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‘Licorice Pizza’ Star Alana Haim Calls Paul Thomas Anderson Her Biggest Supporter

The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter
 2021-12-06
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Alana Haim is best known as one-third of the pop group Haim, which also features her sisters, Este and Danielle. Now, she can add movie star to her résumé after her film debut in MGM’s Licorice Pizza — something she didn’t think she’d ever do. But writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, the eight-time Oscar nominee who has directed music videos for the band, saw something in her that she wishes she “would’ve seen in myself” and made her the lead of his latest movie alongside Cooper Hoffman (also making his acting debut), son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

“No other director could have gotten the performance that he got out of me because I trust him,” says Haim. “He knew I could do it way, way before I knew I could do it.”

Haim tells THR about how Anderson convinced her she was right for the part, the chemistry she shared with co-star Hoffman and how the film became a family affair that featured her real-life siblings and parents.

How did you get involved in the film?

This journey started after Coachella. Paul [said to me], “I’m going to put you in a movie one day.” [That was maybe] four years ago, and throughout that time, I’d heard that Paul was working on different things — I started hearing stories about a water bed, a pinball palace, little stories about this guy [producer and former child actor] Gary Goetzman. I didn’t really think anything of it other than the fact that they were incredible stories. My siblings and I had just made the “Summer Girl” music video with Paul. We traveled to London to show our label; we landed, and I was super jet-lagged. I remember staying up super late, and I got this email from Paul that was untitled. … It was a script. I read it, and the first name on this page was Alana. I was like, “That’s crazy. My name is in the script!” I was honored that he even wanted to use my name because I never thought that it was particularly amazing. All of Paul’s movies have these incredible names, like Reynolds Woodcock or Dirk Diggler.

I knew every place that he had [written] about — it was my home. I grew up in the [San Fernando] Valley, and I fell in love with the story. It was like 4 or 5 in the morning; I called Paul, and he was like, “Why are you up? I sent you the script for you to read in the morning.” And I was like, “I was fucking jet-lagged and I read the script so many times, and I’m still in love with it.” And then he asked, “Would you ever consider playing Alana?” I of course said yes. I was shocked that he would even consider me for something like this. I had [performed] in front of him in music videos, but [that’s] not acting. I was just honored that he thought that I could do it. I’ve always wanted to branch out and do other things, but fear always held me back. And Paul saw something in me that I always wish I would have seen in myself … years before I could.

When did your relationship with Paul Thomas Anderson actually begin?

We met six years ago. Six years sounds like two minutes compared to how close our families are at this point. … My siblings and I have been circling Paul in this weird universe for years because my mom, when she moved from Philadelphia to California in her early 20s, got a job assisting the art teacher at a private school in [Sherman Oaks] called the Buckley School. And then the teacher had a heart attack in the parking lot and died at the school. The school just offered my mom the job. One of her students was Paul. And my mom loved him — my mom always said that he was so creative, and everything that my mom gave him, he always did what he wanted to do. Growing up, every time one of his movies would be on TV, my mom would always say, “I taught him.” We never fully believed my mom because it just seems so crazy to me.

One day, we got a call from my friend: “Paul Thomas Anderson really wants to get in touch with you. He gave me his email to give to you, will you just email him?” It took us a long time because we didn’t know what to say, but we emailed him not telling him anything about my mother. He invited us over to his house for dinner with [his partner] Maya Rudolph, whom we’re huge fans of. We made a sisterly pact: “If it comes up naturally, we’ll tell him about Mom.” But my eldest sister, Este, could not keep it in and just introduced herself [with], “Hi, I’m Este Haim, my mother taught you at Buckley.” He immediately hardened: “Oh, God. Who was your mom?” Este said, “Ms. Rose.” He lit up, and he went into his son’s room and brought out this canvas of the mountain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind that he painted with our mom. That was the beginning of our relationship. After that, we started working together on music videos.

How did your real-life family end up playing your family in the movie?

