Alicia Witt, co-star of the "The Upside Of Anger" Movie!
The fire-haired sexy star debuted on TV at age nine in the 1984 film "Dune", and has been developing into a mature and popular actress ever since. With a resumé that includes both film and television work, the flame-haired Witt has become known for her roles in projects as varied as the TV sitcom Cybill and 1998's teen horror flick Urban Legends. Born on August 21, 1975, in Worcester, MA, Witt displayed a remarkable precocity from an early age. Talking by age two and reading by the age of four, she made her film debut in Dune at the age of nine and earned her high school GED when she was 14. Her next role of any import was on David Lynch's TV series Twin Peaks (1990) and was later followed by a secondary role in 1993's Bodies, Rest & Motion, co-starring Bridget Fonda, Phoebe Cates, Eric Stoltz, and Tim Roth. In 1994, Witt earned Sundance credibility with her turn as a murderous teen in Fun and the following year was introduced to a wider audience with her role as Cybill Shepard's daughter on Cybill. A variety of roles followed in films ranging from the desultory (1995's Four Rooms) to the delightful (Alexander Payne's 1996 satire Citizen Ruth). 1996 also saw Witt in one of her more recognizable roles, as one of Richard Dreyfuss' struggling band students in Mr. Holland's Opus. Her recognition was further heightened with her appearance in 1998's Urban Legends, in which she co-starred with a number of other nascently twinkling stars, including Jared Leto, Joshua Jackson, and Rebecca Gayheart.
Alicia Witt was born on August 21, 1975 in Worcester Massachusetts. Witt was a quick learner. By the age of two she was reading Shakespeare. By the time she was four, she was performing some of Shakespeare's works on TV shows such as ABC's That's Incredible, and NBC's Today. Witt's parents, who recognized her superior intelligence, decided to have her schooled at home. At the age of seven, she began to play piano, quickly learning to play the works of Beethoven and Bartok. Her first big screen appearance came with the 1984 sci-fi epic, Dune. By the time she was 14 Alicia got her GED and headed to L.A. with her mother, Diane (Who currently has the world's longest hair.)
While in L.A., Alicia got several movie gigs including Mr. Holland's Opus, Four Rooms, and Fun. She also got a spot on the weekly sitcom Cybill CBS network. Witt is currently living alone in an apartment in L.A., with her mother living nearby. Alicia is 5'5.5" tall, and she has a cat named Jessie. She enjoys wig collecting, listens to big band music, and she continues to play classical music on the piano.
Recently seen as Cybill Shepherd's quirky daughter on the CBS sitcom Cybill, Alicia sheds her good girl image as porn star Cherish Oh Lordy in the soon-to-be-released Cecil B. Demented v Alicia Roanne Witt was born in Worcester, Massachusetts on August 21, 1975, to parents Robert and Diane. Interestingly enough, Diane is featured in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest hair to date.
Diane Witt was not the only one receiving attention for a certain achievement; daughter Alicia had learned to read by the time she was 6 months old and at age 4 she appeared on ABC's That's Incredible and NBC's Today, reciting Shakespeare.
At 2 years old, Alicia had written a letter to Good Housekeeping and was featured in the magazine as being their youngest reader. At 7 years old, Witt knew how to play classical piano and won several piano competitions in the years that followed.
Alicia's intelligence was something that was hard to ignore, so her parents decided to home school her and her brother Ian. By age 14, Alicia had received her high school diploma.
After becoming a high school graduate, the child prodigy headed to Los Angeles with her mother to develop her acting repertoire. With Alicia's artistic talents, it was no wonder that she had already started her acting career at the age of 9. She appeared in the 1984 sci-fi film Dune.
Once in the City of Angels, Alicia used her piano skills playing piano at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, in order to earn her living. After having previously worked with director David Lynch in Dune, Alicia appeared several times on the television series Twin Peaks. In less than a year and after a few auditions, Alicia was cast in the 1993 film Bodies, Rest & Motion and in the HBO trilogy Hotel Room, also by David Lynch.
In 1994, Alicia was awarded with the Special Jury Award for her role as Bonnie in the film Fun. Alicia received what could be considered her big break, in 1995. She was cast as Zoey on the CBS sitcom Cybill.
Many more film roles were coming her way. Alicia was cast as the hopeless clarinet player in Mr. Holland's Opus (she actually had to learn how to play the instrument badly); she also appeared in one of the segments of the Tarantino film Four Rooms, where she portrayed Madonna's lover.
She also had a role in Citizen Ruth, starring Burt Reynolds and Kelly Preston, as well as roles in The Reef, the animated film Gen 13 (for which she provided her voice), and Bongwater. Alicia finally scored a starring role in the teen slasher Urban Legends, co-starring Rebecca Gayheart.
Putting her intellect to good use, Alicia used her wit to win on Celebrity Jeopardy. When not acting and playing the piano, Alicia listens to big band music and is an avid wig collector.
No longer typecast as the child prodigy (which was never really a stretch for the beautiful redhead), Alicia will soon be seen in Cecil B. Demented, as Stephen Dorff's porn-star girlfriend Cherish Oh Lordy, and Playing Mona Lisa, as a pianist who turns into a party girl.
