Licorice Pizza - Interviews

Started by itwasgood, November 10, 2021, 10:03:41 AM

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Wow, I think that's my favorite interview yet from this release cycle. 


Was this Q&A ever posted here? SPOILERS ahead.

QuoteQ&A: Director Paul Thomas Anderson reflects on real-life inspiration for 'Licorice Pizza'

Daily Bruin: Was Alana Kane's character inspired by the real-life Alana (Haim) or any other real-life person?

Paul Thomas Anderson: She was inspired by the real-life Alana, which might horrify Alana (Haim) because she isn't as unstable. Alana Kane is very sporadic. She gives the appearance of being grown-up, but underneath it, she's very emotionally immature. That's why it's an interesting relationship because Gary first appears like an annoying teenage hustler, but he turns out to be quite emotionally mature. But then again, he's also 16 so he's kind of an idiot. Alana's character is a shadow of the real Alana. She has a very ferocious protectiveness of the people she loves – that is a very similar quality.

Pasadena City College Courier: What did you do in order to be sensitive towards (the age gap) but also portray it in such an artful way?

PTA: It's a terrific dilemma. It reminds me of what you would see in the old screwball comedies – this insurmountable thing between two characters that keeps them apart. Once you know that's the playing field, you can have fun with it because they're never going to be together. It's a line you do not cross. It's inappropriate. It's wrong. That's not happening.

What's fun is now seeing Gary continue to try. You get to witness, in all of his teenage perversion, thinking he might have a chance and her just shutting it down. This creates endless comedic and dramatic opportunities. It's a premise for a film where the two people who feel completely bound to each other cannot be bound to each other in a romantic way.

The Panther Newspaper: Did you approach directing the first-time actors (differently) than those veterans?

PTA: The first two or three days, (Haim) and (Hoffman) were so nervous they couldn't stop shaking. My job was to settle them down and make sure that I was explaining what was happening with them. The first thing that we shot was the scene with Bradley Cooper, so it makes sense that they're nervous. They're getting screamed at and berated and intimidated by him. Once they got that scene under their belt, they had formed a bond. They had survived Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters, so they felt more confident going into the next sequence that they had to do.

The Valley Star: How do personal relationships with locations help frame your stories?

PTA: There's an emotional connection to these places, so that's very important. You're making a film, you're asking the audience to care about it. I care about it. I care about where I come from. I care about these people. I care about these locations. I care about this place that I live in, where I'm raising my kids. I want my love for it to be evident on screen and hopefully for an audience to feel that.

It was a combination of great joy and great melancholy as we were looking for locations because many of them aren't there. Many things in the Valley have changed and that makes you melancholy, but you're always thrilled when you find pockets that haven't changed.

Pepperdine University Graphic: After the romantic ending, what is your hope for Gary and Alana's future?

PTA: If I imagine a future for them, there's no way that they're not stuck together in some way as friends. I can imagine watching Alana dropping her possessiveness of him and helping him navigate a genuine romantic relationship with someone more appropriate for him. I can imagine him continuing to be jealous about whatever entanglements she finds herself in. I could imagine the relationship not changing too much but slowly becoming more mature.


Starting at 2:14, Maya talks about Paul and the kids and then a little about LP:



Licorice Pizza: A Conversation with P.T. Anderson About his new Slice of Nostalgia - LA Weekly

This week's L.A. Weekly cover story featuring a conversation with P.T. Anderson about Licorice Pizza, the 70s and the enduring allure of the San Fernando Valley, appears in edited and condensed form in our print edition ("A New Slice of Nostalgia"). This version contains the full Q&A as well as more thoughts on the director's work, the film, its subject matter and more.

By definition, nostalgia is about wistfulness, warmth, and fond feelings for the past. But evoking it needn't always be driven by reliving simpler times. From the awkward innocence of childhood to the hormonal discovery of teenhood to the promise and scary freedom of finally becoming a grown-up, nostalgic cinema aims to reflect the personal and relatable complexities of life within a particular time period.

The best movies do it visually and viscerally. Sets, costumes and props can recreate an era (and depending on the wardrobe department, some do it better than others) but it's the story and the director's approach to telling it that make or break it. Paul Thomas Anderson has become known for making it more than once, conjuring the past in a dynamic and immersive way. In particular his mastery of atmosphere no matter the era, from the smoky casinos of his debut Hard Eight, to the coked-out pool parties in Boogie Nights to the rainy car rides of SoCal in Magnolia, stands out and puts him on the shortlist beside contemporaries (Quentin Tarantino, Cameron Crowe) as well as his own influencers (Robert Altman, Jonathan Demme) in terms of transportive filmmakers.

