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Re-Introducing Alana Haim, the Knock-Down, Drag-Out Star of ‘Licorice Pizza’

The guitarist-singer and director P.T. Anderson talk about her first big-screen role: a force-of-nature performance in his love letter to the 1970s Valley

Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman in 'Licorice Pizza.'

Paul Thomas Anderson/MGM Pictures

Paul Thomas Anderson was helping Haim prepare for their headlining set at Coachella in 2018 when the Academy Award-winning director of Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, and Phantom Thread turned to guitarist-singer Alana Haim with a thought. “He said, ‘I’m going to put you in a movie,’ ” says Alana, the youngest of the three Haim sisters. “I was like, ‘OK. All right. I’ll be fine walking in the background of a movie.’”

Anderson had something much more than a quick cameo in store. The movie that became Licorice Pizza (out now) was still germinating in his brain at that point, but he knew it would be about a precocious 15-year-old boy in early-Seventies Los Angeles who falls for a brash, sharp-tongued woman 10 years his senior. And even though Anderson is one of the most acclaimed directors in Hollywood, who could pick just about any actress in the world for the lead, he wanted Alana, a complete novice to acting.

“Alana has a ferocious and intimidating side to her,” says Anderson. “She will come out swinging against anyone that threatens anything that she loves and holds dear. That is a very admirable quality, and I felt that if she could push that onto the screen, it would be dramatic, comedic, heartwarming, and definitely worth watching.”

The 51-year-old director came to this conclusion after spending countless hours with Alana, 30, and her older sisters, Este and Danielle, over the past decade, though his relationship with the Haim family actually goes back to his childhood in the early Eighties, when their mother, Donna Rose, taught his elementary-school art class. He didn’t make that connection when he heard Haim’s 2012 debut single, “Forever,” on the radio and became an instant fan. “I loved the way they sounded, and I loved the way that they made music, and I loved the way that they looked,” he says. “It felt like love at first sight.”

Anderson wanted to meet the band, but they were all in their early twenties and he was afraid an out-of-the-blue request from a much older man might come off as “creepy,” he says. Instead, he offered to direct their music videos: “I was trying to put myself up for a job.”

He had no idea Este had given the Boogie Nights soundtrack to both Danielle and Alana when they turned 16 as a “bible for the rest of your life,” or that Alana was obsessed with the movie. When they heard through a mutual friend, Electric Guest frontman Asa Taccone, that Anderson was trying to track them down, they were dumbfounded. “Obviously, my mom had met Paul,” says Alana. “It felt cosmic. We were always supposed to meet, but we were kind of orbiting and our worlds hadn’t collided yet. But we’d always wanted it to happen.”

They arranged to meet at Anderson’s house, which he shares with his longtime partner, Maya Rudolph, and their four children. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous in my life,” says Alana. “When we got there, we didn’t want to tell Paul that my mom had taught him. Finally, Este was like, ‘My mom taught you! Her name is Miss Rose!’ That was when our relationship really started.”

Anderson was busy the next few years creating movies such as Inherent Vice and Phantom Thread, but he still took the time to essentially become Haim’s unofficial creative director. He directed six of their music videos, the 2017 documentary Valentine, about the making of their LP Something to Tell You, took the cover photo of their 2020 Women in Music Pt. III album, and even helped out with their stage designs. “Having a friendship with three musicians and a collaboration that doesn’t have distinct walls is very nice,” says Anderson. “It’s so exciting to watch them play. They’re so accomplished.”

By this point, they’ve grown so close that Alana and Anderson finish each other’s sentences as they sit side by side in a swanky New York hotel, and he gently teases her over her throwback Seventies clothing and scatterbrained memory. He’s also made keen observations about the pecking order within Haim. “I initially thought I’d be most afraid of Este,” he says. “She’s the tallest, the leader, and she’s sort of in charge. But when you figure out the dynamic and really get to know them, you realize that the one to be afraid of is Alana.”

It was during the making of the 2017 Haim video “Little of Your Love” that Anderson introduced the sisters to Cooper Hoffman, the teenage son of the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Anderson asked them to watch Hoffman for a few hours as he dealt with a problem that popped up in the Phantom Thread editing suite, and they took him to a nearby restaurant to kill time. “Almost immediately, he was working the room, asking me and my sisters questions,” says Alana. “I think he was 13 or 14, and it was almost like someone that I went to high school with. There was no, ‘I’m babysitting a kid.’ It was, ‘I’m having dinner with a dude.’ It was crazy. I was like, ‘I wish I was like this kid when I was his age.’ ”

The rapport between Alana and Cooper stayed in Anderson’s mind as he worked on the screenplay for Licorice Pizza, which was largely inspired by wild stories that the film producer Gary Goetzman told him about his teenage years in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, where he made money by selling water beds and taking odd acting jobs. He fictionalized it by having the kid, whom he named Gary Valentine, fall madly in love with a 25-year-old woman named Alana he meets when she’s assisting a photographer at his school.