Alicia Witt Talk About "Two Weeks Notice"
ALICIA WITT ('Judy')
You co-star with two very big stars in Hollywood, Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant. What was your experience like working on this movie?
They are so nice to work with. They are both so down-to-earth. They don't have big star egos or anything like that. It made the working environment really great.
How do you rate the chemistry between Grant and Bullock?
They have amazing off-screen chemistry. That's what I saw. I saw them constantly joking and teasing each other, almost like the equivalent of a little boy chasing a little girl around the playground. They are just so cute together.
Can you talk about shooting in New York after September 11th?
I was so happy that it filmed in New York not only because it's an amazing city, but also because a lot of people across the country who don't live in a big city - or people across the world - somehow started to think about New York as a dangerous place to be and envisioned it as some war zone after that happened. And yes, in the month after it happened New York was the most depressed and just sad and bleak place. But the people there are amazing and they are resilient and strong and warm. I was so happy to be a part of a movie that's a tribute to that.
How hard is it to sustain a relationship in Hollywood?
It depends on the relationship. If you are really in love with someone and if you have a strong foundation that is not based in the industry, then I think you are in good shape. It's a little more tenuous when you meet someone, a fellow actor on a job who you have a love scene with, and you start this torrid affair. It has very little to do with reality. The chances of that lasting in the real world are a little bit weaker, I think.
Meet Alicia Witt
RED HOT: Alicia may be best known for her role as Cybill Shepherd’s daughter on the sitcom Cybill. For more Witt, check out Citizen Ruth, The Reef, Bongwater, Urban Legend and Cecil B. Demented.
BEST TRESSED: Alicia was born August 21, 1975, in Worcester, Massachusetts, to Diane Witt, who once held the Guinness World record for hair length (128 inches).
ROOMS WITH A WHEW: Alicia played Madonna’s lover in the 1995 movie Four Rooms.
NIMBLE FINGERS: Alicia is a classically trained pianist.
“A guy’s got to smell good. Self-confidence and a self-deprecating sense of humor turn me on, but so does his scent. I always like to borrow clothing from my boyfriends so I can smell them all day.”
Stunning Alicia Witt
Former sitcom siren Alicia Witt makes some noise with two new films and a high-note performance on The Sopranos.
“Half the fun of sex is talking about it,” says the flame-haired Alicia Witt, casually playing with a dead fish in the dining room of the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. “That’s why I love dirty jokes. OK, so there’s this guy who’s stranded on a desert island with Cindy Crawford. After a while, they get horny and frolic on the beach. Two weeks go by, and he becomes withdrawn. She’s totally frustrated because he’s the only guy around. She says, ‘How can I please you?’ He tells her to cut her hair. She cuts it. He tells her to put on his clothes. She does it. He asks her if he can call her Frank. ‘Sure, call me Frank.’ So he says, ‘Walk with me.’ They’re walking, and then he turns to her and says, ‘Frank, you’ll never guess who I’m f*cking.’”
She chortles. Well, she’s certainly come a long way from the girl your mom and girlfriend will remember from the Cybill Shepherd sitcom Cybill. But then again, if you were doing your homework, you always knew she’d mature into a sex bomb. After all, she did have those steamy moments with Madonna in Allison Ander’s quarter of the otherwise unwatchable anthology Four Rooms. Unfortunately, they didn’t actually get it on, but they did get pretty damn close, which can’t be a bad thing. “On the first day of shooting,” recalls Alicia, “Madonna threw two T-shirts at me. ‘Here, I got these for you.’ One was pink, and it said pussy. The other was blue and said baby. Guess which one I wore? I’ll give you a hint: We played lesbian witch lovers in the film.”
Guess what she doesn’t wear on HBO’s mob hit, The Sopranos. Returning to TV as a guest star in the best reason to subscribe to cable, Alicia admits, “I’ve done my first real nude scene.” (That’s HBO, Saturday, February 27.) “It’s a really steamy scene with one of the main characters. Sorry, but I’m not allowed to say who I have sex with…” We figure it’s Michael Imperioli, who plays Christopher Moltisanti, the script-writing, upwardly mobile mobster with a jones for Hollywood. “What I really liked about it,” she continues, “is that I’m the aggressor. I make all the moves.” She makes more moves in her next movie, the soon-to-be-classic John Waters comedy Cecil B. Demented, in which she stars as an ex–porn queen named Cherish Oh Lordy. “My character is like Traci Lords, and she’s trying to get out of the porn biz,” says Alicia. “I do have a scene that’s pure but it’s just me alone. And a gerbil. I don’t know if I should say that.”
The restaurant is strangely quiet while Alicia ponders porn. “My favorite—and I have no idea what it’s called—has this stereotypical nerd with glasses and greased-back hair trying to sell insurance to this woman with ridiculously huge breasts. The next thing you know, he whips out his enormous penis. I laughed my ass off. Porn is way too hysterical to be a turn-on.”
What does turn her on is sexual repression. At least as that gnarly subject is explored in her new romantic comedy, Playing Mona Lisa, which hits the theaters later this year. Alicia stars as Claire, a virtuoso at tickling piano keys but a completely clueless babe in the woods when it comes to making sweet music with the fellas. “She’s closer to me than any character I’ve ever played,” says Alicia, who trained as a classical pianist before seriously pursuing acting at 17 and later playing a classical musician in Mr. Holland’s Opus. “Like Claire, I was a late bloomer.”