That’s all Paul. To be fair, who else could play my siblings and my parents? There was no way that there was going to be an audition process to hire me a new family. Paul has been to so many dinners with my family, and my siblings and my parents make Paul laugh. My dad is by far one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and Paul definitely saw that. I just love the fact that he gave my dad a little bit of time to just show his comedic self. … We were shooting during COVID, so I couldn’t really see my family unless they were getting tested every day, and we were in an intense bubble. It was a scary time — I hadn’t seen my parents at that point in person in almost six or seven months. … Every time I see that [Shabbat scene], I’m so thankful that we have this snapshot of the time that we had together in this movie that I can always watch forever.

When you first read about the main characters’ age difference in the script, what did you think?

Cooper and I met two years before we had even shot this movie, just by chance. … We were about to shoot this music video, “Little of Your Love,” with Paul, and we had a week to do it in true Haim fashion. Paul was editing Phantom Thread at this editing house in the Valley. I showed up [there] and saw this little 13-year-old boy in this big chair. And I was like, “Who is this kid?” Paul had gotten called away to do something and Cooper was hungry. Paul said, “Can you take Cooper to get food?” And I was like, “What do kids like? Do you like sushi?” We brought him to the original Katsuya in the Valley, and it was like I was having dinner with the real Gary Valentine. He worked the fucking room, ordered for us, was asking us questions — he was so competent as a 13-year-old kid. I was so shocked to the point where I never forgot about him. … To bring it back to Alana and Gary, when they meet for the first time, it’s this thing where you have no idea that the people that you meet in life can actually change your life forever. When Gary and Alana meet at [his school’s] picture day, they don’t know yet [that] their lives are forever changed. And the obstacles they have to go through in life — where the universe is pushing and pulling them constantly — they realize that their friendship and their connection [means] they can overcome the obstacles better together than they can alone. They might try to separate. But they’ll always come back together.

How did you both build rapport for the screen?

Once Paul and I realized we were going to do this, the last missing piece was finding a Gary, which are very big shoes to fill. I had auditioned with lots of amazing actors that wanted to play Gary, but every time I read with someone, I just didn’t get that overwhelming feeling of like, “You are my Gary. We will be able to take on the world together.” Because that’s really the relationship Alana and Gary have. That was really scary for me because I knew if we couldn’t find Gary, then this wasn’t going to happen. One day, Paul turned to me and said, “What about Cooper?” And I instantly knew that it’s going to be him. Paul and I flew to New York [for] me and Cooper [to] read. Within the first five minutes, I was like, “This is a done deal. He has to play my Gary.” After spending so much time reading through the script, we would talk constantly, read through the script, talk about things, got to know each other. By the time we got to set, it was like, we’re a team. It was very comforting to have someone like Cooper be Gary because we both haven’t done this before. Every day we would call each other and go through the day and just be like, “Are we terrible? I fucked up today,” and he’d be like, “No, I’m the worst, it was my fault.” And I was like, “No, it was me.” And then we would come back to set and do it all again.

What was the most challenging part for you?

The first week, it was a lot of truck stuff. I had to learn stick shift, I had to go to truck school. I was really driving that truck, which is insane when I look back [on it]. My parents were so mad. They were like, “I cannot believe that you drove that truck and survived.” That was challenging in the physical sense. But the first time Cooper and I actually acted together where it was just us, there weren’t any other actors that could help us through. Maybe five days after we started [shooting] was a fight scene [between Alana and Gary] … Paul, Cooper [and I] got together and it was like, “Now we actually have to act.” That was the day where I was like, “It’s the three of us against the world.”

Would you have done this movie if it had been any other director?

It goes back to trust. I trust Paul with everything. Paul has always been my and my siblings’ biggest cheerleader. I’ve been in the music industry for the past 10 years, and it’s so rare to find somebody who wants to support you and makes you feel like you can do anything. Paul is the only person other than my family that has ever done that for me and my siblings. Look at Paul’s legacy of films — to have me carry on his legacy was a huge deal for me. To have someone like him tell me over and over again, “You can do this.” … I’ll cherish that for the rest of my life. No other director could have gotten the performance that he got out of me because I trust him. And he knew that I could do it way, way before I knew I could do it.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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