With Licorice Pizza the award-winning writer/director returns to his beloved San Fernando Valley, Reseda in 1973 to be exact, to chronicle the misadventures of Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour Hoffman), a 15-year-old former actor trying to find his way after gigs start to dwindle. Based on the experiences of Anderson's pal Gary Goetzman (and Tom Hanks' production partner), Valentine's entrepreneurial spirit manifests into a waterbed business and later a pinball parlour, but it's his infatuation with Alana (Alana Haim, of the rock group Haim) that's at the aspirational heart of the movie. She's 10 years his senior so a romance is not in the cards but she's drawn to him nonetheless. The film follows the pair's friendship and individual struggles to find their callings.

Alana ends up getting involved with local politics in the last act, a not too surprising development coming after the film's audacious highpoint, when the gas shortage of '73 ends up putting both lead characters in peril. After an encounter with a spastic Hollywood producer (Bradley Cooper) leads to a wildly dangerous in-reverse ride in a U-haul, you really wonder what's coming next. It's a nail-biter in an otherwise slow-burning slice of life movie.

By the way, Pizza is no Boogie Nights and those expecting it to be may be disappointed. It's set a bit earlier, and it's a much more innocent film in general. Nevertheless it has a similar subtext– about families, friends, and finding one's purpose in life, all while growing up in proximity to the entertainment industry. Before Valley Girl (the film) highlighted the contrast between Hollywood's mystique and the suburban sensibilities "over the hill," those of us who grew up in Los Angeles in the 70's lived it, and many were inspired by it. Ultimately the setting is as important as the story, and Licorice Pizza captures it so beautifully, it's worth seeing for this reason alone, especially for L.A. natives (even if those who remember the record store it's named after will miss actually seeing it in the film).

In recent years Anderson has worked with universally acknowledged acting greats like Daniel Day Lewis (There Will be Blood, The Phantom Thread) and Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice, The Master) but his casting choices have mostly varied, from familiar powerhouses (Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Julianne Moore) to unexpected career-changing choices (Mark Wahlberg, Adam Sandler, Burt Reynolds).

With his latest, he takes the biggest risk of all, casting leads who had never acted in a feature length film before. He worked with Haim on music videos and shorts previously, and Cooper, a family friend via his dad (who died in 2014), is a novice save for P.T.'s "home movies." Both pull off what's needed here, bringing touching realism as well as a Sonny & Cher-like chemistry to the screen. Sean Penn, Tom Waits, local dance legend Ryan Heffington and Haim's real-life family add delectable texture to this simple tale of self-discovery.

It's not always easy to pull off a vintage-vibed movie. The lines between authentic recreation, sizzling (or fizzling) satire and cheesy farce are thin and maintaining tone can be tricky especially if flamboyant characters are involved. Beyond the polyester frocks and shaggy hairdo's, the people and the places have to ring true, no matter how weak or strong the narrative might be or how seductive the situations seem on paper. After a tough year, Licorice Pizza's bittersweet California-dreamy journey is a refreshing flashback for movie fans and it signals an auspicious new phase for Anderson. His latest may be (once again) set in the past, but its climax suggests a hopeful future. And as the writer, director, husband and father shared in our thoughtful and unfiltered conversation, he's enjoying himself more than ever doing what he does, or at least he's trying to.

LA WEEKLY: To start off, I thought it might be enlightening to discuss reviews and the critical reception your films have received. Do you care about what the critics say and do you think about the reception at all before a film comes out?

P.T. ANDERSON: It's one thing when a writer takes the time to use their skill to describe things they felt from the film– that really gets you going and it makes you feel something. I've gotten very good reviews generally over my career. There's definitely been moments where films have been more challenging. But you appreciate the writers that you care about, or writers that clearly put their heart into it, being right there with you, even if admitting that they struggled with the film. Because there's lots of reviews out there. I mean, fucking reviews, sometimes, they're boiled down to how many stars or thumbs up or thumbs down, or like a quick capsule 'hot or not' kind of thing.

The world is so strange, because we used to really depend on reviews. If you make a film that's slightly more challenging, you're at the mercy of having good reviews because you don't have the marketing budget to promote the film in a traditional blockbuster way. It's a double edged sword; you're dependent on and at the mercy of having good reviews to sort of create awareness.