Homeschooled back in Worcester, Massachusetts, Alicia could not only play piano at an impossibly young age (seven), but could also recite whole passages from Shakespeare by age four. For her child-prodigy antics, she was trotted onto shows like That’s Incredible to do clever-kid tricks. Besides embarrassing her, the experience got her noticed by David Lynch, who cast her, when she’s only seven, as Princess Alia in his sci-fi fiasco, Dune. Lynch went on to cast Alicia in the turn-of-the-’90s phenomenon Twin Peaks and an HBO movie, Hotel Room. “A lot of people think he’s weird,” says Alicia of her kind-of mentor, “but I think he’s a sweet man, and he’s been like a role model to me.” Between Lynch gigs and while playing piano at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Alicia was working hard to get herself noticed.
“I’d go to these casting calls with all these model types and… Well, let’s just say that now I feel confident and sexy, but for a long time, I didn’t have what other girls had.” Her eyes drop down to her breasts. “But even more than that, I thought other women knew a secret that I didn’t know about men and sex.” As for any of her own secrets she’d care to share…
“Well, I’ll tell you a secret fantasy,” says Alicia, leaning across the table, her fingers poised on the lip of her teacup. “I would love to have sex in an airplane. It’s very tricky and you’d have to have major balls to do it, but I’ve thought about it a lot.” Unfortunately, she’ll probably avoid that kind of turbulence for a while. She’s currently without a boyfriend and has no one to fly the friendly skies with. Her theory? She’s hanging out with the wrong kind of guys.
“Who else do I meet but actors?” she sighs. “I hate them. They sit there at dinner and give you their résumé. But then, if they’re not actors and they’re the least bit starstruck, it can be worse. I was on a blind date a few weeks ago and this person did a whole Internet background check on me. It really freaked me out…though I have to admit I do the same thing. If I’m gonna go out on a date with an actor, I’ll look up his sites on the Web. I shouldn’t, but I do.
I also look up his ex-girlfriends, and if they’re actresses, I check out their bios and Web sites. Do you think that’s a little obsessive? In the past, I think I scared off a few guys.”
What doesn’t scare Alicia off? “A guy’s got to smell good. Self-confidence and a self-deprecating sense of humor turn me on, but so does his scent. I always like to borrow clothing from my boyfriends so I can wear it and smell them all day. It’s a really good feeling. Now, after this article comes out, every time I borrow something from somebody, they’re gonna say, ‘What are you gonna do, smell it? You perv.’”
So, for those brave-hearted, fragranted men without SAG cards who don’t mind giving up their threads for a date with Alicia, here’s her five-point strategy to her own seduction. “One: Find out what my favorite meal is—twin steamed lobsters, corn on the cob and mashed potatoes, followed by ice cream or a big chocolate mousse cake—and cook it for me. Two: Buy me my favorite flowers—gardenias. Three: Take me on at Ms. Pac-Man. I can beat any guy in that game, or Galaga or Centipede. Probably [because] nobody plays those games as much as I do. Four: Give me a book that I’ll instantly love—my favorite is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. I never read any Dr. Suess books, and when a date brought me a complete set, he was in.” If all that requires too much research, just skip to number five: “Give me an amazing full-body massage.” She’ll bring the amazing full body.
More fun stuff about Alicia Witt
Alicia collects wigs. She loves to wear them as well.
Alicia's mom is recorded in Guiness Book of World Records for the longest hair.
Alicia was reading before she was a year old and earned her GED when she was only 14 years old.
Even though she is stereotyped at a "child prodigy," Alicia likes to watch porno movies to get a good laugh.
Alicia was the center of attention on the television show "That's Incredible" when she was only four. She recited Shakespeare.
While Alicia was working on her acting career, she used her piano skills to earn a living as she played in the lobby of the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Might've ended up as a concert pianist instead of an actress if it didn't stifle her creativity -- Witt used to take part in piano competitions, but she quit because she didn't like that she couldn't put her personality into them at all.
Considered for the role of Mary Jane Watson in SPIDER-MAN (2002) after Kate Hudson backed out. The part eventually went to Kirsten Dunst.
"In my fantasy I was always the savior. I would come to 'Peanuts' land and save everybody. Charlie Brown would fall madly in love with me. Peppermint Patty was so jealous." -Alicia Witt
Witt-Y & Wise
Actress Alicia Witt adds a musical angle to her hilarious breakup recovery role in 'Playing Mona Lisa'
If Alicia Witt were a struggling actress looking for work, she could get a shampoo or conditioner commercial just by walking into an audition and running her fingers through her auburn tresses. The way her hair cascades back down across her cheeks is the kind of thing that makes a guy lose his concentration -- which adds an interesting challenge to conducting an interview since running her fingers through her hair is something Witt does fairly frequently.
Nevermind that she's also beautiful and just exudes intelligence -- which comes as no surprise since she was reading Shakespeare at age 4 and passed her GED when she was only 14 so she could leave school and pursue acting.