P.T. Anderson, right, with cameraman Colin Anderson on the set of ‘Licorice Pizza.’


Alana was stunned when the script arrived and she was one of the two main characters, and was stunned again when she learned Cooper Hoffman, who also had never been in a movie, would be her co-star. There’s a significant age gap between them that makes it highly implausible that their characters would couple up, but that only fueled Anderson’s creativity when figuring out their arc. “He’s amazingly emotionally mature, and she is not,” says Anderson. “That makes a very good story since he’s not of age, so this is an insurmountable obstacle, period. There’s a line in the sand. Now what happens? The friendship they have deepens, it grows.”

The cast is fleshed out by heavyweight actors like Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper, but Anderson also cast Este, Danielle, and their parents, Mordechai and Donna, to play Alana’s family in bit roles. It led to a surreal day for Alana, when her entire family was on set for a Shabbat dinner scene in which her character’s boyfriend, citing his atheism, refuses to say a blessing over the bread, and gets thrown out of the house. (It was inspired by a true-life Haim family story they’d told Anderson about.)

“That was the first time [in a while] my whole family was together, because we were shooting during Covid and there were protocols,” says Alana. “Sitting at the Shabbat table was actually very heartwarming, but I was terrified my parents were going to tell some embarrassing story, as parents do. But it was great. We were crying with laughter every time my dad said anything to me or my sisters. It was how we grew up.”

For the vast majority of the shoot, however, her family wasn’t around, and Alana had to find her way creatively without them. “My sisters and I have always been a unit, since birth,” she says. “Not having that security blanket of two other human beings was terrifying, but it also felt so great, since I’d always wanted to see if I could even do something on my own.”

When she had doubts about that, she turned to Anderson. “I’m sure he got annoyed with me saying ‘I don’t know if I can do this’ constantly,” she says. “At the beginning, he was like, ‘Of course you can do this!’ At the end, he was like, ‘Alana, just do the job!’ ”

“I was a little bit annoyed at the beginning, since fear is absolutely an understandable emotion,” says Anderson. “But there comes a certain point where you know someone and you go, ‘I’ve given all my trust to you. And now you gotta go. We’re on.’ It was exciting when she dropped those insecurities and just started attacking. That’s when her ferociousness came out.”

That ferociousness involved learning to drive a bigrig truck for an incredible sequence in which Alana and Gary run out of gas after delivering a water bed to the house of real-life movie producer Jon Peters (played in wonderfully deranged fashion by Bradley Cooper) and she maneuvers it backward down a long hill in neutral. She spent months prepping for the scene, since she’d never used a stick shift before, and is a naturally skittish driver. “In the beginning I was shaking,” she says. “And by the end of filming the segment, I had my own walkie and was like, ‘Copy, we’re in first gear. You guys ready for action?’ I fully got super into it.”

Like most of Anderson’s films, Licorice Pizza was shot entirely in the Valley. It’s home to both Anderson and the Haim sisters, and they’re tired of seeing it denigrated as a low-rent alternative to beachfront communities Malibu and Santa Monica. “It was this wondrous dream place in the Forties, where everyone was celebrating this beautiful suburban area that had just emerged out of the dust,” says Anderson. “But some time in the Sixties, it started to be uncool to have this Leave It to Beaver life. But fuck ’em. They’re wrong.”

Alana agrees. “It was shocking to me, growing up and hearing people say they didn’t like it,” she says. “I had no idea. We have [the Mexican restaurant] Casa Vega. We got Art’s Deli. We got Ventura Boulevard. What more do you need in life? I think when people started hating it, it made me proud of it. I felt defensive. It’s something I love.”

The shoot happened to line up with Haim’s forced break from the road due to the pandemic, but they’ve played a handful of gigs in recent months, and they’re planning to return to the road next year. Once that happens, Alana expects to resume her old role as the kid sister in the group, despite her newfound status as a movie star. (“The baby of the family is the baby of the family,” notes Anderson.)

As for Anderson, he’s already thinking about his next movie. “It’s impossible not to have a nagging desire to do it again,” he says. Can he imagine finding a place for Alana in it, or some future film down the line? “If the question is, ‘Would I like to work with Alana again?’ the answer is yes,” he says. “More than that, I look forward to it.”

From Rolling Stone US