Alana Haim Reflects on the Joys and Difficulties of Her Acting Debut in “Licorice Pizza”

Alana Haim first rose to fame as a member of the band HAIM, which was formed in 2012 and consists of her and her two older sisters, Este and Danielle Haim. They have been nominated for several Grammy awards and achieved critical acclaim, particularly for their most recent album, Women in Music Pt. III. Now, Alana Haim has struck out on her own with a starring role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film Licorice Pizza. Set in 1970s San Fernando Valley, Licorice Pizza follows 25-year-old Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and 15-year-old Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) through the highs and lows of young love. The Chicago Maroon had a chance to discuss Licorice Pizza with Alana Haim in a recent college roundtable.

Loyola Phoenix: The San Fernando Valley is an important location for Paul Thomas Anderson and his movies. In Licorice Pizza it plays a big role. Having grown up there, how did that help you play the role of Alana?

Alana Haim: It helps so much. I mean, I knew every reference that Paul had given me, I knew exactly which 76 station on Ventura and Balboa. There was not a lot of references that I didn’t know and with Cooper Hoffman, I mean, Cooper is from New York. So he had to learn a lot of Valley lingo. I remember sitting with Cooper with a map and being like, this is Ventura, and going through all the different streets, so he could become a Valley kid. But no, I grew up in the Valley. I’m a Valley girl through and through, and it was really easy to kind of jump into that part of it. Thank you for your question. I’m gonna say that to everyone. By the way, I’m just so happy to be here.

George Washington Hatchet: You’ve spent most of your career performing to crowds and music venues. Did you have to shift your mindset to adjust from performing to a crowd to performing for a single camera? What did that look like for you?

AH: Yeah, I mean, when you’re playing to a crowd, everything is very big. You have to make your emotions really big. You have to be screaming, singing, kind of moving, like, having huge movements. And then for the camera when filming a movie, I think the most that Paul would say is, you know, go “a little left the cameras right there.” Yeah, you have to do everything so close up, mostly on your face. And when I perform, I mean, my sister has an amazing bass face. So like, the cameras are usually on her face, but not usually on mine. So yeah, it was completely different. It was more subtle movements and really getting into my body. It was a really crazy transition. It was pretty wild.

University of Washington Daily: I know you and your character in the movie have the same name. I’m curious if you found that you have anything else in common with Alana Kane.

AH: Ugh, Alana Kane. I mean, I think the thing that I loved about her the most, which I definitely am the same way, is she’s incredibly protective over the people that she loves. She’s a little crazy. I’m not as crazy as Alana Kane. She’s a little frantic. But she rides for her friends and her family and she’s very protective over the people that she cares about. And I definitely can see myself in that aspect.

Harvard Crimson: Music is obviously a big part of the film’s scene settings. Songs like “Life on Mars” and “Peace Frog” and all this really land us squarely in the ’70s. I‘m curious, as a musician yourself, how did you feel about the film‘s use of music and then I‘m also curious about Alana Kane‘s relationship to music?

AH: Oh my God. I mean, it‘s no secret that Paul Thomas Anderson has impeccable music tastes. I mean, one of my first albums that I got that my sister Este gave me was the Boogie Nights soundtrack. And that introduced me to so many songs that I had never heard of. I specifically remember listening to Melanie’s “Brand New Key” from the Boogie Nights soundtrack. And I had never heard that song before. And Paul, I mean, didn’t personally introduce [this song] to me, but through this soundtrack did and the songs that are in Licorice Pizza are all songs that I love so much. I had no idea what was going on music wise, other than the first song that’s played in the movie, which is “July Tree” by Nina Simone. That was the only song that I had heard on set. But when “Let Me Roll It” plays, it’s one of my favorite songs of all time and it’s a really important part. It’s like the first really big part of the movie is when that song plays. And it was an honor. For me, I was like, how are we getting all these songs? I mean, even when the trailer dropped and we got “Life on Mars,” I was like, what? We have “Life on Mars” in our trailer, that’s just outrageous. But I love the soundtrack so much. And one of my favorite parts about filming the movie is when we got to the Pinball Palace between takes, or if we were reloading film, Paul would play music. So actually it did kind of feel like we were all at a party in this Pinball Palace. And so music was constantly playing. And it played a huge part because it kept the vibe going. And it also kind of reminded me of doing music videos, like it really did keep the vibe high.

Northeastern Huntington News: Did you ever expect such an overwhelmingly positive acting debut for yourself? Is that something that you want to continue in the future and does the success of your performance in this film put any pressure on that decision?

