Vitamin C and ‘Licorice Pizza’: An interview with Alana Haim

The wider Christmas Day theater release of Paul Thomas Anderson’s critically-acclaimed Licorice Pizza followed some early screenings at Nashville’s beloved indie theater, The Belcourt, during a week the movie’s breakout star — a musical performer in her very first feature film, Golden Globe-nominated, too— Alana Haim was set to introduce it to an audience in Music City.

While Alana could not travel and make an in-person stop at Nashville Public Radio as planned, I still caught up with the ebullient multi-hyphenate over the phone. We talked about her sister band HAIM’s upcoming tour stopping through Nashville in May, plus making her acting debut in this instant-classic movie alongside Cooper Hoffman, Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn, Tom Waits and her own actual family.

Listen to a portion of the interview below and consider catching the early ’70s, San Fernando Valley romp Licorice Pizza in theaters through this week.

On the Record: Q&A with Alana Haim

Celia Gregory: It’s Celia on 91.ONE WNXP, Nashville’s Music Experience, with a great opportunity before the wide release of Licorice Pizza to talk to one-third of the band Haim and now an accomplished actress, Alana Haim. I have her on the horn here. I wish we could be hanging out in person, but I’m glad this worked out to connect virtually.

Alana Haim: I know, you don’t even understand how much I love Nashville. I’ve had the best shows in Nashville of my life. I love playing in Nashville. I’m sad I couldn’t be there, but at least now we’re talking. I’m so happy to be here. 

CG: Has this just been the wildest run of events? I mean, everybody has had a wild couple of years, but you released an album with your sister band [2020’s Women in Music Pt. III] and now you’re in this movie with all of the buzz as really the lead. How has this been for you? 

AH: There is no word to put to how I’m feeling right now. It’s so crazy. I feel like I’m on the craziest rollercoaster of my life. I mean, even talking about putting out Women in Music Pt. III. And then I filmed this movie and now it is out. It’s crazy. It’s a crazy time. 

CG: Are you sleeping? Are you staying nourished? How are you doing? 

AH: I mean, the amount of vitamin C that I’m taking [laughs] — no, I’m feeling good. I’m just happy that I finally get to talk about this movie. It’s been not a secret, but I couldn’t really explain what I was doing for a very long time. And now it’s just so wild that people are seeing it, talking about it and having a good time going to the theater. 

CG: I guess I should ask about the timeline of recording music and then also filming this movie and setting up for another tour, for the multi-hyphenates that might be listening. Now you are in that category. How did you balance all those timelines concurrently and also stay grounded during a global pandemic? 

AH: Everything about the last couple of years has been very much learning on the job, [and] every day is different. I mean, me and my siblings were about to put out our record and then the pandemic happened. And instead of what we’re used to, which is going on tour playing shows, traveling the world — and we made this record to be played live. So everything kind of was like, OK, so we can’t play it live with the crowds. And now we have to figure out how to play in our houses and make it interesting and create music videos and all these things and be safe. 

And then we were supposed to shoot the movie earlier in the year. It got pushed back, obviously because of COVID. And it was like, How do you shoot a movie and also be safe? And we were one of the first movies back. We got tested every day, we always had to wear masks. I don’t know any other way to shoot a movie other than wearing masks because I’ve never done this before! I think we were just so excited to be working and creating art that we would have done it with fifty-five masks, you know, all over our face. We just wanted to create because we had been home for so long. Every day, it was like a new adventure. 

CG: Well, there’s certainly a spirit of adventure in the film. I know you’ve spoken to this, but I was so struck by all of the movement? Both the way it was shot, but also that you’re literally running around in the valley. You guys never stop. There’s so much energy and it feels like you really ricochet that energy off of one another. The cast, of course, being really amazing. What was it like to work with Cooper Hoffman? I don’t know if you knew each other before you signed on. I know you know the director [Paul Thomas Anderson]. What was that that synergy [with Cooper Hoffman] like? 

AH: Yeah, I had met Cooper only once or twice before we started filming, but the first time I met him, I was with my siblings. And funnily enough, we were babysitting him, which is hilarious. We ended up babysitting Cooper for a couple of hours and taking him to get food because Paul was in the editing process of Phantom Thread, and we never forgot it because he was very Gary Valentine, which is so funny because the movie wasn’t even a concept yet. This was years ago. He was super engaging with asking questions and I think at that point he was 14 and me and my siblings were all in our early twenties, and he just did not seem like — well, he just seemed like Gary Valentine! When we were looking for a Gary, because Paul told me about the movie before we had found a Gary, I had auditioned with so many different Garys that were young actors that were incredible, but it didn’t feel like the energy was there because I was so untrained. I’ve never done anything before, I didn’t know what I was doing. And these other amazing actors were very trained and knew exactly what they were doing, and we just couldn’t meet in the middle. 

And then when Paul suggested Cooper, I didn’t even need to read with him. I knew because of that dinner that we had, I was like, “Oh my God, I had dinner with Gary Valentine five years ago.” Our first real scene after working with Bradley Cooper — and that was week one, Bradley Cooper, Jon Peters, which is also insane. 

CG: Wild!

AH: Wild, very crazy, literally like boot camp being being in the ring with Jon Peters. But the first time we actually had to act where we didn’t have very experienced actors with us to be, like, “Maybe if we just keep our heads down, everyone will just look at Bradley Cooper.” That was very much week one, follow his lead and we will be fine. And then it came to week two where we had to do this fight scene. It was the first time that me and Cooper had acted just as together. We didn’t have the security blanket of an actor like Bradley Cooper. We really did it together, and after that scene, I was like, I think we can do this. I think we’re going to be OK. We’re both so up to trying new things and because we were so untrained, it felt so free. It was an honor being his Alana, and I’m so happy that he’s my Gary Valentine. 

CG: I wonder how much your character struck you as Alana Haim. Are you pretty similar to the character in the movie? Not just the way you experienced your mid-twenties, perhaps —

AH: I’ve never yelled at my dad. That is one thing that I’ve ever done, which is hilarious because I’m yelling at my dad A LOT. That’s my real dad. My dad plays my dad in Licorice Pizza. And I’ll never forget filming the scene where I was screaming bloody murder. Me, Cooper and Paul were the only ones that had full scripts, and my dad had no script. It was very much improv. Paul was giving my dad direction like, “OK, Alana is going to come in and react.” He was very shocked to say the least, and the first time he kind of laughed it off, “Ha ha ha.” And then by the fifth take he turned into a method actor. He was like, “OK, Alana is coming in. I gotta defend myself.” 

He’s just so funny and so good without trying. He gets the biggest laugh every time that anyone sees the movie, and that makes me so happy because I’m my dad’s biggest fan and I think my dad’s the funniest person on the planet. The fact that now the whole world knows that is so amazing for me. 

CG: Well, the whole family — I’m sure that was a comfort to you, to be on the set with your whole family — everybody seems so natural that it’s weird now I’ll get to see you sing and play music with your sisters [coming to Ascend Amphitheater in] Nashville in May. And I know it’s a roller coaster for you between now and then, but I’m so thrilled that you’re going to come back to Nashville since you said you love to play here.

AH: You gotta come! The tour is going to be the best time. I just can’t wait to play. I’m so excited and itching to play live. 

CG: Thank you for spending some time with us on WNXP and then we’ll meet you in real life in 2022. Just keep popping that vitamin C in the meantime and get through all this promo. Congratulations on what’s a really wonderful film.

AH: Thank you so much. Have a good day.