You're vulnerable when you put a film out. You've spent a lot of time making it, a lot of time dedicating yourself to this insane pursuit of a vision that you have to see through and you can put an armor up just in case somebody wants to kick you. And so when you find out that you don't need that armor, it's like dropping something to the ground, and it's this huge like, 'huh, okay, what was I so worried about?'

Have you  felt that way with Licorice Pizza?

There's so many people involved in the film that have never been involved in a film before. And so my concerns and my thoughts are about them. And you know, whatever jaded cynicism and protection I might put up around myself, I'm working with people that have none of that. And I want the best for them and I want to protect them. I don't want anything harmful to come to them. You know, the reception for the film so far– I feel like I'm kind of lifting off the ground a tiny little bit. The other thing is I've had some successes before and I've just been too paranoid to enjoy it. I feel like it's something that can distract you from your job or you have to keep your head down and stay humble and get back to work. I do think that's important. But I also think at this point, it would be stupid not to lift your head up and enjoy the good will that comes towards you. It's healthy. Fuck, if you can't enjoy it, you need to see a doctor. It's like. 'enjoy it, come on, enjoy it.' So I'm trying to do that.

That's great. You should! Let's talk about L.A. and specifically the Valley in the 70's- a decade you capture so well.  We're both part of Generation X and L.A. natives, so we have a certain perspective on things. I think our generation is the most enamored with nostalgia. We don't get enough credit for our influence on the present either. Do you have any thoughts on why that is and why so many of us are almost obsessed with recapturing the past?

You remember the generation before us talking about the 60's and how great they were. I think we probably just sort of rolled our eyes. I mean, a bunch of dope smoking, peace signs and things we probably dismissed. You ask yourself, 'Am I getting old? Am I delusional or was it better?' I don't think it's that simple. I think it's both. I think, obviously there's no mystery anymore. And I think that's a bad thing. That becomes apparent in the film– two friends trying to find each other, they only have their wits about them to run to the streets or to visit the restaurants that they shared together, the landmarks of their relationship... this kind of thing couldn't happen in a film set today. By the way, we've had this acceleration of the past few years. If our innocence had been lost before, I mean, it's way in the rear view mirror now after everything we've all been through. I'm too nervous and too hopeful about the future to be a fuddy duddy saying, 'Yeah, we had it all and it was great back then,'... but it was great.

I agree. I'm a parent, as you are, and I think you have to stay positive about the future when you have kids. But there was something special about the era before computers and technology as it is today.  We lived through that transitional period of the internet changing everything, which is pretty crazy if you really think about it.

I'm just remembering how the emergence of the internet felt so optimistic initially. It felt like this socialist platform everyone could contribute to and everything was going to be equal and wonderful in the same way that people thought about the 60's as a revolution – how magnificent it was going to be and everything was going to change. And then it only took a few years before it was all completely fucking ruined.

It's true, but I think we stay optimistic and maybe try not to be like our own parents, bitterly boasting about the good ol' days. And yet, your films are proof to a lot of us who grew in the '70s that they were. From the clothing to the music to the simplicity of just hanging out with friends on a summer day. You really recreate it all so beautifully and I think that it's alluring to watch even for someone who didn't live through that time, especially backdropped by neighborhoods that look familiar no matter where you're from. Can you explain a bit about the way you shoot and think about the look of your scenes?

The allure is probably a freedom that was afforded kids and adolescents that I don't think is afforded them now. If you imagine this story in current day, Alana would be running down the street with a phone shoved in her back pocket, you know, in her short shorts. She'd probably have to hold the phone in her hand because her jeans are too tight. Now the phone is like a chain around young people and they know it, but they are powerless to do anything against it.

But, you know about the look, when we were filming this movie we started last August and shot through November. Many, many days, unfortunately, there were fires. And there was sort of a light red and it was constantly diffused with smoke. And I was remembering – we'd be standing there and it looked exactly like it looked in the early '70s with all the smog. We look back and we reminisce about how wonderful that time was, but let's not forget, there were days we weren't allowed to go outside and play because there were smog warnings. The air quality was so bad, particularly in the Valley because it gets trapped between the Santa Monica Mountains and the San Gabriel Mountains.

In general the film has an authentic, almost documentary-like feel. These people seem real as do the situations. Can you comment on the things you did to achieve that?

