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Interview: Alicia Witt

To say Alicia Witt is a force to be reckoned with is definitely an understatement. The actor/singer/songwriter has made her mark in the world of music, film and television and continues to build a resume that would be the envy of anyone in the business.

Originally from Worcester, Massachusetts, Alicia has appeared in popular television series and films. On the small screen, she’s appeared in Cybil, Justified, House of Lies, Friday Night Lights and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. On the big screen, she’s appeared in hit films such as Vanilla Sky, 88 Minutes, Two Weeks Notice and Mr. Holland’s Opus. Currently, she can be seen on the hit ABC series Nashville in the recurring role of Autumn Chase.

If working in film and television wasn’t enough, Alicia is also an accomplished singer and songwriter. She recently released her first full length album Revisionary History and recently performed at the famed Grand Ole Opry.

Today, we sit down with Alicia to talk about her current role on Nashville and what the audition process was like, what it was like working on The Walking Dead and also what it was like sharing the screen with Timothy Olyphant and Michael Rappaport on Justified.

Pop Culture Principle – It would seem your upcoming role on ABC’s Nashville was a perfect fit for you. What did you know about the series before you accepted the role, and were you a fan of the show?

Alicia Witt – Yes, I was a big fan of the show. It was a show that I looked forward to from the time it first started airing. Partly because I love Nashville and partly because I love music and writing. It’s the only show that I can think of that’s ever shown the craft of songwriting from inception all the way to the stage. We’ve obviously had other shows like Glee and Smash that have had music incorporated in a very big way, but this is very special because it shows what it feels like to write a song and to then take it from that experience to performing it in front of thousands and thousands of people.

It also gives audience to all of these local songwriters who are turning out amazing songs—also, being in town and seeing how much respect and appreciation people have for the production. By and large, it’s the only main production that’s of its type that is actually shooting in Nashville. It’s very unique in many different ways.

Aside from all that, I just love sitting home and watching it, and look forward to it every week. When I got the call that I would be doing at least six episodes of the series, I was practically crying with joy I was so happy!

Pop Culture Principle – How was the audition process for the role of Autumn Chase?

Alicia Witt – You know, I actually auditioned for the pilot. I was between agents for the role, but I came in anyway because of my musical background. The role I auditioned for, although they were already in negotiations with Connie Britton because she was the one they always wanted, was the role of Rayna. I think they just used those scenes to sort of show what you could do. I don’t want it to sound like I ever legitimately auditioned for that because it was always her role, but that’s what I auditioned for.

I then sang one of my original songs acapella and the feedback was really good, but they had said at the time that they really liked what I did and would keep me in mind for the future. Years went by and I thought of it every now and then, and then I got a call from my agent saying that they wanted to hear my music again. I made a suggestion to my agent about which songs to send over and I thought that was anticipating an audition for a specific role and then, to my surprise, that weekend I got a call saying that I got the part.

I’ve heard this story from other people in which they audition for one role and then they come back a few months or a few years later and didn’t have to audition a second time. So, that’s really cool and says a lot about how much they appreciate the work that you put into it the first time, and that’s rare.

Pop Culture Principle – What can you tell us about your character, Autumn Chase?

Alicia Witt – I really dig her! She’s a lot of fun to play, which was important to me because a lot of the roles I have played lately have been kind of dark. I love those roles as well, but they do drain you after a while and Autumn Chase was just a full-on pleasure to play. She’s got a wry sense of humor and she likes stirring up trouble a little bit, but she’s very good natured about it. She’s been at this business for a very long time and has managed to last, and she’s re-invented herself over the years so that she is still a viable draw at arenas.

She’s still single after all this time, so she sees young men in her line of sight as potential tasty snacks and she has a lot of fun with that. I think there is a lot of drama on the show and I think hopefully, if it turned out the way I think, I may be a little bit of comic relief for the show—at least I felt that way.

Autumn Chase looks different from me as well. Thanks to our amazing wardrobe designer, Suzie [DeSanto], I just love Autumn’s look. Also, because I am vegan, she found a bunch of amazing vegan boots, jackets, vest, and kickass jewelry. My hair is dark on the show too, so it’s an entirely different look for me.

Pop Culture Principle – How much input, if any, did you have with the music on the series?