AH: Oh, my God. I mean, I had zero expectations. I mean, even when we put out albums, we just put out songs that we love, and we hope that other people like it, but it’s really just for us. But I mean even making it I was like, I don’t know what I’m doing. But hopefully it’s good. Thank God, Paul’s an incredible editor. He has a great editing team. Everyone that was working on the film was so supportive for me. And it was just a crazy experience that I had… And the fact that now everyone can see the movie, even talking about it is a new experience for me. Like when people are like “Yeah, I saw the movie,” it’s like “What, you saw it?” Because for the longest time, it kind of felt like this weird, family vacation movie that we all kind of made, but I never really thought anyone was going to see. And now people can see it. And they like it. It’s an honor. I mean, being in any form of a Paul Thomas Anderson movie—I never thought that that would ever happen. And for this movie to have me in it and have my whole family in it, it was incredible. And I don’t know. I mean, I hadn’t really thought about the future. I’m going on tour. So that’s pretty much the next thing that I’m thinking about. I hope I can act again, that would be really sick. If I don’t, this is it. This was the best experience I could ever dream of.

Arizona State Blaze Radio: I’m a big fan of your music. It’s really exciting to see a bit of a family reunion on screen with you and your sisters and your parents. I’m wondering if those scenes that you filmed with them felt easier or more difficult to shoot because of your close relationship?

AH: Oh my God. I mean, it’s so funny. My dad might be the funniest person on this planet. And the fact that he got to play my dad was so great. I mean, it wasn’t difficult and it wasn’t easy. It was honestly just funny because we were all kind of looking at each other like: How did we get here? What is going on? We’re all in this ’70s clothing and makeup. My mom had this crazy hairstyle. She kept on being like, I look like my mother. Like mom, it’s great. But it was so funny shooting with my family because of my dad. He improvised all of his lines. So that was just my dad coming up with things off the top of his head and that’s just really who he is. He’s so funny. And we hardly could get through one take. I think Paul had to be like, “Okay, you guys stop laughing now,” and I’d be like, “I literally can’t because my dad is just so funny.” Honestly, shout out to Skyler Gisondo (Lance Brannigan) for jumping into my family dynamic. I gave him a pep talk before we started, I was like, you’re about to meet my family. I’ve only known you for 24 hours. My family is crazy. I hope you’re okay. And he jumped right in. And I think that my dad is now super obsessed with him and thinks that I should actually marry him, but no. I love Skyler though.

American University Eagle: We just talked about how your family was in the movie, and obviously, your band is also a family affair. How important is it to you to have your family involved in your artistic endeavors and how does that change the work you do?

AH: Oh my God, I’m trying to get rid of them. You know what I mean? No, no, it was fun. It was super weird because I only shot with my family for I think cumulatively maybe a week, a little bit over a week. And then the rest, it was just me alone with Paul and Cooper. And that has never happened to me my whole life. I mean, I started a band with my parents and my siblings when I was four. And then HAIM started when I was 16. And every day it was just me working with them, I don’t know how to work with anybody else. And so then because of COVID, I couldn’t have my family on set. If COVID wasn’t a thing, they would have been on set every day, I wouldn’t have been able to get them off the set. But because of COVID, we had protocols and you couldn’t just show up. So it was like I was alone for the first time in my life, which was super crazy. And I really do think for the first time I feel older cause I had to do this all by myself, basically. But I mean, I missed them every day, I would call them every day and like, give them a debrief. Now that my dad called and I declined it, now my mom’s gonna call during this thing, and both my siblings are going to call make sure that I’m alive because I always pick up my phone. But I missed them so much then, and then when we finally got to shoot together it was the first time we had a Shabbat dinner in months because we couldn’t see each other. So it was great. And I miss them.

Chicago Maroon: There’s so many great sequences in this movie. I was wondering what your favorite scene to film was.

AH: Oh, it’s so hard. I mean, it’s a tie between driving the U-Haul and the Tail O’ the Cock Scene. The U-Haul was super scary. And also, that was the first week that we were shooting. So my nerves were just at an all-time high. And having to drive Cooper and Bradley Cooper around Tarzana in a ’70s U-Haul was insane. But also being at Tail o’ the Cock, which is the craziest name for a restaurant, but that’s a real restaurant that was in the Valley. That was the first time I had been in a restaurant in a really long time. And it felt so nice to be a restaurant, like, everyone had fake martinis, and we were just having a really good time. And there was a pianist that was there that would play like, club music between takes, and so it actually felt like we were all kind of having dinner together for a full week. Yeah, it’s like a tie between those two vibes. It was so fun. It was just as fun as it looks.

Minnesota Daily: Going back to the soundtrack of this film: The music plays a huge role in setting the audience in the scene while they’re watching the movie. But as an actress without the help of the soundtrack, what helped place you in the ’70s while you were filming this?