Obviously, we kind of make a lot of noise about shooting on film. So that's a very strong leg up in terms of authenticity. But here's the thing I think that you're touching on – you can use a camera from 1972, you can have filmstock from '72. Okay, you can do all that if you're lucky enough to round all that up, and that can help, but it's the people that you're looking at more than anything in a movie, right? And no one has any makeup on.

Right. You actually see the acne on the characters, and the freckles. That's how people actually look and looked. So that was very intentional then?

I think it's probably the most important thing that we did in terms of achieving some version of authenticity. It would be impossible to justify wearing makeup for Alana's character. She's a 25 year old girl, she's running around the San Fernando Valley in the summer of 1973. If she wears makeup it's gonna melt. It's just not realistic. So when you expose that and you expose what her skin really looks like, which is what everyone's skin looks like, then you are instantly creating a more realistic situation. I think the benefit of that is that the audience relates to this character. They can see themselves. They see somebody that is not fake and isn't like a movie star pretending to be somebody that they're not. And what's interesting is, the situations where Alana is supposed to wear makeup, like when she's going to a job interview, she did her own makeup and she didn't do it that well, and that's perfect. That makes her vulnerable.

It does. It's pretty striking.

We generally don't have a large budget and I think early on, like with There Will Be Blood, I soon figured out if you can get the costumes right, it adds a lot. Because with There Will Be Blood we were outside for most of it, and in the desert, so we didn't have big elaborate sets to try and sell you on the period. All we had was the actors and their costumes. I realized you absolutely have to get the costumes right because that's what's draping on the actor and that's the main portal into the past.

With this one, there was always something that I was basing on my real life. Somebody that I knew, or somebody I knew once removed. My older sister had this friend and she used to always wear this t-shirt that said "I'll try anything once." So I was like, let's get one of those.

The classic 70's statement t-shirt... Like her "You've Come A Long Way Baby" tee (seen in the promo posters), which was the Virginia Slims cigarettes slogan. I love that. As a vintage clothing collector, I must say the research and references are spot-on. The stylist did such a great job, especially with Alana's outfits.

Mark Bridges was a costume designer on every film with me and he can do everything, from the clothes in Phantom Thread and There Will Be Blood to 70's t-shirts, equally as well.

Seeing the film in Westwood [where it's screening exclusively until worldwide release] I was reminded of Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, when Margot Robbie's Sharon Tate goes there to watch herself. That was another epic movie that got it right with costuming and recreating historic L.A. locales. What did you think of it? 

I saw it many times- Quentin is a friend of mine, and I absolutely love that film. I loved it so much that there was a moment when I thought, 'do I really want to make a film that takes place at the same time.' Well that's set in the 60's, but it may as well been the 70's. I'd been there before with Boogie Nights and Inherent Vice. You don't want to repeat yourself and you don't want to be anywhere near a piece of work that you feel got it right. But you shake those feelings off because you have to follow your own rhythm. Quentin got so much right in that film, particularly in Brad Pitt's performance. I think that's going to be something that people talk about forever, what he did in that film.

Well Alana's performance is similarly impressive, especially for a novice actress. She really embodies the period. The whole ensemble makes for such a varied cast of characters. It was a pleasant surprise to see Tom Waits and even choreographer Ryan Heffington on screen. Of course, you have big stars like Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper. Can you tell us a little bit about your thought process in assembling this cast?

Sean Penn I've been trying to work with over the years and I wrote something that I thought would be delicious for him to play. I always fantasized about giving him a nice haircut, putting a suit on him so that he could really inhabit that kind of character that I grew up loving, the William Holden older actor type.

Ryan Heffington was doing a lot of these dance tutorials during the beginning of the pandemic and Maya, my wife, was watching them. I would see them and I thought, 'oh, I wonder if he would ever come play the part of this sort of dancing man servant to a Hollywood producer.' If you've ever seen the movie S.O.B., a great Blake Edwards film from 1978, Stuart Margolin plays a very similar part. And I modeled the character after that. I was so excited to have him come and do it. That was our first couple days of shooting and he was terrific to work with.

Sean suggested Tom and I was so angry that I hadn't thought of it first. I was salivating at the prospect he would do it and we asked him and he said yes. That'll go down as one of my great memories of ever shooting anything – the weeks with Sean Penn and Tom Waits and Alana and Cooper at the Tail O' the Cock restaurant.

The Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters scenes are so good, too. Definitely the funniest part of the film.

He's an incredibly dynamic actor. He's got incredible range. He can do it all and I've been wanting to find an excuse to work with him for quite some time. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to let him grow his hair, grow his beard and away we go. That's one component of it that I think is pretty clear. But I think what added to it, and what made it really achieve a different kind of lift-off is that it was the first thing we shot, and we only had five days with him. And so he got to set the table for these two young actors who've never done anything before. And I can remember we consorted, we schemed, and I told him, 'you're going to give these two an entrance into movie acting.' He got to come out and chew the scenery and completely intimidate them. Which was right for the scene.

Cooper Hoffman is very endearing as Gary. You obviously knew him as he's Philip Seymour's son. When you offered him the role, was he into it right away or were there concerns because it was such a big part?

He was very hesitant and wanting to know more details. This is a very, very good indication of a strong, intelligent young man. It would not be a good sign if he had just suddenly said, 'Yeah, sure. What are we doing?' His response made me feel really good. But it didn't take long after we read it with Alana, and did some practicing and improvising, that he was hooked.

Was he pursuing or studying acting at all before this role?

He never said I want to be an actor. He showed an aptitude for it in home movies that we would make so I asked him if he thought it would be something he'd be interested in talking about or trying. And he reluctantly said yes.

Wow, that's incredible. Do you think he'll continue to act? I think about Mark Wahlberg and how you put him front and center in Boogie Nights. People mostly knew him as Marky Mark and he became a big movie star afterward. Do you see these two going on to become big movie stars? 

I would never say 'my crystal ball says'... but what I will say is that their natural talent is enormous. In Alana's case, she has a day job at the moment. So what's wonderful about that is that she doesn't need it. Cooper is still young and wants to pursue his studies. It's there for him if he wants it, and it's not going anywhere if he wants it, but there's no rush.

And talking about Mark – there's so many good actors, and there's not that much great material. Actors get a role and then they're asked to play that same role the rest of their lives. This is a very common thing. And it's a drag because most actors have a lot more to offer than just one thing. So sometimes you're casting a person, not on what they've done, certainly not on their experience or on the roles that they played previously, but based on who they are as people when you meet them.

Many times you can tell a lot more in an audition from a conversation that you're having with somebody rather than how they actually read the scene. At this point, I'm interested in working with people that I know personally or that I'm able to get to know personally. I can't imagine working with somebody who just comes in, and I don't have a social relationship with outside of work. You can forge that if you like their work and you want to get to know them. But the work is too intimate to just be shared with somebody that you only know on the set.

So with Mark, you didn't have a relationship before casting him in Boogie Nights ?

I didn't. I formed that relationship in a much more traditional way. We met and talked about the part. We read the scenes a bunch, we hung out, we spent time talking together. That was much more accelerated than I would do it now. We spent a couple of weeks together, getting to know each other. And then it was clear that it would be a good working relationship. Now I have a different approach.

At this point in your career, you have the luxury to choose people that you feel comfortable with and you know. You obviously like working with certain actors repeatedly. After watching a bunch of your movies together recently, including Inherent Vice, I noticed that your partner Maya Rudolph has a cameo in that and she has a cameo in Licorice Pizza as well. Do you guys consult each other on your creative endeavors and projects?

Probably far less consulting than you'd think, but only because we have four children. The majority of dialogue that happens in this house revolves around four children and the inner workings of this family. So at a certain point, dialogue about each other's work is kind of an afterthought.

You can't abuse the time that you have with somebody. I don't want to share a script that I'm writing with Maya if I'm halfway done, you know, I want to share when I'm done so that I can get a well rounded opinion about it. We don't have the time to get involved in all the nooks and crannies of what each other's doing. But when it comes to the big mile markers, that's when you're really checking in with each other. So much of our life is taken up with the day to day, you know, we're like doing our own production here. Our production, and the greatest work, is not even the work that you're seeing– it's the work with this family.

Well she is great and it's really nice to see her in your films.

I know. There's a particular moment that I like very much in Inherent Vice. When she has a scene with Joaquin Phoenix and something is mentioned about his 'ex old lady Shasta Fay' and right as the scene ends Minnie Riperton's song Le Fluer comes on. Minnie was her mother. There's a good 15-20 seconds where you get to see Maya on the screen with her mom singing. It's one of those magical moments. I kind of remember doing that in the editing room late at night and coming home to tell her about it.