Alicia Witt – No, I didn’t. My understanding is that is usually sorted out before the actors even see the scripts. It’s interesting because a lot of the actors that play the singers on the show are also talented songwriters, but it’s not usual that they get to write the songs that they sing.

Pop Culture Principle – This series has been on for several years, and many of the cast have worked together for a while. Were you nervous at all coming on a show with a history of its own already?

Alicia Witt – My first day I did feel a couple of nerves, but it went away pretty quickly because I just felt so comfortable there. I felt there were a lot of cool things at play on my first day on set. I knew Connie a little bit before, from Friday Night Lights. Although we didn’t have any scenes together, we had met before so it wasn’t like she was a stranger to me. I got along really well with Aubrey Peeples right from the start. A lot of our scenes that first day were together, so it just felt like a set I belonged on. I was really comfortable there.

Pop Culture Principle – Over the past decade or so, country music has definitely evolved and become more mainstream, some saying it’s leaning more into the pop genre. What are your thoughts on the current state of country, and do you think it’s become too mainstream?

Alicia Witt – I think you are spot on. It’s interesting: country, from the beginning of the inception of the genre has kind of bled over into American music in every way. Elvis started out as blues, but he was also country and rock. My dad grew up listening to the music, but doesn’t consider himself a country music fan. It’s just sort of American, and so deeply rooted in all music.

Now, if you listen to Chris Stapleton—who is kind of a big deal in country right now—he’s blues. There has also been a lot of hip-hop influence over country the past couple of years. I feel like it’s one of those genres that has influenced the fabric of every genre of American music.

When I was growing up, we didn’t listen to what was traditionally called country. Anne Murray was and still is one of my favorites and she was totally country, but yet she was being played on mainstream American radio. There is a genre of country music that sings about trucks, beer, and all that stuff, but I think, aside from that, I would almost say that isn’t typical country anymore but its own subgenre.

Taylor Swift started out being considered a country music singer, but that has become so mainstream; it’s amazing. She is just incredible.

Pop Culture Principle – What can fans look forward to with your character’s arc this season?

Alicia Witt – I think, suffice to say, that Autumn stirs some stuff up. I think if you asked her she would say that she isn’t trying to be manipulative, but she’s very well aware of what she brings to the table. She’s a big, big star and she has a lot of power and she spends time with people whose company she enjoys. She knows that in exchange she’s able to not only bring her bubbly personality and her delightful sense of humor and all that good stuff, but she also knows that hanging out with her brings perks in terms of getting to play sold out shows at arenas.

I think she’s learned over the years that it’s something that she can use to her advantage, because it is difficult sometimes to be single and to be in a position of such power. You can sort of choose not to be alone any night of the week, but it’s hard to find someone to really connect with, and I think when she finds someone to connect with she doesn’t take it lightly.

I had a lot of fun on the show, but right now we just don’t know if the series is coming back or if Autumn is coming back. But, if this is all that it is, I certainly had a lot of fun.

Pop Culture Principle – You recently appeared in an of The Walking Dead. What was it like working on that series?

Alicia Witt – That is right up there amongst my greatest dream roles I have ever played. I still struggle to put into words just how special it was. That set, more than any other set I’ve ever been on in my entire life, is really a family. I’ve never seen such lack of divide between in front of and behind the camera. It’s like the actors are a part of the crew, and I think that really shows up in the work. I feel like that little job was just some sort of universe at work.

Scott Gimple had heard a podcast that I was on where I was talking about my music primarily, but it reminded him that he liked my acting work. He reached out to me on Twitter and we exchanged a few direct messages. I told him how much of a huge The Walking Dead fan I was, and a few days later this audition came along for a bank robber. It had nothing to do with the zombie apocalypse, but it had the coffee, carrots, and egg speech in it and it had a three-page monologue like the one that Paula had, but it was in a totally different context.

I went in and I did it, and I found out the next night as I was having dinner that I got the part and was heading to Atlanta the next morning. I still had no idea what I was doing. They wouldn’t send the script to my agent, but would only send it directly to me. As I was boarding the plane, I got an email from The Walking Dead and it was the script. I started reading it as I settled into my seat and I was like, “Holy crap, are you kidding me?!” This is the best guest-starring role I’ve ever seen in my life in a script or in a show. I’ve never seen a role like this on The Walking Dead, and I’ve pretty much seen every episode of the series.