As you may know, Witt is not a struggling actress. In fact, she's been working steadily in film and TV since she was 9 years old (remember the uncanny little girl with the phosphorescent eyes in David Lynch's lavish "Dune" adaptation?) and she has a deliberately eclectic taste in projects. She worked for Lynch again in "Twin Peaks," and her other credits include the controversial (the abortion satire "Citizen Ruth"), the cheesy ("Urban Legends") and the comically extreme (she can currently be seen as a trashy former porn star in John Waters' "Cecil B. Demented").
Yet there's something very everygirl about Witt too, which is why she fits so well into a role like Claire Goldstein, the deer-in-the-headlights heroine of the breakup-recovery screwball comedy "Playing Mona Lisa." Poor Claire is swept up in marriage proposal euphoria one night, then dumped in the morning after her boyfriend sobers up, setting off a Murphy's Law domino effect in her life that has a Woody Allen ring to it.
Hounded by her busybody family wanting to chicken-soup her heart and a vivacious best friend (Brooke Langton) trying to fix her up with men, Claire also loses her apartment in an earthquake, forcing her to move back in with her flaky folks (Marlo Thomas and Elliott Gould) and bear bitter witness to her blissful sister's wedding preparations.
The humorously gifted Witt turns Claire's exasperation into sympathy and comedy, plus she gets to show off her other great talent: playing the piano. In the story, Claire is a talented student at San Francisco's Conservatory of Music. In real life, playing classical piano was another area of prodigy for Witt as a child and she plays a handful of classical pieces in the film with such grace and majesty that the music almost distracts from the laughs.
Since she is often quizzed in interviews about her wunderkind background, I decided to start our conversation by going off on a musical tangent.
Q: You bought a piano a couple years ago when you moved into your house. What do you look for in a good piano?
A: I think it's different depending on what you like. But I look for is a touch that isn't terribly firm. There's some pianos you play and your fingers don't really sink into the keys. But I like when you play a loud, passionate section, like some of the pieces I play in this movie -- Chopin, for instance -- your fingers really sink in and you can just make the room really sing with noise. I like a really singing tone, a rich, full tone.
Q: What kind of piano did you buy then?
A: A Steinway. A medium baby grand -- not the tiniest one. It's a five-foot-seven. It's been fantastic. Pianos tend to get better as they age, the more you play them. They grow into their sound. Every tuning (this one) gets a little better and when I open up the lid, it just fills the whole room with sound.
Q: Do you have time to play?
A: I've been playing a lot recently on this keyboard that I got. I got a Yamaha S-80. I'm trying to learn how to use Digital Performer because I compose my own stuff. I've been writing songs with words. I've been playing more on the keyboard because I can transpose it to sheet music on the computer.
Q: It prints out what you play?
A: Digital Performer prints out what you play.
Q: Wow! I had no idea.
A: You can actually put down 16 tracks if you want to. It's very complicated!
Q: That is very cool stuff!
A: [Nodding emphatically] Very cool.
Q: So are you angling toward being an actress-slash-singer? Are you going to put out an album?
A: Well, I'd like to. I love singing. I just did a musical in L.A. called "The Gift." It was my first stage experience.
Q: Really? After all this time. How did it compare to film and TV? Was it hard to do the same thing every night?
A: No. Every night it took on a different texture -- just ever so slightly different. It was incredible. It was interesting how people I knew in the audience effected my performance. It would effect the qualities that my character would take on. My personality definitely changes relative to what character I'm playing. I noticed in this experience, because I went through the rehearsal process and then playing the same character night after night, I definitely went through a great withdrawl after it was over. I felt a great loss. I was playing Electra, a $4,000 a night call girl. She's very elegant and very knowing in the ways of sex. I kind of miss playing that character.
Q: So you got to sing and you got to vamp.
A: It was really fun!
Q: Kind of like playing Cherish in "Cecil B. Demented?"
A: Yeah. [Laughs.] Cherish was a blast. I didn't have to worry about how I looked in that movie. As the film progressed, all the makeup and hair just got crazier and crazier. The makeup was literally just nuts. (At times) I was wearing exactly what Divine had in "Pink Flamingos." The same person who designed (the make-up) in that movie designed this one.
Q: Compare making a movie with a rookie director like ("Mona Lisa's") Matthew Huffman to making a movie with an experienced director who is a total vanguard like John Waters.
A: John Waters has certainly gotten to a place in his life where he doesn't do anything he doesn't want to do. He's always been that way, but at this point, he's greatly respected for it. At the beginning of his career, people thought he was out of his mind. He said once that Cecil B. Demented was what he would have become if his parents hadn't been so supportive in his endeavors.
Q: So, on to this movie! Did the "Playing Mona Lisa" people approach you because they knew you could play piano? Or did you read the script and think, this is perfect for me!
A: Well, it was actually written for a ballerina. When they approached me with the script and I read it and liked it, my comment was that I wanted to do it if they would change it to a pianist. I wanted to do a movie about being really good at something, yet being socially awkward and not as advanced in your personal life as you are in your creative life. They were open to that and they changed it, but it's pretty much the same story.
Q: It's just changed to a form of artistic expression you could more easily portray.