Music is so important to your films. Every song choice in Boogie Nights is perfect and of course, Magnolia  (also set in L.A.) has music from local musicians Aimee Mann and John Brion setting the tone. Everyone from Suzi Quatro to Wings to David Bowie are highlighted in Licorice Pizza. Can you talk soundtrack choices?

The basic rule of thumb is you use music from that year or around that time. You have to balance things out with a song that will fit the story; a song that the characters would be listening to or that would emerge from a radio. But you have to be OK with cheating from time to time. Meaning our story takes place in 72-73. But the Suzi Quatro song is '75. You have to be open if the song helps your story. I think that one, which is heard about 8 minutes in, tells the audience this is what the film's about. 'Our love is alive' and we're 'stumbling' into this thing and we're wandering into either a brick wall or a yellow brick road and we have no idea which....

You can't depend on music to tell your story. If you don't have the foundation of a strong script or the actors aren't delivering, music is not going to save you.  You can't make the mistake of using a song in lieu of respect for your characters. There was an Onion headline I read the other day that I thought was hilarious– 'Young screenwriter realizes he can play "Cherry Bomb" as a substitute for female character development.' Exactly. Rather than really care about this character, let's just play that; that'll mean she's a tough, badass girl. That kind of shit ends up feeling empty.

Speaking of music, Licorice Pizza is a record store chain that older Southern Californians remember fondly, but there are no references to it in the film. Did you have trepidation about using it as the title?

I mentioned it to a friend when I decided on the title, and he said, 'yeah as long as you don't mind answering the fucking question over and over.' At a certain point, you realize that about .0001% of us know what it is. So there's a regional component that might be upset. But then I thought, 'well what does it do for me?' It reminds me of my childhood which is kind of good enough. You reverse engineer some justification, meaning, well, she's kind of like licorice and he's kinda like pizza and they do not go together, but somehow it just kind of works. At a certain point, I felt like I had to go with something instinctual that felt right. Anything else seemed overly simplistic. I thought, 'Does this feel like the film?' Yes? OK, then do it. I don't regret it. I've seen it pop up in the theater with an audience and I've felt a sense of relief, like, 'I think we got that right.'

There's a great scene where Peters (Cooper) is freaking out backdropped by a billboard of now-defunct L.A. FM radio station KMET. Those were everywhere in the 70's and that along with other landmarks and settings (the Teen Fair at the Hollywood Palladium, Tail O' the Cock, Cupid's Hot Dogs) felt like indirect references to what the record shop meant to Southern Californians back then.

You know, you'd be surprised at how our collective subconscious works. We're all connected and even if all we're talking about is record stores and radio stations from the 1970s, I dare say that when this film shows in the center of London for people 20 years old, they'll feel something authentic and that will in turn relate to their enjoyment of the film, even if they can't quite put their finger on it.

P.T. Anderson's Licorice Pizza is showing in 70 mm exclusively at the Regency Village Theater Westwood, 961 Broxton Ave. There is a "Fat Bernie's Pinball Palace" recreation pop-up nearby (more info here). The film opens nationwide on Dec. 25.


One of the best interviews so far! I love how this film is constantly talked about with homely warmth and comfort. And good for Paul to learn to enjoy more the good will and success coming his way. You deserve all this!


Fantastic interview, a true masterclass.


Alana Haim Surprised Everyone With Her Movie Debut. Even Herself.

New interview with Alana with Paul throwing in some nice words.  :)


That's a sweet photo of her, too.

Alana Haim Surprised Everyone With Her Movie Debut. Even Herself.
When Paul Thomas Anderson asked her to star in "Licorice Pizza," the musician had zero acting experience. Now she's winning rave reviews.

Alana Haim said yes immediately to "Licorice Pizza." A few hours later the doubts crept in. "What if I'm just terrible?" she remembers thinking.Credit...Josefina Santos for The New York Times

Dec. 6, 2021, 11:00 a.m. ET

One summer night in 2019, Alana Haim was jet-lagged, tossing and turning in a London hotel bed, when her phone pinged with an email from the acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson.

This was not particularly out of the ordinary: Anderson had become a close friend of the family in the years since he'd started directing music videos for Haim, the Grammy-nominated rock band Alana is in with her two older sisters, Este and Danielle. (Their mother, Donna, was also Anderson's beloved elementary-school art teacher — a fortuitous coincidence he realized only after having already met her daughters.) When the band is on the road, Anderson will occasionally send the Haim siblings affable emails: a silly YouTube video, an article that might inspire them. But this message was different, and a little mysterious: Just an untitled Word document.

