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TV Movie Goodness Preview: Alica Witt Chats About Hallmark Channel’s Christmas at Cartwright’s [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW, VIDEO, and PHOTOS] 

Photo Credit: Christos Kalohoridis/Crown Media United States LLC
Photo Credit: Christos Kalohoridis/Crown Media United States LLC

[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]

Alicia Witt has had a busy year. She spent the spring harassing Raylan Givens on Justified, and this fall, she shot a role on the upcoming season of Showtime’s House of Lies. We saw her on Hallmark and Lifetime last Christmas in two films, and this year she returns to Hallmark Channel in Christmas at Cartwight’s, a sweet family film about a single mom making the best of an awkward situation when the only job she can find is that of the department store Santa. We had the chance to ask her a few questions via e-mail about the film, and her career as an actress and musician.

Witt was sent the script for the film, and on the basis of her experience with last year’s completely charming A Very Merry Mix-Up, she was thrilled to go back to work for Hallmark. “I had a great experience with the sort of mistaken identity plot of that one, so when they sent me this script, I knew this was the one I wanted to do right away,” she says. “It’s got a whole lot of heart but also I play Santa in the film, so that’s definitely something I hadn’t done before!”

Photo Credit: Christos Kalohoridis/Crown Media United States LLC
Photo Credit: Christos Kalohoridis/Crown Media United States LLC

Witt loved suiting up for the role. “The best part for sure was getting to be Santa–the magic of talking to all those kids who were in the movie and thought that I actually was Santa. It gave me added inspiration to not lose the ‘Santa voice’ in between takes,” she recalls. “They had no idea I was a girl and I was so proud of that.”

“The other thing I love about this film is the concept that there are angels among us everywhere we go–things and people that are there to make sure we turn right instead of left, if we’re open to it. I really do believe in fate and being in the right place at the right time–in this movie [SPOILER ALERT], the angel is played by the amazing Wally Shawn, and working with him was a highlight of this experience for me.”

Photo Credit: Christos Kalohoridis/Crown Media United States LLC
Photo Credit: Christos Kalohoridis/Crown Media United States LLC

She conceded that the suit took some work. “That suit is heavy and hot, and especially being a girl, I had to wear a LOT of padding under it to give Santa even a semblance of the roly and the poly….on day four of six that I had to be in the Santa look, I developed a severe allergy to the hair in the wig, beard, moustache, and eyebrows,” she shares. “Some quick thinking on the part of the wardrobe gal led to her sewing a sheer white fabric into all of those so that it was a lot less torturous. We did get the actual prep time down to about 15 minutes, though. At first it took about 45, but I was a fireman getting dressed by the end of it.”

When Witt isn’t shooting (and even while she is), she tours with her music. She says both muses feed her. “I truly love them both equally. The biggest difference is that the parts of yourself you show in character are safer because you are not ‘really’ you–although of course those are all parts of you. In music, especially when you’re doing your own songs, as I do, those are definitely a part of you, plus it’s your voice, your ability to play live and communicate a story and not get nervous,” she points out. “When I first started doing it in earnest about seven years ago, I was still not sure what I was doing, just that it scared me and I also knew I had to keep doing it.”

“My greatest thrill is playing shows now and seeing people out there who sing along, or getting requests for certain songs. I’ve got lots of music out already, but I have a new album coming out in February/early March which was produced by Ben Folds, and my un-Christmas Christmas song, ‘I’m Not Ready for Christmas’ is out on iTunes, etc. now.”

Witt had a ball shooting Justified. “When I got that script [for the season finale and the showdown with Michael Rapaport‘s character], I was jumping up and down. It’s not every day that an actor gets a scene as well written as that, to cap off an entire season of incredibly nuanced, dark, layered writing,” she says. “I think playing that character will always be a highlight of my whole career, and that scene [with Rapaport] will be one of my favorites that I’ve ever done.” As for a possible return in the final season, Witt could only tease us. “As far as I know, Wendy’s storyline finished up in that finale…but I suppose you never know since I didn’t die!”

We’ll also see Witt on House of Lies this winter, but Witt couldn’t say exactly what we should expect. “I can share that I did a thing in this role that I’ve never done before, and aside from that you’re just going to have to watch.” she says. “Don Cheadle directed one of my episodes, which was a real thrill. He’s one of my new favorite people.”

Photo Credit: Christos Kalohoridis/Crown Media United States LLC
Photo Credit: Christos Kalohoridis/Crown Media United States LLC

As for Witt’s recent run in Christmas movies, she says that was sort of a lucky happenstance. [Although Christmas was part of Last Holiday, opposite Queen Latifah, it wasn’t a straight Christmas film.] “As of two years ago, I’d never done even one Christmas movie. Then last year, I did three [A Very Merry Mix-Up, Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas, and A Snow Globe Christmas.] I think of those three, A Very Merry Mix-Up was the most magical. It’s hard to explain, there was just a special glow around the whole production and I feel like that came through in the film itself as well,” she says. “So when they asked me to do this one, it was a no-brainer.”

“The great thing about Hallmark, of course, is that I can tell all my friends with little ones that they can watch safely–and because of this one with the logistical twist that I’m playing Santa–and the love story, of course, I feel like this one will be especially fun for the grownups, too. It has some edge to it, as well.”

Look for Witt to live Tweet from @aliciawitty during the premiere.  “I will be typing as quickly as I possibly can to answer as many questions and share as many behind the scenes stories as I’m able to,” she promises.

Here’s the formal logline for the film: With Christmas approaching, a struggling single mom finds herself working as a department store Santa Claus, as a real-life angel delivers good fortune and the possibility of holiday romance [with Heartland’s Gabriel Hogan]. Also keep an eye out for Haven‘s Jayne Eastwood and Gabrielle Miller from Debbie Macomber’s Trading Christmas, which is running now on Hallmark Channel.

Christmas at Cartwright’s premieres Sunday night at 8/7c on Hallmark Channel and will air throughout the season. Here’s a sneak peek.

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