Alicia Witt Talks Holiday Movie Magic and Christmas Tree Lane

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We've already talked with Andrew Walker about Christmas Tree Lane, and now we're happy to share our conversation with executive producer and star, Alicia Witt.

In our interview, Alicia talks about how she got interested in the story that she took to Hallmark, why she enjoys filming holiday movies, and what inspired her to write an original song for Christmas Tree Lane.

Be sure to tune into Hallmark Movies & Mysteries tonight at 9/8c to catch this delightful film.

Alicia Witt Gown Christmas Tree Lane

I have to tell you that A Very Merry Mix-Up is one of my favorite Hallmark Christmas movies. And you're the second person I've talked to today whose movies I really enjoy. So I'm wondering if you could tell me a little bit about why you enjoy being a part of the Hallmark Christmas celebration.

I look forward to making my annual Hallmark Christmas movie all year long. A Very Merry Mix-Up, I don't know if you know or not, but it was actually the first Christmas movie that I had made. And when I first filmed it, I didn't even know that it was going to air on Hallmark.

It was one of those films that was this adorable, original, just kind of quirky script that I fell utterly in love with, and especially because it has that meant to be, fate sort of element to it, which is something very dear to my own heart.

When I was asked to make that movie, it was an easy thing to say yes to. And the fact that it ended up becoming a movie that's played so many, many times over the years and has meant so much to so many people is more than I ever could have wished for, and it means that much to me too. The filming of it was magical, like there was some sort of-

Very Merry Mixup Smile - When Calls the Heart

Really? Why?

Oh, it was. It felt that way to all of us on set too. It was pure joy in a way that most movies just don't feel, just because as much fun as making movies is, it is also, how do you say, a lot of hard work. You know? This movie felt like magic.

The whole cast bonded with each other in a way that I think was rare, and there was a levity and I don't know what else to call it, except for Christmas magic.

That's how it felt as we were making it. We even had snow flurries on the very first day of shooting, and it was in April. So that's felt kind of unusual. We filmed it outside of Toronto. So even for April, you don't normally have snow that time of year.

Yeah, I can remember watching it for the first time when it aired and thinking, "Wow." That's an example of a movie, where it was a beautiful script, it was a joyous experience to film it. And hey, the movie itself turned out better than I could have even imagined on top of all that. So just a win, win, win.

Silly Very Merry Mixup - When Calls the Heart

And then as if that wasn't enough, I would say that of all the movies I've made since, that is still the movie that people mention the most frequently. And it's definitely still my favorite, just because it was the first.

And I didn't know yet at the time what it meant or what it would mean to be part of the Hallmark Christmas family and to go out into the world all year round at this point and have people come up to me at the airport or wherever I am and share with me what these movies have meant to them at such a sacred time of the year.

A lot of the rest of the stuff I do, for whatever reason, I tend to play a lot of villains or people who are a little crazy, out there. And I love doing that. I love those roles because it really stretches my chops as an actor.

And it's why I became an actor in the first place, to get to play lots of different kinds of characters, but it's heavier material.

Very Merry Mixup Family - When Calls the Heart

And it's such a joy and such a thing to look forward to, knowing that once a year, at least, I get to tell these stories that hopefully help us restore our faith in the goodness of humanity and what's most important.

And to have a happy ending that you're working towards in these films, it gives you a lot of levity as an actor not to have to go to a heavy place while you're making them.

And I understand you took the story of Christmas Tree Lane to Hallmark.

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes, I did.

Alicia and Andrew Pose

What is it about that story in particular spoke to you?

So a few years back, I was working outside of St. Louis, and I stumbled across this amazing street called Cherokee Street, which is very similar to what Christmas Tree Lane is in the movie. It's filled with mom-and-pop vintage stores and restaurants and music stores.

And it's not the bustling hotspot, or at least it wasn't then, that you could tell it had been in years gone by, and some of the businesses were vacant. And it started me paying attention to similar streets and similar stories.

And we've had a number of situations, including RCA Studio A, here in Nashville, that was nearly torn down because the studio was housed in a very ordinary-looking building, a two-story building that was owned by someone else.

And they chose to sell, and the buyer was going to tear it down and build condominiums. So there was a whole uproar, and it's historic. It's where Dolly Parton recorded Jolene, among many others historic tracks. And it did get saved, but it's such a risky thing.

Small Town Feel on Christmas Tree Lane

And so true of many, many stores that have been handed down from generations, is that the brick-and-mortar is owned by someone else. And the owner of the business has been renting for literally 100 years, because they never had the finances to buy that structure.

It's true in New York even. There are many businesses that are constantly paying their rent, and they are at risk of shutting if the owner of that building decides to sell.

So I thought it'd be nice to tell a story about a community like that and to set it in a music store, because as we know, physical music stores, like Grimey's, here in Nashville, they're real treasurers, but they're also not as busy as they used to be.

And it just made sense to set this story at Christmas, and the love story between Meg and Nate, coming at it from different sides, but realizing that they have such a parallel between each other, in terms of both of them living lives that are some version of what their families planned for them.

And I wanted to see that through meeting each other and becoming inspired by one another, they could both break out of that mold just a little bit.

Christmas Tree Lane Celebration

I have to say, I think it's one of the most positive Christmas movies. I mean, so many times there's like a relative villain, but even Nate's father didn't quite cross into that territory because he still had so much love for everything. It was a unique feel, I thought.

Thank you. I appreciate that. I wanted all the characters in it to really feel like you'd want to get to know them better if you had the time.