Plus to see that it was this intricate dance with Carol, who has always been my favorite character on the show, it turned out to be more of a special experience shooting it than I could have possibly imagined. Add to that, it was edited with such care. I am still a little bit in shock that anyone actually saw it, because It was such a special thing to me that I would have almost been happy to just have the experience. That would have been enough, but to think people saw it and it turned out as well as it did is just a wonder.

Pop Culture Principle – The show is so intense and so gritty, were you able to wash all of that emotion away when you were done for the day?

Alicia Witt – That one stayed with me at the end of the day. Having done this as long as I have at this point it usually doesn’t linger, but I had a really hard time sleeping. I was coming back into work the next day having slept only four hours. I was really exhausted and would come home and go right to bed and just lie there for five hours; it was very difficult. But on the weekends I would let it go, and then we’d start up again on Monday and I’d be back in that same thing of not being able to shake it.

Lunch times were a whole different story, because it was such a dark episode that there was an incredible sense of catharsis amongst everyone at lunch. It was just so light-hearted, silly, and goofy, which was a much-needed respite from the dark. And then, interestingly, as soon as we finished that final scene where I died, I slept like eleven hours that night.

Pop Culture Principle – You got to experience a gruesome death on the show that most fans envy you for. What was it like shooting that scene?

Alicia Witt – You know, I have to say it was pretty epic. I had a great time filming that scene.

Pop Culture Principle – What goes on in your mind when you do a scene like the one with that amazing monologue you delivered?

Alicia Witt – While I was doing that monologue scene, I usually have other people’s songs in my head at different moments when I am doing things, but for some reason my song “Down” was playing on a loop in my brain while I was doing that monologue.

It was this sort of sense of pain, the sense that somewhere in Paula she desperately wanted to put aside this way of life and she was feeling this connection with Carol that she couldn’t quite explain. Neither one of those women wanted to kill each other, but they knew that they had to.

Pop Culture Principle – You also had a nice run on the recently ended series Justified as Wendy Crowe. What was it like working on that series and working with Timothy Olyphant and Michael Rappaport?

Alicia Witt – That was a really rewarding show because on that series they really watched what the actors were bringing and, with every episode, they gave us more and more. I felt like they were tailoring it to what they felt we were bringing to those characters and really growing them with us.

It’s one of those shows where they had a vague sense of what the shape of the season was going to be, but it’s not like they had it all mapped out like they do on some shows. For example, three episodes before the finale, they knew that Daryl was going to die but they didn’t know who was going to kill him.

When I got that final script and I saw that I got to kill him... Oh my God, that was just another one of those moments. I would put The Walking Dead episode and that finale of Justified on the top five list of “holy crap” acting moments for me that I am just so grateful for.

Doing that final scene with him, we were both having some sort of crazy out of body experience that we talked about later. We were remembering what it was like being kids together and just a million things going on at once: the love, the betrayal, the heartbreak, and the fact that my character felt she really didn’t have a choice at that point but to end his life in order to survive, but he was her big brother and she loved him because they grew up together. It was a very interesting day shooting that scene.

Similarly to what I described on The Walking Dead, you get these scenes and you don’t always know if it’s going to turn out the way that you hope. You read the script and you show up on the set, and you know at the end of the day that you just didn’t quite get it or they ran out of time and they didn’t give you that extra take, or maybe the other actor wasn’t on the same journey with you. You just never know and you have to be prepared for it.

The shooting of that scene was even more amazing than the script and, when I saw it all edited together, the editors just did us proud. I felt like it was a culmination of an entire season that was full of beautiful moments for all of the guest actors where they really gave us a lot to sink out teeth into, and we were all grateful for that.

We would like to thank Alicia Witt for taking time out of her very busy schedule to talk with us. You can catch Alicia in brand new episodes of Nashville every Wednesday night at 10/9c only on ABC. If you would like to keep up with Alicia's latest news on her acting, music, touring and more, you can visit her official website here which also includes links to all her social media sites.

**Main photo courtesy of Aliciawittmusic.com**

**Nashville photos courtesy of ABC/Mark Levine**

**The Walking Dead photos courtesy of Gene Page/AMC**

**Justified photo courtesy of FX**

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