A: Exactly. But all of those art-based fields are similar in that they're all hard to make a living in and they all require an intense amount of training and discipline.
Q: Did you then become something of a consultant about the piano elements of the story?
A: Yeah. I told them a lot about the whole piano competition arena. I used to compete. I trained heavily from the age of about 7 to 14. I went to national piano competitions and did that whole circuit. Then I played professionally to support myself when I moved out to L.A.
Q: That was your job to fall back on? No waitressing?
A: Yep! It was something I always wanted to incorporate into my life professionally, but I wanted to do acting more. You have to really concentrate on piano or acting. You can't do both. So I was very happy this opportunity came along to mix the two. It's probably the role I'm closest to of all the roles I've played. I completely identify with Claire. She's someone I used to be.
Q: You've been doing a lot of comedy the last couple years. Do you want to do a romantic tragedy or a period piece or another kind of drama?
A: I'd love to. [Nodding] I'd love to. My goal is to just keep playing roles that are different from the roles I've played before.
Q: To avoid typecasting? To not be cast as "the redhead?"
A: [Chuckles] Well, I have to be cast as the redhead, I guess. But aside from that, the more obvious typecasting I try to stay away from. Like in the past year I've played an attorney, a call girl, an ex-porno star, an entertainment executive -- on "The Sopranos." The whole trick is to completely avoid stereotyping because the truth is, I'm nothing like any of these characters. I'm completely different.
Q: Was your hair ever a problem?
A: It was a little maddening to me when I started my career. I was a teenager and I would go out for the high school movies or girl-next-door type parts, and they would always say, "Oh, you know, we went with the blonde."
Q: I'd be willing to bet some of the directors of mindless teen-candy movies were kind of intimidated by you. I'm sure you never quite came across as the typical teenage girl.
A: I didn't fit in. I was really determined, really focused -- very adult-like. And yet, I'd never been to a prom, I had never had the whole high school experience. I think I was kind of an anomaly. I don't think they knew where to put me.
Q: How do you feel about being an internet babe?
A: Those are interesting to look at now and again. It's interesting to see what people come up with and what they say that isn't true. I read on one site that I collect wigs and I like to wear kabuki makeup. I've never worn kabuki makeup in my life, and I own three wigs, which I've worn on occasion for fun -- just to surprise people.
Q: There's a couple sites out there that have video captures of you nude from the sex scene in "Sopranos." That's got to drive you crazy.
A: I was just offered a movie where they said, specifically, that I was going to have to bein a scene more explicit than the one in "The Sopranos." I had to pass on it. It was a great movie, too. Oh well.
Alicia Witt: Whiz Kid
From her L.A. home, the former whiz kid who lit up Cybill with her red hair and dry humor looks out on the city that can make her a star.
It could be said that Alicia Witt-best known for her role as Zoey, the droll Gen-Xer on Cybill--got her first house for a song. "This is a great piano house. The arched ceilings make for really good acoustics, and the big windows help bounce the sound off," says Witt as she walks past her baby grand, the piece de resistance of her airy one-bedroom home overlooking the San Fernando Valley. "And the built in wall speakers came with the house. I can hear music in every room."
A classically trained pianist who performed for President Clinton at the Kennedy Center, Witt won national competitions. But after receiving her high school diploma (when she was only 14 years old), she decided to pursue acting. Witt was a true whiz kid. She could recite Shakespeare as a toddler, and says she caught the acting bug at age 4 when she recited the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet on the TV show "That's Incredible!" That appearance led to a role in the film Dune, convincing the little girl from Worcester, Massachusetts, that she wanted to grow up to be a Hollywood star rather than a classical musician.
Still, the music training came in handy. She supported herself by playing piano at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel until acting parts started rolling in And roll in they did: Twin Peaks, Four Rooms, Mr. Holland's Opus and the CBS drama Passion's Way. In her current film, Urban Legend, she plays a college student turned sleuth.
Witt, 23, takes her work home with her, practicing for auditions and fine-tuning roles in her spacious living room. "[It] gives you an open feeling. It's a great place to work on material," she says. "I didn't rush out and buy a whole bunch of furniture when I got this place." She enjoys the minimally furnished rooms. "I only want to have things I really like." A piano was the first priority: She knew she wanted a Steinway and tested a number of different ones before she settled on the baby grand from Steinway Hall in Los Angeles. "They all have different textures," she explains.
Witt was just as exacting when looking for a sofa. She had a specific image in mind and wound up hiring L.A. furniture-maker Larry Nova to custom-build a seven-foot one, with down cushions in olive crushed-velvet fabric and burgundy accent pillows. "I want it to be the most comfortable couch in the world, the kind you can just sink right into," she says, anxiously awaiting its delivery so she can curl up on it in front of the living room fireplace.
Witt likes her home's hardwood floors--"I love to hear my heels clack." But she also appreciates the carpeting in the small room that serves as her office. "It's good to have one room with carpet so you can lie down on the floor when you want to." And with views of the city from every room, she feels she has everything she and her boyfriend, actor Peter Krause, need. Except enough closet space. Splitting the one closet between them has proven to be no small feat, especially with her Cybill wardrobe, which was given to the actress as a gift when the series wrapped up.