"All of a sudden, a script opens up," Haim said over a video call from her home in Los Angeles,

"And the first name on the script is Alana." Save for a few appearances playing herself in music videos, Haim had never acted before, and this was the first movie script she'd ever read. "It was like 'EXTERIOR,'" she recalled, giddily. "I was like, here we go. We're reading a script. This is the movies."

As she read the screenplay for what would become "Licorice Pizza," Anderson's warm and nostalgic ninth feature, Haim thought he had sent it to let her know he had named a character after her. "I was honestly just flattered that he was using my name," she said. "Because when you think about Paul Thomas Anderson movies, the names are so incredibly iconic," she said, citing the porn star Dirk Diggler of "Boogie Nights" (1997) and Reynolds Woodcock, the tempestuous fashion designer that Daniel Day-Lewis portrayed in "Phantom Thread" (2017). "I mean, I like my name, but do I think my name is iconic? Not when you put it next to, like, Reynolds Woodcock. But I was flattered. I was like, 'Paul's going to use my name in a movie.'"

When presented with Alana's version of events over the phone later that same day, Anderson sighed and then laughed for a long time. "Wouldn't it have been completely rude and insane of me to send her a script with a character named Alana, only to say, 'Thanks for reading it, I appreciate your notes, I'm going to go hire an actress to play a woman named Alana? Oh and by the way, she has two sisters named Este and Danielle and there are multiple situations that have come from your life.' What kind of friend would I be? That's terrible."

But that would have been about as plausible as what was actually happening: A famous auteur was asking Haim, who had never been in a movie before, to carry his next feature. Later that night when they spoke on the phone and Anderson clarified his request, Haim — in a torrent of "word-vomit" — said yes immediately. A few hours later, the first doubts set in: "What if I'm just terrible? I was like, 'I don't even know where to look. What if I look at the camera?"

Miraculously, she pulled it off in spades. "Licorice Pizza" establishes Haim as a revelatory and magnetic screen presence, a unique amalgamation of daffy, Carole Lombard screwball, early Sissy Spacek fresh-faced guilelessness, and an offbeat cartoon character's nervy, can-do energy. Even when she's sharing the frame with Sean Penn, Tom Waits or Bradley Cooper, it is her face — freckled, elastic, unpredictable — that commands the viewer's attention. Critics have raved about the performance; David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter called it "one of the most exciting screen debuts in recent memory."

Anderson said he knew Haim would be good but "I didn't know she was going to be that good. I've worked with the same guys for like 20 years, and I just kept looking around at them for verification. Like, you have to tap me on my shoulder to make sure I'm seeing what I'm seeing. Don't let me be delusional. And everybody collectively on set was seeing what I was seeing — her skill and the way you can photograph her."

It helped that her co-star, the effortlessly charismatic Cooper Hoffman (son of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was a frequent Anderson collaborator) had also never been in a movie before. Anderson cast him late in the process, after auditioning a number of young actors who felt too mannered and formally trained to match Haim's naturalistic style. Hoffman and Haim had met briefly through Anderson five years prior, never thinking their paths would cross again, but as soon as they read together, Haim recalled, "It was like, oh, we're a team. We can take on the world together."

Despite the characters' relatively chaste relationship, the age gap between them has caused some controversy. In real life, Haim, who turns 30 this month, is 12 years older than Hoffman (they bonded so much during the shoot that she still calls him "one of my best friends"), though in the movie her age is a little ambiguous. At one point the character says she's 25, but there's a pause between the two numerals that suggests she might be rounding up. "There was never really a conversation between me and Paul about how old Alana was," she said. "Somewhere in her early 20s. I say some ages in the movie, but you don't really believe Alana. She kind of doesn't even know how old she really is? She's very secretive. But really, it's about her and Gary's friendship more than anything."

When we spoke on a late November afternoon, Haim was battling a sinus infection she blamed on the Santa Ana winds. As a Southern California breeze tickled the curtains of her open living-room window, she occasionally paused our conversation to blow her nose with humorous theatricality. ("Oh, that was a lot!") She wore a white T-shirt, jeans and, around her neck, her most prized possession, a "Sisters of the Moon" pendant given to her by one of her idols, Stevie Nicks. In conversation Haim is garrulous and ebullient, occasionally clipping the ends off her sentences in an excited hurry to get to the next thought.

