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Actor Alicia Witt Turns Musician With 'Revisionary History'


In "Mr. Holland's Opus," a young actress named Alicia Witt played a high school student who's struggling to play the clarinet.


RICHARD DREYFUSS: (As Glenn Holland) Why are you crying?

ALICIA WITT: (As Gertrude Lang) I'm terrible. I'm terrible, Mr. Holland. I just - I practice till my lips swell up. I just...

DREYFUSS: (As Glenn Holland) Ms. Lang...

WITT: (As Gertrude Lang) All I make is noise.

DREYFUSS: (As Glenn Holland) ...It takes a lot of work to learn a musical instrument.

WITT: (As Gertrude Lang) I just...

SIMON: That was 1995, and Alicia Witt became a hard-working actress in dozens of films and shows including "House Of Lies," "The Sopranos," "Friday Night Lights" and "Justified." Despite that squeaky clarinet, it turns out she's also a gifted musician.


WITT: (Singing) Isn't it nice to know that you're not my consolation prize? Doesn't it feel like freedom breathing in and out now?

SIMON: And on Tuesday, Alicia Witt releases her debut studio album. It's called "Revisionary History." And she joins us now from our studios at NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

WITT: Thank you so much for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Do I get this right? You used to play piano in the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire.

WITT: Yes, I absolutely did. That was my day job when I first moved to LA to be a professional actor. So instead of waiting tables, I played background music for two and a half years.

SIMON: So could you sing "Strangers In The Night" now if you had to?

WITT: Oh, my goodness, yes. Or "Misty" or theme from "Phantom Of The Opera." Some nights I would get these songs requested three or four times in the same day.

SIMON: (Laughter).


SIMON: This album is produced by Ben Folds...

WITT: Yes it was.

SIMON: ...Godfather of the rock power piano trio. Let's listen to a cut of yours that reveals that kind of energy. This song is called "About Me."


WITT: (Singing) Isn't it funny I was so right about you all along? Yeah. Isn't it crazy how much I wanted you to prove me wrong? I want to grind you into the floor, but you're not worth the scuff on my shoe. I want to make you take a look in the mirror, but hey, enough about you. What about me?

SIMON: So who are you so angry at?

WITT: (Laughter) You know, someone who in years past doesn't seem that significant, but it's about that feeling of just suddenly knowing that if you've got something to say, you've got to say it.


WITT: (Singing) Well, this one's about me, and baby, I'm over you.

Honestly, I wrote it about this guy that I dated for only a few months, and he was an aspiring musician, and I had just started writing songs at this point when I wrote it. And it was as much about my annoyance at the end of the relationship as it was about the fact that I was tired of sitting back and wondering if I should write and if I should share these songs and that I just had to take a chance.


WITT: (Singing) You keep wondering what I've done to make this time.

SIMON: Let's to another song, if we can, which has a touch of country in it. This one is called "Blind."


WITT: (Singing) I could never break your heart and leave that way like I never loved you at - all I know is I can see forever, and it's come and gone. But nothing's wrong. Nothing that a little heaven won't heal.

SIMON: Very nice song, and it was recorded in Nashville, right?

WITT: Yeah, it absolutely was. In fact, all of the album except for one track was recorded at Ben Folds' studio, the former RCA studio on Music Row. It was an incredible experience getting to record there. It's where Dolly Parton recorded "Jolene," so you really feel that energy when you're in that room.


WITT: (Singing) So sorry baby, but I'm already free.

SIMON: You were in a film that I'm afraid I missed in 2000, "Playing Mona Lisa."

WITT: Oh, yes.

SIMON: But I gather that film represented a kind of turning point?

WITT: That was the first time that I've played a character who was so similar to me in terms of my background with the classical training. The role was written for a ballerina, so it was about this girl who's just graduated from conservatory. She's spent her whole life studying this classical craft, and then at the age of 22, she suddenly realizes she never had a childhood, and she has a bit of a delayed adolescence. In a way, that movie was so very similar to what I had experienced, but instead of having them put my body on someone else's legs 'cause I can't dance, I suggested they just change her to be a classical pianist.

SIMON: You feel you missed out on a childhood or a lot of a childhood?

WITT: It's hard for me to know. If I hadn't had the childhood I did, I wouldn't have probably moved to LA at 14 and been quite so driven.

SIMON: Can you ever really make up for lost childhood years?

WITT: Well, I feel like if anything, I'm sort of doing that now. When I get out and play a gig and there's people in the audience who know the words to the songs and they're...

SIMON: Yeah.

WITT: ...Singing along, I - there's no way to explain what that is like. Or when someone comes up to me and says that a song I've written has been significant to them or - has recently happened in Chicago. Someone told me that one of their songs was their first dance at their wedding.

SIMON: Oh, how wonderful.

WITT: That makes me feel like a kid, and it makes me grateful for anything and everything that's ever happened in my life to get me here.

SIMON: Alicia Witt - her new album, "Revisionary History," and she joined us from NPR West. Thanks so much.

WITT: Delight to be here. Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.