AH: I mean, we basically lived in the ’70s all the time. I mean, I hated leaving set, we never had any sort of like, technology on set, like, no one had phones, no one had anything like that. It was all very much like we were living in that time. But also I would wake up every morning. I had to do my hair and makeup for the whole movie. So I would wake up every morning at 5 a.m. and do my hair and do my makeup. And I’ve said this before, but I’m not really good at either. So that’s why I look semi crazy. My favorite makeup look that I did was me going to the agent, where I’m wearing that red dress with the collar. And I want you guys to know that I thought that I looked incredible that day. I was like, oh my God I am killing my makeup, it was not meant to look insane. When I saw it in the movie, I was like, I look like a clown. Like I thought that I was killing it that day. I was like God, Alana, you’re getting so much better at your makeup. I look insane. But that really did help. I mean, if I was actually Alana Kane, she would have woken up super early. You can’t really wear a lot of makeup in the Valley because it just melts off, but that’s how I started my day every day. 5 a.m. doing my hair, putting it in rollers, trying to put on makeup. And then I would get to set and it was like “You’re gonna do your own hair and makeup.” I was like, “Oh God, here we go.” Fail. But it helped and it really did help the look and feel of the movie because I look real. I mean, I am a real person, obviously, but it looked real. It wasn’t very glamorous. Totally.

Hofstra Chronicle: Now that you’ve had such a big acting debut, and I know you said you hope you can continue in the future, what genre would you really love to do? Or is there a specific actress whose career you want to emulate?

AH: I mean, I love making people laugh. That’s my favorite thing to do since I was a kid, and me and Este, my eldest sibling, are always in competition of who’s the funniest in my family. So we’re always trying to make people laugh. And I mean, that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. So if I can act again, I would love to make people laugh. I love making people smile.

HC: How do you feel like your background in music—especially since you’ve done music videos in the past with Paul Thomas Anderson— helped you make such a smooth transition into acting?

AH: It helped so much. I mean, working with Paul on our music videos, it’s crazy that he even wanted to do that in the first place. But working with Paul—it wasn’t that much different on music videos than it was in the movie. We already had such a great working relationship doing “Now I’m In It” and “Valentine” and “Summer Girl.” The thing that Paul likes about me is that always like, “where and when.” He’s very much like, “Okay, go do that.” And I’m like, “Let’s go!” I’m always down to kind of try anything and not and I’m not too precious if something goes wrong. He’s always very open to suggestions and I think he just loved how ready to go I was in any situation. And so when the movie happened, I mean, we all had never acted before. And it really was this kind of thing of I’ve just got to dive into this deep end and kind of immerse myself in this process and just try to do my best. And Paul was very patient with me and was my cheerleader through the whole thing. And yeah, I couldn’t have done it without him. But I did feel like I kind of had a cheat sheet being with him on music videos.

Emory Wheel: I wanted to give you a break from Licorice Pizza. You’re my closest connection to someone who’s spoken to Nardwuar. So I have a multi-step question here. What was he like behind the scenes? Is he the same on and off camera? Henry Rollins and Eric Andre both said he has terrible breath. I’m wondering what your take was on that. And most importantly, I don’t know what your take is on this, but when he interviewed you, was that sort of like, “Wow, I made it?”

AH: Oh, yeah. I think that [for the] Nardwuar interview, I’ll never forget, I think he messaged us on some app. I don’t know if Instagram was even around yet. I can’t remember it was either Twitter, or maybe it was Instagram. I don’t remember. This was before we had even gotten signed. And we were going to South by Southwest to try and get signed. And he wanted to interview us and it’s like the biggest badge of honor, I think, for any band to get interviewed by Nardwuar and we had this crazy idea to dress up like him. And I guess—it’s shocking that this has never happened—but it had never happened before. He was like no one had ever had the idea. He has such an iconic look. I’m like, how did no one think about this? And it was amazing. I mean, he gave us so many incredible gifts. He gave me limited edition Elvis merch, some crazy-ass shit. And I was like, this is the coolest. I’ll never forget [how] someone had slipped a note under my hotel room that he found that was like, “trying to get down with you.” It was just outrageous. It was just so outrageous, but the best vibe and I mean, he’s still the most iconic person that I think we’ve ever been interviewed by. I stand by Nardwuar. You know, I don’t remember the bad breath aspect. I think I was just maybe too excited to be around him. I did not get that vibe, but he’s a legend. And I would love to see him again. I haven’t seen him in over 10 years since we interviewed with him last.

Florida International University: What was the hardest thing you had to do in order to make sure that you got into the mindset of the ’70s and ’80s?

