Ed Geller/Retna, Ltd.
Liane Bonin
August 16, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Since making her mark as Zoe, the smart alecky daughter on the ’90s sitcom ”Cybill,” Alicia Witt has been working overtime to tarnish her clean cut TV image. Last season she turned heads with her cameo as a ruthless movie executive on HBO’s ”The Sopranos.” Now she’s starring in ”Cecil B. Demented,” John Waters’ latest ode to bad taste. Witt’s character? Cherish, a porn star who helps a band of rebel filmmakers kidnap a Hollywood diva.

Though ”Cecil B. Demented” required the 24 year old actress to feign ecstasy during a comic but cringe inducing encounter with a gerbil, Witt labels most big budget studio movies as cruder than her romance with the rodent. It’s a charge mirrored in ”Demented,” which parodies Hollywood favorites ”Forrest Gump” and ”Patch Adams” and blasts the studio system for churning out mediocre, middlebrow fare. ”In Hollywood, producers are making movies to get rich,” she says. ”The independent filmmaker has a vision, which sounds corny but is true.”

Witt, who next appears in the independent film ”Playing Mona Lisa” (due in October), claims she’d be happier sitting through almost any X rated movie than watching yet another Hollywood film featuring a feeble female sidekick. ”It’s offensive how many scripts have the obligatory female love interest who has absolutely nothing to do,” she groans. ”I’ve gone into meetings with filmmakers for roles like that and said I’d like to do something interesting with the character, but they’re not interested because she only exists as a tool to move the story along.”

So instead of heading to her local cineplex, Witt occasionally turns to adult movies for entertainment. ”I’m a fan of anything that’s odd, and I think porn films are so odd,” she shrugs. ”I’ve seen so many, and the acting is so bad and over the top. It’s so far from being even remotely sexy, in my opinion. Sometimes it makes me laugh to think there’s a guy out there getting off to it.”

Well, not always. When Witt filmed a scene in which an on the lam Cherish takes refuge in an adult movie theater (during a showing of one of her X rated hits, it turns out), the actress wasn’t so amused. ”It was so weird to be watching myself on the screen of a real porn theater in Baltimore with all these guys pretending to jerk off to my image,” she recalls. ”It was pretty bad.” But was it worse than ”Patch Adams”?

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