As they were shooting, Anderson found that the actor Haim most reminded him of was Joaquin Phoenix, whom Anderson directed in "The Master" (2012) and "Inherent Vice" (2014).

"She can throw herself into something, a lot like Joaquin," Anderson said. "You cannot tell if they're completely out of control, or if they're so in their body that they're able to make it look like they're out of control. They're very similar. It's weird. They're both feral, you know? You're not really sure what's coming next."

Her years onstage playing guitar, keyboards and percussion certainly taught her how to ground herself amid the chaos of a film set. "Being in Haim, I'm doing so many different things and there are so many different distractions that you have to tune everything out and just be very present in your body," she said. "And I think that really helps with shooting a movie."

Seeing herself in close-up on a huge screen for the first time was, she admitted, a bit uncomfortable: "Look, for my future boyfriends that I'll maybe have, would I love to see less acne and maybe more glamorous vibes?" Haim asked rhetorically. "Of course. But it wouldn't be truthful to the movie. Because growing up in the Valley where it's 100 degrees outside, you would look worse if you wore makeup, because it would melt off and you'd look insane."

But those supposed imperfections — and her contagious brand of self-acceptance — are at the core of Haim's refreshing onscreen charm. "I feel like there's this whole thing where everybody has to be perfect in all these movies," she said, candidly admitting that the only reason her skin looked "impeccable and lovely" on our call that day was because she was using a Zoom filter. "But, I have acne, and there's nothing I can do about it — and that's OK!"

Raised in the San Fernando Valley, the Haim siblings all took up instruments at a young age and formed a family band. What they lacked in social capital, they made up for with sisterly camaraderie and humor. "We all wanted to be Barbra Streisand in 'Funny Girl,'" Haim said. "That was our Bible growing up. Like, 'Oh, we might not be the most gorgeous person in the seventh grade, and no one wants to make out with us, but we could be the funniest!'"

The sisters had their first gig as a trio when Alana was just 10, at Los Angeles's storied Jewish institution Canter's Deli. Their breakthrough came in 2013 when they released their debut album, "Days Are Gone," a collection of sleek, percussive pop-rock songs. They've since collaborated several times with their former tour-mate Taylor Swift, and their best and most recent album, "Women in Music, Pt. III" (2020), was nominated for the album of the year Grammy.

Even though the siblings all harmonize and trade instruments, Alana is still known in the band, as in the family, as "Baby Haim." Danielle is the de facto lead singer and guitarist, while the bassist Este is known for the gloriously over-the-top "bass faces" she makes onstage. Alana sometimes falls through the cracks. "I'm the baby, so that's how I grew up with my siblings: 'I'm just happy that you guys want me to hang out,'" she said modestly. "That was my whole upbringing."

All the members of the Haim family appear sporadically in "Licorice Pizza" — their father, Mordechai, is a bona fide scene-stealer. But Alana is the movie's beating heart, and her star turn feels like her long-delayed "Funny Girl" moment. That was apparent from her very first day of shooting: she was not only driving a vintage moving truck that required her to learn to operate a stick shift, but also improvising hilariously alongside a deliriously entertaining Bradley Cooper, who plays a manic version of Streisand's onetime boyfriend, the producer Jon Peters. "At the end of the day, once I got the hang of it, I felt like a badass," she said. "I was like, not only can I drive stick — but a '70s U-Haul with a movie star and my best friend in the truck."

She'd love to keep acting — and working with Anderson — if the right projects arise, but she's also happy to have a day job to fall back on. "After this chapter is over with 'Licorice Pizza,' I go back on tour with my band, and I'm back to my other job that I love so much," she said. "Nothing has changed. I'm still the baby."


[Let me know if I shouldn't 'transcribe' these here.]

'Licorice Pizza' Star Alana Haim Calls Paul Thomas Anderson Her Biggest Supporter
The musician, who makes her acting debut in the director's new film, says Anderson wrote the lead with her in mind: "He knew I could do it way, way before I knew I could do it."

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."

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.



Man, look at those giant curtains...didn't realize how much I missed those until just now... 


Paul Thomas Anderson: "I would put Alana Haim in the category with Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix"
Not exactly the full interview, just a snippet of it, with a new still.