When she's not working, Witt usually spends most of her time at home reading books or playing board games. "I know, it's very nerdy," she says. But don't be fooled by her sweet demeanor-when it comes to backgammon, she's ruthless. "Backgammon is really a gambling game, so you want to make money-at least to give to charity. At the end of the season for Cybill I was owed $400," she says with a laugh, remembering the game sessions on the set. "Actually, I'm still waiting to collect."
Whether or not she collects, her experience on Cybill has paid off in spades. There's a hot young redhead in town, and she's warming up to be a player.
Hot Starlets: Alicia Witt
Back in her lukewarm years, Alicia Witt paid the rent by playing lounge piano in a fancy L.A. hotel bar. "I was a skinny girl with long red hair, so people would assume I was sweet and innocent. I got asked to play 'Misty' a lot, and the theme from Cats. " If those requests weren't indignity enough, Witt sys she didn't Feel sweet, so I just couldn't stand the condescending looks" from customers. Since breaking out in the sitcom Cybill as sassy daughter Zoey, she's shaken the innocent image by (a) posing in underwear for the cover of a men's magazine, (b) playing a call girl and doing a striptease in an L.A. play this summer and (c) staring down Michael Imperioli's unibrow and disrobing for a Sopranos role as a Hollywood executive who's more ruthless than the Mafia. (Hot Career Move for a Sitcom Actress: Nudity.) With Shirley Manson and Gillian Anderson, she completes a troika of modern redhead sirens, and Witt's Goth-girl deadpan and native hauteur seem to claw at the bug eyes of Lucille Ball's Kooky archetype.
Witt dives deeper into Hollywood satire in John Waters' new film, Cecil B. DeMented, playing Cherish, a dimly talented porn star who's part of a cult of violent and insane underground filmmakers. But then, even in the piano bar, she broke the rules: "I had one guy who gave me $100 every time I played an Elvis song. So, naturally, I kept playing Elvis songs."
"Cecil B. DeMented" really makes fun of modern Hollywood, doesn't it?
As well it should. Hollywood is completely ridiculous. People make the most stupid movies and act like they're going to change the world or something.
There are some specific targets, like "Forest Gump" and "Godzilla." Do you think "Cecil" will hurt anyone's feelings?
As in any good satire, everything is way over the top. The studio executives are extra stupid [laughs]. It also makes fun of the indepentent-filp people who act like their film is the most important thing ever.
There's a scene in which you sit in a porno theater and watch yourself having sex with a gerbil. Was that a weird day?
It was the most surreal experience I've ever had making a movie. There were about twenty-five male extras scattered through the theater, which is an actual porno theater in Baltimore. John had directed them to jerk off in an exaggerated way ? whole rows of seats were shaking. And of course the theater itself was gross. It's the kind of place where you want to check the seat before you sit down, or you'll find a little surprise. A friend once lent me several of his prized Traci Lords videos. I've never found porn to be so erotic. I'm always intrigued when a guy friend tells me he can get off to it.
You were home-schooled by your parents, and I keep reading stories about how brilliant you are. Are you really that smart, or just smart compared to the rest of Hollywood?
If you're an actor and you have a good head on your shoulders, which I do, there's a tendency for people to assume you must be incredibly bright. Which I'm really not. I'm just not stupid.
You grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts. Is there a worse city in the world?
Well, it's pretty quiet. I'm not gonna rag Worcester in a national publication. Lets just say I was very anxious to move to Los Angeles.
Now please tell me about the gerbil.
I've been pretty fortunate with my onscreen pairings, and that was no exception. He was a very special gerbil.
Alicia Witt & Dedee Pfeiffer
ROSEANNE SET THE standard. My So-Called Life pushed the envelope. But the trend away from wholesomer-than-thou prime-time progeny can always use fresh blood. As the off-kilter offspring on Cybill (the CBS sitcom starring Cybill Shepherd), Alicia Witt and Dedee Pfeiffer are this year's most promising donors.
While Cybill's writers may be responsible for the realistic now-allies/now-enemies dynamic between brooding, deadpan Zoey (Witt) and her supremely uptight married sister, Rachel (Pfeiffer), it's the actresses' off-camera camaraderie that gives the characters depth. ``Dedee's like the big sister I never had," says Witt, 19, a piano prodigy who began reading at 6 months and earned her high school diploma at 14, after being educated by her parents at her Worcester, Mass., home.
"I adore her," agrees Pfeiffer, 31, real-life kid sister to Michelle, and her California family's "Auntie-Mame-like oddball out." In addition to sharing a mutual O.J. trial obsession, "Alicia and I have these unbelievable emotional/psychological/professional/intellectual/spiritual conversations."
Both Pfeiffer and Witt are big-screen bound later this year: Pfeiffer in the drama Up Close and Personal, with Michelle and Robert Redford; Witt in the Allison Anders segment of Four Rooms, as Madonna's juvenile-delinquent lover, and in Mr. Holland's Opus, as a "wallflower music student." To prepare for the latter part, Witt, true to her overachiever nature, learned to play the clarinet too well: "They had to teach me how to squeak on cue."
Alicia Witt: Genius at Work
"I sometimes get a funny feeling," says Chuck Lorre, creator of the CBS sitcom Cybill, "that Alicia Witt has to shut down half her cerebellum to have a conversation with me."
