Cybill," in case you weren't a regular viewer), and lord knows there are plenty of young actresses who have been pigeonholed as that kind of character for the rest of their careers. Fortunately, however, when your resume already features a couple of appearances in David Lynch productions, it's surprisingly easy for people in the business to take you seriously. Witt's career has taken her to a number of diverse projects over the years, including a slasher film ("Urban Legend"), a Hugh Grant rom-com ("Two Weeks Notice"), and work with notable directors like Alison Anders, Cameron Crowe, and John Waters. Now, she's found her way into a stint on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," and Bullz-Eye had the opportunity to discuss her new gig, along with her theatrical work, her appearance on "The Sopranos," her forays into working behind the camera, and her soon-to-be-released film with Al Pacino.
Alicia Witt: Hey, is that Will?
BE: Yes, it is.
AW: Hey, it's Alicia!
BE: Hey, how are you?
AW: I am really good. How are you?
BE: Very good. It's a pleasure to speak with you.
AW: You, too.
BE: Actually, we met for about two minutes at the TCA press tour, at the NBC party.
AW: Oh, okay. Cool!
BE: I came up and praised you for "Mr. Holland's Opus," and you, uh, gave me a look like you were surprised that I brought that up.
AW: Oh, well. (apologetically) I appreciate it!
BE: No problem. I have not actually gotten a copy of your first episode of "Criminal Intent," but I have talked to Eric Bogosian, and he's praising you already.
AW: (laughs)He's awesome. I adore him.
BE: The first two words he used to describe you were "fascinating" and "feisty."
AW: Aw! I like that. I like that so much. He's lovely; he's just such a pleasure. We don't get to work together often enough.
BE: He said that he and Chris Noth are getting old, and it's nice to have new blood on the set…and that you don't suffer fools gladly when it comes to doing stuff that you don't want to do.
AW: That's exactly true.
BE: So what was…
AW: I'm sorry. Excuse me for just a second, I have a delivery. (Vanishes from the line, then reappears a few moments later.) Sorry!
BE: No problem. So what was the path that led you to "Law & Order?" Had you been a fan of the show and kept your feelers out, or were you just approached out of the blue?
AW: It totally came out of the blue. I was not expecting this. I was up in Williamstown doing a play, and I was just saying to all of my new friends, who are all these great New York actors that I was working with, and I was just saying, "You know, I could really do with spending some time in New York. It's been a while, and I love it there, and I think this could be fun." The call truly did come out of the blue; I had no idea I was even being considered for this, and here I am. I am loving being in New York.
BE: Well, when I had talked to you before, you hadn't even started filming yet. How's it going so far?
AW: It is going great. It's kind of an unbelievably perfect job, which is a little bit ridiculous because I just get to step in. I'm the lead detective on six episodes only. There's no commitment, there's no strings attached. She is a great character; she's not afraid to say exactly what she thinks and doesn't worry about following protocol and is very tough and very smart and also has a great sense of humor, I think. She is a lot of fun to play. She doesn't dress conventionally for a detective, she's a little funky, and she's got two small kids at home as well, which adds a little color to her. And then the other great thing about it is that, as you probably know, we alternate cast, so in one episode it will be Vince and Katie, and then the next episode it will be me and Chris. So that means that we work the hardest, longest hours I have ever worked in anything, but only for, like, 10 days, and then we get 10 days off. So, for me, that's just perfect. I mean, I am getting to have the experience of living here and getting to know the city and working on my music and all of that, and, then, when I'm working, I don't really have time to do anything else. Which is good, because on a film set, there is…it's a lot more relaxed, a lot less hectic, usually, but there is also a lot more downtime, a lot more waiting around in between scenes.
BE: Actually, I was going to say, you haven't really been a regular on a T.V. series, even in a short stint like this, since "Cybil," I guess…and never, really, in a procedural drama.
AW: No, I have never done this before. I am definitely not interested in being a regular on a series, so this is perfect for me.
BE: Did it take you long to get into the groove, or did you just kind of jump in head first and see where it was going to take you?
AW: Just like my character, I jumped in head first. I didn't really know anything about the show, and I didn't really make an effort to. I mean, I saw a little bit of a couple of episodes from last season, but I didn't really feel the need to familiarize myself with the whole way that it works because I figured (my character) is coming into it fresh, and it just made more sense this way.
BE: Were you a "Law & Order" fan to begin with?
AW: Not especially. I mean, I liked the show whenever I watched it, but I'm not a T.V. watcher in general. I just don't watch shows; I'm more into film or theater. When I happen to catch something, I'll watch it if it gets my attention, and I always liked "Law & Order" because of the fact that it's one of the rare shows that a non-regular T.V. watcher like me can actually enjoy, because you don't have to know the whole history of the characters. It's written in a very clever way, so that if you do watch the entire series, or the whole season, you get a richer experience because they stick little bits of who the people are, the detectives are in the story, but the primary focus is that particular case. It's always a whodunit, and it's solved within the hour, so that makes it fun to watch.
BE: Well, I know of your T.V. viewing that you're a "Sopranos" fan because when I did meet you, you immediately clamped your hands over your ears because you had not yet watched the series finale.
AW: Yeah, I have watched it now. I went home and I watched it on my TiVo before I came out to New York. I loved it. I thought it was great. It was so mysterious.
BE: Do you find a lot of people remember you fondly from your episode on the show? I mean, it wasn't like it was long stint or anything – it was just one episode – but still it was a, uh, very memorable show.
AW: I do hear about that a lot. Yeah, thank you, I loved that. I based her on so many annoying female producers that I worked with. Well, one female producer that I worked with, and a couple that I just knew from auditions and word of mouth. The great part about it was that, after the episode came out, I would have meetings, and everyone in the business would claim to know who the character had been based on, and it was always someone different.
