Alana Haim on ‘Licorice Pizza’: “Working with Tom Waits was like being in the presence of a god”

The youngest Haim sister on swapping music for the movies

From rock star to film star in one killer move, Alana Haim’s dazzling turn in Licorice Pizza has already scored her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. Not bad going for a movie debut. We had a chat about the innate sass of co-star Cooper Hoffman and her parents’ cameo in the film as well as sharing a screen with the legendary Tom Waits and if she’s leaving Haim for Hollywood…

You are such a natural on screen. Did you do any kind of movie star training or did you just go in cold?

Alana Haim: “No movie star training. I jumped in at the deep end. I had no experience. I asked Paul [Thomas Anderson, director] if I should and he was like, ‘No, don’t do anything. I got you. Trust me’.”

Did you get any advice from any of your actor pals?

“I walked in blind. I didn’t really realise that I was doing it until the day that I showed up on set. Any day I was thinking someone would call me and be like: ‘This isn’t happening, we found a trained actress that’ll probably play Alana Kane better.’ I was waiting for that call!”

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So is this you done with the band – have you handed in your resignation to your sisters?

“Oh, no. No! Music is my first love. I love music. We’re going on tour next year, which is exciting. We finally get to play live. I’m not leaving my first love. But this is a fun little jaunt that I’m having. Hopefully won’t be the last.”

I was just reading some Oscars predictions that say Alana versus Lady Gaga for Best Actress. Your response?

Lady Gaga is incredible. That’s my response. I can’t think about that!”

Were awards something that ever crossed your mind while filming?

“Are you kidding me? Absolutely not! Honestly this whole time, I just wanted to do a good job. That was really all I cared about.”

Licorice Pizza
Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman in ‘Licorice Pizza’. CREDIT: Universal

Licorice Pizza is also Cooper Hoffman’s movie debut. Was he freaking out too?

“We were both super nervous. I met Cooper [who is the late Philip Seymour’s son] when he was 13 or 14 and I babysat him. He hates that I say this. He was with Paul and we were about to shoot (the video for 2017 single) ‘Little Of Your Love‘ and he was at the editing house for Phantom Thread in the Valley. Me and my siblings got in our Prius and drove him to a restaurant. Cooper immediately took over and was ordering for us and working the room. I only met him twice before we made this movie but he stuck with me to the point that when Paul said: ‘What do you think about trying Cooper?’ I was like, ‘Oh yeah. He is Gary Valentine. He is the guy that sits down with a table of three 20-something year old girls and has them eating out of the palm of his hand’.”

Do you know he had acting aspirations?

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“When I was 13 all I wanted to do was make out with a dude – that was my dream. He was completely different. He had a whole plan for his life. There was a very long list, which is also a very Gary Valentine thing. He was already that character.”

Your character is also called Alana. Did that make it feel more like you were playing another version of yourself rather than a fictional person?

“I have a different last name in the film. I had sent Paul a laundry list of my friends’ names and the one that stuck out to him was Kane, which came from Sammi Kane Kraft, who was my best friend and who I wrote ‘Hallelujah’ about [actor Kraft died in a 2012 car accident]. It’s crazy that that was the name he picked. A lot of the funny stories were stories from my life – the dinner scene with my family is actually a true story.”

Licorice Pizza
‘Licorice Pizza’ is director Paul Thomas Anderson’s ninth film. CREDIT: Universal

The dinner scene where Alana’s new boyfriend tells her Jewish parents he’s an atheist?

“It wasn’t my boyfriend, it was Danielle’s boyfriend! They broke up almost immediately after that. The guy that plays Lance – Skyler Gisondo – had never met my family before, and was such a good sport, having my dad yell at him. Who else could play my parents? I’ve always thought my dad was the most hilarious person on the planet. All that’s improv, he didn’t have a script.”

The film is about a 25-year-old woman who kind of falls in love with a 15-year-old boy. Is that a bit weird? What’s your take on what’s happening in the film?

“It’s really about their friendship and how deep their friendship goes. It’s not consummated or anything like that. We’ve handled it in a very delicate way. Really, it’s just a story about these two people that are put together and get separated so many times and end up back in each other’s lives. I joke about it with Cooper all the time – I feel like at the very end, when she’s running with Gary he probably tugs on her hand too hard and then I trip and fall and skid my knee and scream at him and we don’t talk for five days. That’s the relationship with Alana and Gary – a rollercoaster of emotions.”

Alana Haim
In ‘Licorice Pizza’, Gary Valentine (Hoffman) navigates first love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973. CREDIT: Universal

You got to work with Tom Waits…

“I wanted to ask him so many questions, but when you’re in the presence of a god, what do you say? I think the only thing I could get out was: ‘Hi, I’m such a big fan.’ And then it was like, ‘action!’ He had the best vibe. When he came to set it was hard because I’m a sandwich between Sean Penn and Tom Waits and it’s like: ‘Who do you focus on?!’ It was a crazy sandwich to be in.”

Were there any cast members who came up to you to say: ‘You’re in my favourite band’?

“No. I honestly loved it! There was never a point where it was, ‘you’re Alana from Haim.’ I was Alana Kane and it was a completely different chapter of my life and I was alone. It was crazy not having my sisters be with me, but it was great. I missed them a lot.”

What’s next? Have you been approached for any other roles?

“I haven’t been approached. I mean, if Paul ever wanted to work with me again, I would jump at the chance. He’s the best director to work with and the fact that he trusted me with this role is insane. I still am pinching myself.”

‘Licorice Pizza’ is in UK cinemas from January 1

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