Witt, 19, who on the new series plays Cybill Shepherd's grungy, deadpan daughter Zoey, is arguably the smartest person ever to perform in the genre that gave us Green Acres. Exposed to Shadespeare as an infant -- her mother, Diane, a former junior high reading teacher, would read aloud from his plays -- Witt was able to recite from Romeo and Juliet and the sonnets at 2. by then, on some cognitive tests she was scoring at the level of a high school senior. Her father, Robert, a former science teacher who's now starting up a photography business in Worcester, Mass., remembers his tiny daughter greeting him one evening with a salutation derived from As You Like It: "Is thy name Robert? A fair name. I'll have no father if you be not he."
Witt started Piano lessons at 7, and within six months she had won her first competion. "Alicia was angelic," says David Patterson, music professor at the University of Massachusetts, who taught the 11-year-old. "Yet she could play Beethoven ferociously or Bartok at a raging tempo." As her mother says with quiet pride, "She's very talented in everything she's ever done." Alicia's brother Ian, 16 is also "a very talented boy," she adds, "and I was advanced. but no one has seen anything like Alicia."
Dressed in black, Witt looks more like your basic X-er than a poster girl for mensa. Not that she has ever applied for membership in the high-IQ club. "I con't feel special," she says. "I was just full of energy and loved to learn."
It was her mother who launched Witt on her unusual trajectory from whiz kid to starlet. Back in 1977, Diane Witt -- who, to give her due as an amazing person, urrently has the world's longest hair (documented as 128" in the 1994 Guiness Book of Records) -- dropped a line to Good Housekeeping. She enjoyed the magazine, she wrote, and noted that her 2-year-old did, too. Housekeeping staff promptly visited and photographed "our youngest reader."
Thanks to this bit of exposure, Witt was invited to appear on ABC's That's Incredible, where she played a scene as Shakespeare's Juliet. Working with the cameras wet off lightbulbs in Alicia's head, "I loved it," she says. "It was like life, only 10 times more intense." At 7, brought to the attention of director David Lynch, she made her film debut in the sci-fi epic Dune as space princes Alia. She learned her lines in one reading."It's easy," Witt says."You memorize the thought process instead of the words." Of course.
Dune opened and closed, and Witt stayed in Worcester, racing through her piano studies. She even created her own variations, in the syle of Debussy, Chopin and other masters, on Over the Rainbow. Academically, both she and brother Ian were taught at home by their mother. One family acquaintance describes this round-the-clock teacher as "unconventional, what with the long hair and raising the children the way she has. but this was a mother who was behind her child." Mrs, Witt explains, "I wanted to be there for Alicia and let her enjoy the love of learning that you should have. School is about competitiveness."
Witt enjoyed setting her own pace. "I could practice piano at midnight and get up at 11 in the morning and study math all day long," she says. The one drawback, she admits, was that "I didn't have any friends my own age. I was able to relate to adults, but had a hard time relating to other children. I didn't have andy real friends until I came to L.A."
Witt made her move with her mother when she was 14, after she had earned her high school equivalency diploma; Dad and Ian stayed at home. "I was pushing to go to Hollywood from 11 or 12," she says. "And my parents allowed me to do what I needed." College? "There was no reason for me to go," she says.
Witt began landing small TV parts, including (thanks to old pal Lynch) a younk denizen of Twin Peaks, and supported herself playing piano at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. (She also went on Wheel of Fourtune and spun herself bankrupt twice.) "A sitcom was the last thing I thought I'd do," says Witt. "But then the Cybill script came, and it was funny." After several callbacks, she recalls, "Cybill gave me a big hug and said, 'Congratulations, honey.' I cried."
So she has it made, right? Not quite. For one thing, the demands of a series make extrcurriculars tough. "My love life," she says, is nonexistent." Witt lives alone in a one-bedroom apartmant (her mother lives nearby). She is currently reading How to Get Your Cat to Do What You Want for the benefit of her tabby Jessie. She still plays the piano and also likes listening to old big-band recordings. "I love music of the '40s and '50s" she says. "It has so many things going on at once."
Witt wants her life to have that same fascinatin' rhythm. "Whatever you've accomplished," says the very early achiever, "there's always more to experience."
Alicia Witt: Hot Redhead
Each week, Alicia Witt appears as Zoey, the mercurial, wisecracking daughter who deftly navigates the waves of an unsettled family life on the hig CBS sitcom Cybill. But offbeat television has nothing on Witt's offscreen experiences. Born, raised and home-schooled in Worchester, Massachusetts, Witt, 21, began talding at 1(month, that is), reading at 6 months, and by age 7 had appeared in ther first film, David Lynch's sci-fi classic Dune. At 14, Witt earned her high school diploma (GED), then moved to L.A. and made a living playing the piano at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel while auditioning for acting gigs. She has since portrayed a reange of characters from apprentice to Madonna's witch in Four Rooms to a walflower clarinetist in Mr. Holland's Opus. She says she loves being a redhead but deplores the widespread assummption that she and other fiery females are either "dainty and delicate" or "sexy maniacs who drive knives into people's chests." Witt is quick to declare that she is neither.
