Alicia Witt can usually tell when a stranger is about to ask her about one of her Christmas movies. She’s starred in eight of them for the Hallmark Channel and even wrote the story and music for 2020’s Christmas Tree Lane.

“I never take for granted the way people come up to me year-round. They have a special sparkle in their eyes when they’re about to mention a Christmas movie,” Alicia, 46, exclusively tells Closer Weekly, on newsstands now. “I love getting to be part of people’s holiday traditions and the way that they celebrate with their family.”

Spreading cheer comes naturally to Alicia. This vivacious actress and singer-songwriter recently released a book, Small Changes: A Rules-Free Guide to Add More Plant-Based Foods, Peace & Power to Your Life. In it, she shares her thoughts on finding balance, eating better and creating joy.

“The idea that people might be able to take something away from my book that could change their lives — that’s the biggest thing I could ever wish for,” she says.

You made your film debut as a child in 1984’s Dune. How did that come about?

I had been on a show called That’s Incredible! when I was 5. The casting director for Dune was searching for a child to play Alia. She was supposed to be a very young girl that had been born with generations of knowledge. So the casting director called That’s Incredible! to find out if they had a child on the show who had unusual verbal skills. That’s how I ended up going to New York and meeting director David Lynch.

What was it like filming Dune?

I was 7 and had never been on a film set before. It was an eight-and-a-half-month shoot and at the time the biggest-budget movie ever made. But I didn’t know any better. I figured that was what it was like to work on any movie! It was only years later when I worked on other movies that I realized how special that set had been.

You also played Cybill Shepherd’s daughter on the TV series Cybill. What do you remember most about it?

My favorite memory is the moment she followed me out to my car and told me I got the part. I think it was my fifth audition. I will just forever hear her voice behind me. She gave me the biggest hug, and I knew my life was about to change in every way.

You talk in your book Small Changes about how your body was scrutinized as a young actress and the effect that had on you. Tell us about that.

I grew up in a time when it was considered not just acceptable, but more like you were doing someone a favor by telling a teenager to lose 15 pounds. It’s not flattering when you go on auditions and they think you need to lose weight or cover up your stomach. I was never overweight, but the more I heard this emphasis placed on whether I was too heavy or too thin, the more I developed an unhealthy relationship to food.

How so?

All the stress I was feeling trying to build this career — I found myself using food as a way to stuff it all down. I would create these sets of values in my head, about how I was doing something wrong when I ate what I knew was more food than I needed. I’d tell myself I would never do that again. Then you find yourself doing it again.

How did you get over that?

Eventually, I just realized I was not helping myself by beating myself up. I just took away all the rules around it. I don’t own a scale anymore. I don’t measure my portions. The policies I live by are more about how something will make my body feel if I eat it.

How did switching to a largely plant-based diet enhance your life?

I discovered somewhat accidentally that I prefer to be 99.5 percent plant-based. I find that everything about my body works better and it’s much more effortless to maintain the weight that’s ideal for me. My energy level is higher, and my skin looks better. It all comes from the inside out.

Alicia Witt Today

You have a new album out, too, The Conduit. What inspired it?

I think there are people who come into our lives and change us forever — whether or not they’re going to continue to be significant in our day-to-day. My goal in choosing the 11 tracks that form this album was that each song is about a significant connection that may or may not be a forever connection, but they still change your life.

Where is home for you now?

Nashville. I have been coming here for five years, so I finally made the choice
to move. In 2016, when I worked on the show Nashville, the seed was planted. That whole year, I found myself coming back to Nashville every other month or so. Eventually, it was like, “Why do I keep going back to L.A. when all I do is plan my next trip to Nashville?”

What do you love about living there?

I just love waking up in the morning and feeling peaceful. I’m five minutes away from some of my closest friends, and there’s a sense of community. Just walking down the street in my neighborhood, it’s warm and I know most of my neighbors. In L.A., that was not the case. I also love the music that I am surrounded by.

You’ve already done so much in your career. What are your future goals?

I’m getting ready to hopefully direct my first movie. This past summer, I shadowed a Christmas movie that Reba McEntire stars in, and that was a good experience. It’s a very strange dynamic because you’re basically a spy following the director.

Did you watch Reba work?

Yes, she is as much of an inspiration as you would think. She is so good to everybody and always makes people feel great even when she’s clearly exhausted. She’s got the best energy about her. I think she is also more gifted as an actor than most people realize.

Is there a motto that you live by?

There is a Picasso quote that I have always loved: “I am always doing things I can’t do. That’s how I get to do them.”

—Reporting by Fortune Benatar

For more on this story, pick up the latest issue of Closer magazine, on newsstands now.