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Music plays a role throughout acting career of Alicia Witt

BY SELENA FRAGASSI | FOR THE SUN-TIMES

Those who recognize Alicia Witt likely know her as the actress who has racked up considerable credits since beginning her career in the mid-’80s at just 7 years old. After being discovered by David Lynch and appearing in his shows “Dune” and “Twin Peaks,” she later moved on to find fame in prime roles on “Friday Night Lights” and has become a more recent fan favorite on FX’s hit “Justified.”

Of all the characters she’s played over three decades, though, one truly hits home for Witt: Claire Goldstein in the 2000 indie film “Playing Mona Lisa.” In it, Witt stars as a “young pianist looking for love in all the wrong places.” It’s a character that was rewritten specifically to incorporate Witt’s classical music training, which has often been the unspoken supporting role of her career.

ALICIA WITT

When: 7:30 p.m. March 24

Where: SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston

Tickets: $15-27

Info: (847) 492.8860; ticketweb.com

Witt started in music at a young age as well and was competing by the time she was 7, and when she was 16 and moved from Massachusetts to L.A. by herself, she made ends meet by playing background music on a grand piano in the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The year “Playing Mona Lisa” came out, however, was the turning point. Like the character, 23-year-old Witt had just ended a serious relationship and the “delayed adolescence” she had repressed after years of being such a studious “good girl” started pouring out, as did floods of new music.

“The day [my ex] moved out, I wrote the lyrics to the song ‘Blind,’ and I haven’t stopped writing since,” she says. “I used to think I was never good enough to write my own music, but now I finally have more [song] ideas than I know what to do with.”

“Blind” appears on Witt’s newest album, “Revisionary History,” out in April. It’s her first full-length studio album after an early EP came out in 2009 and her Kickstarter-funded “Live At Rockwood” record was released in 2012.

Alicia Witt | SUPPLIED PHOTO
Alicia Witt | SUPPLIED PHOTO

“Revisionary History” was made with another ex-beau, singer-songwriter Ben Folds, someone she calls the most “ego-free producer I’ve ever worked with.” Like the work he’s done with artists Amanda Palmer, Sara Bareilles and even William Shatner, “he made the music sound as much like me as possible.” The two duet on the song “Pasadena,” but it’s the other eight tracks where Witt’s charm comes through, merging her classical background with modern flair in a mix of songwriters like Carole King and Shawn Colvin with the instrumental chops of Billy Joel and Alicia Keys. It’s especially true of the track “Consolation Prize,,” which bears the lyric that became the album’s all-important title.

“It’s this idea that you can go home again,” says Witt. “Maybe the version of you that you began as is a very truthful one, but as life goes on you start to revise that.”

The theme has started to play behind the scenes, too. For the first time, Witt has signed on to a label, Compass Records out of Nashville, and is looking for representation and a booking agent to take over some of the duties she has done herself for the past several years. It’s something she saw Jared Leto doing when the two worked on the teen horror flick “Urban Legends” in 1998. At the time, Leto was just starting to put the pieces together for his band 30 Seconds to Mars, which left an impression on Witt.

“He is definitely without a doubt the most successful version of [the actor-musician]. I can’t even tell in words how much admiration I have for him,” she says, noting she has learned that it’s important to have other interests besides acting. “It’s a powerless thing as a grown-up to be waiting for the phone to ring. The beautiful part about writing songs is you can do it anywhere, anytime, and since I’ve re-embraced my musical side it’s made me a better actor, too. I’m not just playing a part. It’s my true voice.”

Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.