What do you think is the best part avout being a redhead in this culture?
It's unusual, and whether people like it or not, it always attracts attention. I think that red hair is extremely sexy. It's also really versatile. When I was first auditioning for parts, it was hard because casting agents don't see a redhead as being every girl. That really bugged me, because I am part of society. My red hair doesn't make me an alien!
What's the strangest way you've worn your hair?
Red dreadlocks [for Four Rooms]. That was bizarre and a bit embarassing. I'd go to the grocery store and I know that people were looking at me and thinking, "Oh, that girl's trouble!" Which was kind of a prejudiced way of thinking.
How would you describe your style?
I would say that i'm half conservative, half unusual. My casual dress is fust T-shirts and jeans and sneakers. I borrow my boyfriend's clothes all the time. Shirts mostly, and his overalls. But I also like crazy nail polish colors. I like playing with makeup when i can. I like unusual colors. Things that are catchy.
Do you work out?
I've been working out with a personal trainer for a few weeks now. It's sort of a cardiovascular weight-training program and cross-training. I also jog about five or six times a week, for about three and a half miles. I've been doing that for a long time. It makes me feel great. It opens up my lungs and clears the head.
"You look at Alicia and think, 'What a young girl,'" says Scott Kroopf, executive producer of last year's Mr, Holland's Opus, in which Witt played a shy high school student. "Then she starts talking, and you realize what an old soul she is." That's probably because Witt, 21, who plays Cybill's disaffected daughter Zoey, raced through her childhood on the accelerated plan. Schooled at home in Worcester, Mass., Witt began reading at age 2 and recited Shakespeare on TV at 4. At 14, she passed her high school equivalency exam and headed for Hollywood. Last year she played Madonna's lover in Four Rooms. She also began her stint on Cybill-and a second childhood. "Through Zoey, I got to go to a prom. It's fun to see what the life of a normal teenager would be like," Witt says. Still, she leaves her castmates in the dust. "Hey, she's way too smart to play my daughter," says her TV dad Alan Rosenberg. "Which is in no way meant to insult my son."
Alicia Witt has always been a young woman in a hurry. A prolific reader at the age of two, she had her own novelty act by the time she was four, performing scenes from Shakespeare on television shows like That's Incredible! and NBC's Today. Shortly thereafter, she saw her first movie, Dune -- in which she made her big-screen acting debut. By 14, she'd earned her high-school diploma in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she was home-schooled by her parents. Now 19, she makes no apologies for her impatience. "I've always wanted to accomplish everything I can right now," she says firmly. "I never wanted to wait for someone to show me how to do it."
So far, she hasn't had to do much waiting. Already widely noticed as Cybill Shepherd's disagreeable but fetching teenage daughter Zoe on the new CBS series Cybill, Witt is about to be seen in three new feature films. In Fun, she plays a wayward girl who drifts into murder (so convincingly that she won the Special Jury Prize for acting at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival). In Mr. Holland's Opus, she is a clarinet student -- "a really reserved, shy, wallflower type" -- taught by Richard Dreyfuss. And in Allison Anders's Four Rooms, she's a "bratty, mischievous" witch-in-training to Madonna and Lili Taylor.
With her flaming red hair, pale porcelain skin, and imposing height -- not to mention her remarkable self-assurance -- Witt never fails to attract attention. No wonder, then, that a tarot card reader she consulted while preparing for Four Rooms told her that this spring she will meet no fewer than "three different love interests all at the same time." Not that she's waiting around.
Alicia Witt's new movie 'The Upside of Anger'
Kevin Costner, Joan Allen, Mike Binder, Evan Rachel Wood, Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt
Terry Wolfmeyer, indelibly played by the reliably brilliant Joan Allen, knows from pride and prejudice. This diva of the Detroit burbs wants the best in schools, jobs and men for her four daughters -- Hadley (Alicia Witt), Emily (Keri Russell), Andy (Erika Christensen) and Popeye (Evan Rachel Wood). Always determined, Terry is now royally pissed off. Her husband has split (she's sure it's with his Swedish secretary), and, using alcohol to fuel her fire, she's on the attack, starting with her family.
From that premise, director-writer Mike Binder, himself a child of divorce, hits us with the first film of the new year that stays with you -- a fiercely funny human comedy with jokes that sting and leave marks. Allen is the blaze that lights the film, and Witt, Russell, Christensen and Wood complement her beautifully with their own distinctive shadings. But the whopper surprise is Kevin Costner, back at the top of his game after years of coasting. He digs into the role of Denny, a retired baseball star turned stoned radio DJ who offers Terry a famous shoulder to lean on. OK, when she offers him a quickie, he hides in his yard, but Denny knows to stick around. Costner is a marvel, lacing the role with unforced humor and charm. Binder, best known for HBO's The Mind of the Married Man, springs a contrived twist ending but otherwise keeps the emotions real and played close to the bone. He also excels as Shep, Denny's radio producer who seduces young Andy and incurs her mother's wrath. The scene in which Terry imagines Shep's head exploding exemplifies the bold strokes of a film that manages to be both hilarious and haunting.
Common misspellings: "Alisha Witt", "Alicia Wit".