And as a viewer of not only Christmas movies, but any kind of movie, especially like a commercial rom-com, I always kind of bristle at the characters in it that are clearly there just for you to dislike them. I think it's much more interesting to see people that might have different viewpoints, but who seemed like decent people despite that.

No, it worked. It worked well.

Thank you.

Swoopy Kiss on Christmas Tree Lane

And what about your song, Christmas Will Never End? Did you write that specifically for the movie, and what was your process for that?

Yes, I wrote it especially for this movie. In fact, it was completed, being written only actually two days before I traveled out to Utah to film. And so, the scenes in the movie where Meg is in the process of writing the song were filmed only a couple of weeks after I had finished writing the song myself.

I wanted it to be a song that was obviously not only a love song, reflecting how she's coming to feel for Nate and the miracle that he is in her life, but also during the course of the film, as Meg is coming to terms with the fact that they may very well lose Christmas Tree Lane, she's also coming around to the understanding that even if they do, the memories that they share and the community that they've built over generations will be everlasting despite that.

At the Music Store

It was lovely to have the actual script at that point, the final version of the script, because there were actually a few other ideas that I had that were knocking around and a few other songs, even, that I've written over the past year that I wondered if, perhaps, those were the right songs for Meg to be writing in the movie.

But once we had our final draft of the script, it allowed me to really hone in on what had happened and what was going to happen in the story and making the song hopefully specific enough so that it applied to Meg's experience, but also a song that hopefully people can listen to. And it's just a love song for Christmas, regardless of whether you've seen the movie or not.

I always associate you with music. Even as far back as on Cybill your character was a musician.

Thank you. Yes.

Alicia Piano Solo

How close did you come to being a musician versus an actor?

That's a great question. When I first moved to L.A., I wanted more than anything to be an actor. And I wanted to be able to make enough money at acting so that I could support myself at it.

But in the beginning, of course, that wasn't the case. And I played the piano for many years in restaurant and hotel lobbies to support myself. So that actually was my day job.

Oh, wow.

And it allowed me to not need to do other things like working as a clerk at a drug store or server, which I'm sure I would have been really terrible at. I was able to create music, at least as background music, and be able to pay my rent and my bills as a teenager. So I actually was a professional musician, technically, before I was a professional actor.

Alicia Piano

And then over the years, there was this nagging feeling inside of me that something was absolutely missing, which is what I wanted to convey with Meg, although she doesn't have any aspirations to record her songs and put them out into the world.

I got to the point where I felt like if I didn't start making songs and singing them and being brave enough to share them, that I would be missing out on expressing myself in a way that I could only do through music.

And I felt like a big part of my purpose in being here is to express myself through songs. So with that, I guess it's taken me somewhat of a long time to come to the understanding that I'm supposed to be doing both.

But now I really feel like I'm in a place where I am both a professional actor and a professional musician. It's certainly something that I spend at least half of my time on. So by that measure, I am doing both.

At the Microphone

Didn't you also write and perform a song for Christmas on Honeysuckle Lane?

Yes, that is my song, Christmas Miracle, and that was released alongside the movie a couple of years ago. And there is also a song called I'm Not Ready For Christmas, which was used as the theme song to a movie that was then named after the song itself. It's the one where my character can't stop lying, basically.

She's always telling these little white lies, and her niece makes a wish that she will not be able to lie anymore. And then she swings the other direction and can't stop telling the truth.

Oh, I remember that.

So that movie was named after my song. And it's used throughout the film. It's kind of an ironic Christmas song.

Alicia Witt Honeysuckle Lane

It's something I'm very proud of. It's like, "You know what? I'm not ready for Christmas. I'm not making nog. I'm not dressing up the dog." It's like people have a tendency to ask you colloquially around this time of year, the end of October, "So, are you ready for Christmas?"

And in fact, the year I wrote that song the same year I filmed A Very Merry Mix-Up. I made two other Christmas movies, one for Lifetime and one for Tyler Perry, A Madea Christmas.

And it was October, and people start asking me, "Are you ready for Christmas?" And I was like, "My goodness. I feel like I've been celebrating Christmas all year long. No, I'm not ready for Christmas."

So I wrote this kind of bah humbug, funny song. And the president of Hallmark had heard it, and he actually contacted me and asked if they could use it in the movie and named the movie after it, and I was very proud.

I'm Not Ready for Christmas Poster

Do you have any plans to do other movies that also marry both sides of you, outside of Christmas maybe?

Yes, I do. I do. Yeah. I mean, gosh, there's a lot.

I've written a pilot presentation that is inspired by my journey, in terms of recognizing at very much an adult age that I need to be a songwriter, even though that wasn't what I was making a living at, and that would include my music. And there are some other things in the works as well, but I don't know if they include music yet.

I have some other movies coming out that do not have my music in them, but I've also spent a lot of time this past year, as studios started to open up after COVID initially shut us all down. And I've got 10 songs recorded for my new album, which will be out at some point next year. And I've co-produced that as well.

So it's been very empowering to be in the studio in that way as a producer this time around, and I'm deeply proud of the work that's been done in these songs.

Alicia Witt Green Coat Christmas Tree Lane

There's actually a new version of Why Christmas that I've just released. Why Christmas is the other song of mine that appears in Christmas Tree Lane. And I co-produced that along with Bill Reynolds, from Band of Horses.

That's just come out, and it's available now on Spotify and everywhere. It's got strings and a full band. And I thought I'd put that out into the world too, so that's out there now.

It sounds like you're living your best life right now. Doesn't it?

I am. I'm really trying. Part of that is living in Nashville and just trying my best to be present and authentic and productive at this incredibly strange time.

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Get to the heart of the matter tonight on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries when you tune into Christmas Tree Lane at 9/8c.

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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