BE: I won't ask you to call out the person you were inspired by.
AW: Oh, and I won't tell you.
BE: Fair enough. I did want to ask you about some of the other projects you have worked on, though. "Belinda's Swan Song," actually, in particular, I wanted to ask you about. I figured that was pretty close to your heart.
AW: Oh, definitely. My directorial debut.
BE: What was that like? Had you ever really done any directing, or had you gone to film school at all?
AW: No. Everything I know about directing I have learned on the job, so I never went to film school. I learned so much about the way films work and, of course, the post production process, which I had never been a part of before, that was amazing; that was so much fun. And it played at 11 festivals, so that was pretty cool. I got to see it a couple of them, most of them due to work, but, yeah, it was all over the place.
BE: I know you also had a lot of hand in "Girls' Lunch" as well.
AW: Well, I wrote that one, and I acted in it. That was a lot of fun. I'm working on a full length feature right now.
BE: I was just getting ready to ask that.
AW: I've been working on that this year, but I'm also spending a lot of my time writing and singing songs, so the script has kind of taken a back seat at the moment. I am actually going to sing an original song, for the very first time, with a friend of mine, who I co-wrote it with, on Wednesday night. So that is pretty fun, and I'm working on a couple of gigs as well on my own.
BE: Are your hands shaking yet? Are you nervous?
AW: You know, I'm actually not nervous. We spent the entire weekend working on it. We only wrote it this past week, so before this stint I was a little nervous, because the truth is, we barely know this song, even though we created it. But we spent about eight hours Saturday and two hours yesterday, and we could sing that song in our sleep right now. I just can't wait; I'm excited. We played it for a friend of ours – who's the first person ever to hear it – yesterday, and it made her cry. She was sitting on my couch crying, I was blown away; I was so happy. She's not even a musician; she's just someone who likes music, so that was good.
BE: I read about how you had done "Piano Forte," and, basically, they intended to spotlight your piano skills.
AW: Yeah, it was written for me and this other girl, and my character in that was an agoraphobic, classical, piano playing, stammering British girl. She basically has this speech impediment that makes it very difficult for her to communicate, but she is very good at expressing herself through her music. It was a great, great, great experience. I got to do a British accent, and I was the only non-Brit. in the cast, and I always had great fun coming off stage and going to the bar afterwards. Also, my character was very, very frumpy. She never left the house, so she dressed like some Victorian era prude with long, brown tweed skirts that didn't fit right and huge baggy men's sweaters…all that stuff. She was quite a character. I loved, loved, loved playing her. Then I would go down into the Royal Court bar and have my cute skirt and boots on, and my American accent, and people would be, like, "Were you in the play?" It was fun.
BE: I'll just throw out a couple other projects you worked on, if you could just offer maybe a one-liner about your experience on them. "Twin Peaks"?
AW: Um…I mean, it was great. I don't know about one line, but, yeah, it was great. It was one day's work; it was David Lynch writing a part for me because I had just moved out to L.A. and he wanted to help me get a head start.
BE: I know you worked with him later on his HBO series as well.
AW: Yeah, but he was the first person I ever worked with, in "Dune," which is why we worked together on "Twin Peaks" and "Hotel Room."
BE: Do you still stay in touch with him?
AW: I haven't spoken to him in a long time. But I also…before I go, I want to make sure we talk about "88 Minutes," which is coming out.
BE: Yeah, I was going to ask that, about working with Pacino, and if it had a stateside release set yet.
AW: Yeah, Feb. 28, through Sony Screen Gems. So it is coming out on wide release in February, and I'm really proud of it. It's kind of ridiculous to be able to say that I'm actually opposite Al Pacino, but…
BE: What was it like working with him?
AW: It was such a dream come true. It couldn't have been any better. I mean, you could image how potentially nerve-wracking that is, and it's hard to forget that you are actually working opposite one of the greatest, if not the greatest, film actors ever, but he made it great and not intimidating; to the point where I sort of feel like…when I first saw clips from it, I was a bit little taken aback, because it was as though I had forgotten who I was actually working with. Because I knew him more as this great and warm and lovely actor that I got to spend two months with, and I sort of stopped seeing him as Al Pacino. Then I went into the sound studio to do some looping on it and I was…I remember seeing a scene with the two of us for the first time, and I was, like, "Wait a minute, that's me and Al Pacino! That doesn't make any sense!" (laughs) He was so nice, though. It was a very special experience to work with someone that I had always admired that much and then to come away from it and admire him even more; not to be disillusioned in any way, that he is every bit as wonderful in person as he is at his craft, so that was great.
BE: Well, I know you've got a schedule, so I guess I'll just close by saying that I went online to do a little research before talking to you, I searched your name on Yahoo, and it thoughtfully suggested that I try "Alicia Witt hot."
AW: (laughing) No way! I like that. There are worst words that could be put right next to your name in a Google search.
BE: I was going to say, is that weirdly flattering or just weird?
AW: I don't think it's weird at all. I think it's awesome. I'm not going to complain. That's really nice, I didn't know that. That's kind of funny.
BE: Yeah, I just put in your name, and it came up with the IMDb listing, but at the very top it says, "Alsotry 'alicia witt hot.'"
AW: And did you?
BE: You know, I did. And it came up with a fan site. So, apparently, someone has a fan site solely because they think you're hot…and who could argue with that, really?
AW: That's lovely. Thank you.
BE: Well, it has been a pleasure talking to you, and I'm looking forward to checking out the show and your premiere.
AW: Thank you so much. Nice talking to you.
BE: I hope the rest of the stint on there goes well.
AW: Thank you.