AH: Oh, [the] hardest thing by far was learning stick shift. I’ve said it a million times, but I’ll say it again: I’m a really bad driver and adding another pedal, like, using two feet. I don’t know how anyone knows how to do it. In one of my lessons when I was training to do stick shift there was a huge hill. And I vividly remember telling my instructor, “I’m not ready to do this, I’m not, I’m not ready to do this.” And she was like, so encouraging, like, “You can do this” and I was like, “No, thank you.” I’m so happy that you’re encouraging me, but I actually don’t think that I can do this. And I remember it was fully like *Princess Diaries* when she’s on the hill and it goes backwards. That was fully what happened to me and I screamed and I freaked out. I remember letting go of the wheel. Thank God, it was one of those cars that had the two wheels, like the instructor had a wheel and I had a wheel. And I fully had a meltdown. I was like, oh my God, I’m not gonna be able to do this. I’m not gonna be able to do this and then cut to me having to do it with like a U-Haul truck. And I don’t know how I did it. But I did. But that was by far the hardest thing I had to learn for this role. Also how to run for long periods of time and not get winded. That was another big one. A lot of running in this movie.

Nova Southeastern University: A lot of the movies focused on the ’70s vibes, a lot of it was just capturing that aesthetic. And I read that the movie was actually shot on 35-millimeter film. So I was wondering if that was different than shooting music videos with Anderson in the past.

AH: Well, all of our music videos with Paul—he only works on film—so all of our music videos are on film as well. He was the first person we’d ever met that only used film. And I mean it’s no secret that film just looks so much better. It looks so much better than digital, and you just look so much better. The best way to look is on film. But I just loved the process of watching his team load the film, and you can only get a certain amount of takes and we had to reload. It’s such a beautiful process when you go to see it. Like, going to see dailies and just seeing the raw film being projected. It just already looks like a movie. It’s a crazy thing that you can’t really describe. But Paul is all film every time. I couldn’t really look and see any of the takes because it’s really hard to play back film. So I was just kind of blind. The first time I saw everything played back to me was when I saw the movie for the first time and I was like, “What is going on? This is crazy.” But it was great. I mean, if you’re able to shoot on film, I feel like it’s a very hard thing to come by. But I mean, it’s amazing.

University of Washington: One of the things that my friends and I always look for when we go to movies is whether this film was trying to shove some sort of moral or philosophical message down our throats. And we really liked that Licorice Pizza didn’t really do that. If you had to distill what that kind of emotional message would be from the film, what would you say it is?

AH: I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I mean, the craziness that is the story even behind the movie of how I’ve met Paul, how I met Cooper. It all is basically like a movie. And the thing that just still is mind blowing to me is honestly, how many people you meet on a daily basis and you never know who’s going to stick. You never know who’s going to come back into your life, stay in your life. And I think that’s very much what happens in *Licorice Pizza*. I mean, these two people meet. Alana could have met Gary and it could have been a five-minute conversation and they never see each other again. Their lives go on or whatever. And really, these two people meet, and they don’t know it yet, but their lives are forever changed. And they go on these crazy adventures, and I think about that with Paul and with Cooper. I mean, with Paul, when we met him, we could have just met once and then you know, carried on with life and he’s now my forever friend. He’ll be in my life forever. And same thing with Cooper. I mean, I met Cooper at the Phantom Thread editing house, and I met him for maybe four hours, and I could have just never seen him again. And then all of a sudden, when we were trying to find our Gary, Paul had mentioned Cooper’s name, and because he had made such an impression on me, like, years before that, I was like, yes, we need to get Cooper. And it really is that thing where it’s wild, when you look back on your life, and you’re like, oh, yeah, never thought that person would stay. And now they’re just here still, and I’m so happy for it, and they make my life so rich and happy. And that definitely is how I feel with Gary and Alana.

New School Free Press: What were the movies or the music you were consuming while playing Alana?

AH: Oh my Gosh, so much Freda Payne. Like every morning, Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold.” I felt like that was Alana Kane’s mantra of life. Every day when I was waking up at 5 a.m. that would be the first song that I would listen to. And then me and Cooper, we watched a lot of M*A*S*H. We watched a lot of *The Partridge Family* when we had off days. And also I’ve been such a fan of ’70s music. I mean, it’s no secret that me and my band were heavily influenced by music from the ’70s, so it really wasn’t that out of my scope to be in a ’70s movie because it’s an era that I’ve always just loved and have been inspired by. But yeah, Freda Payne, “Band of Gold.” You can just see me in the morning screaming into a hairbrush. That was Alana Kane’s go-to song.

—Jennifer Morse

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