Alana Haim Is Ready for Her Close-Up, Mr. Anderson

This award season, critics are all asking the same question: Is there anything Alana Haim can’t do? As the youngest member of the pop-rock trio Haim, the 30-year-old guitarist, pianist, and vocalist has been a multi-hyphenate talent for over a decade. However, her most recent step into the spotlight has officially catapulted the Los Angeles native into triple-threat territory. She’s winning audience hearts and industry praise (including a Critics Choice Award nomination) for her star turn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Licorice Pizza. The offbeat coming-of-age story centers on Alana Kane, a capable but rudderless 20-something woman, and the evolution of her friendship with Gary Valentine (played by Cooper Hoffman), a high school student and overly confident serial entrepreneur growing up in 1970s Los Angeles.

To say that this project was Alana’s first time in front of the camera would be a misnomer. In fact, she and her sisters worked with Anderson, a longtime family friend, on several music videos for Haim, including 2019’s “Summer Girl,” which was a complete DIY project. “Paul was in a wheelbarrow, and he had a film camera in his lap to do the tracking [shots],” she recalls when we spoke earlier this month over Zoom. “We had no budget. We actually had zero budget. We didn’t tell anyone we were doing it. We didn’t tell our label. We didn’t tell our management. We didn’t tell anyone.” Alana and her sisters have come a long way since then (they were nominated for two Grammys in 2020), yet their enthusiasm for improvising remains a core component of their craft.

Fans of Haim fortunate enough to have seen the group perform live in the pre-pandemic era know that Alana and her oldest sister, Este, are, well, hams. In between songs, the two compete to see who can make the audience laugh the most. “It’s really just me and Este’s comedy hour,” she divulges, noting that this was the most “acting” experience she had prior to Licorice Pizza. “Paul really knew that, under pressure, I could try to make people laugh, and I think that’s what really came down to me being able to know how to play this part. He let me run free.” It was this mutual level of trust that gave Alana the confidence to not only explore a new medium but to also take risks, including several memorable lines that were totally improvised. “I had so many ideas. A lot of them made it into the movie, which is shocking. I mean, ‘What does your penis look like?’ was an improv,” she shares. Another memorable line, “You’re talking about pinball machines, and I’m a politician,” is also an Alana Haim original. 

Alana’s on-screen presence is so comfortable that many viewers will be shocked to learn that she did very little to prepare for this leading role. However, that’s not an indication of her innate work ethic. “I have been practicing my guitar since I was 9,” she explains. “I put in my 10,000 hours working, playing guitar, and also playing shows. So I feel very comfortable in that sense.” But when it came to acting, something totally new, Alana was actually discouraged by Anderson from taking professional lessons. “Paul really just guided me through this thing. Every day, I’d be like, ‘You know, I’ve never done this before,’ and he’d be like, ‘I know.’ And then we would continue filming, but I was constantly asking if I was going to get fired,” she says.

In reality, Alana had done this before. Or at least, many scenes must have felt familiar. Not only is her character in Licorice Pizza named Alana, but her entire family also appears at various points throughout the film. A scene that many will find memorable was inspired by a real-life holiday meal at home. “My middle sister had brought a boyfriend to Passover years ago (they’re not together anymore), which became kind of like a tale. Every time we’re making fun of Danielle, we’ll be like, ‘Remember that time you brought an atheist to Passover dinner?’ So that scenario was true—there wasn’t that much acting since we had a lot of experience with the family vibe,” explains Alana. Notably, her father, Moti, also slings a few perfectly timed zingers. “We could not stop laughing because he had no script. He didn’t have any set lines and was just so funny without trying,” she says. “Seeing the movie with a crowd of people and watching how much joy my dad is bringing the audience just warms my heart. It’s given him so much confidence and also just made me laugh so hard, so it was great. It was lovely.”

In addition to honing her improvisational acting style, Alana learned how to drive a vintage U-Haul truck, set up a waterbed, and was responsible for doing her own hair and makeup while on set. Yep, she does her own stunts! Given that Licorice Pizza takes place in the San Fernando Valley in 1973 (and, unlike the video for “Summer Girl,” had a sizeable budget), this was a huge surprise and absolute delight. While learning to drive a huge truck required at least a few hours of practice, Alana’s experience growing up in the valley was all she needed to cultivate her character’s look. “Regardless if it’s in the ’70s or in modern times, the valley heat has never changed,” explains Alana. “Anytime I wanted to impress a dude, I would put makeup on, but it would honestly work against me because it would just melt off.” So while the “less is more” approach can be unforgiving on-screen, it was both a practical choice and a reflection of ’70s-era beauty norms in Southern California. “If you google ‘teenagers in the ’70s’ and ‘the valley,’ you’ll see that no one is wearing makeup. Everyone is embracing bare skin because there actually wasn’t that much you could do, again, because of the heat,” she shares.

Both Anderson and Alana agreed that DIY makeup and hair would help to achieve the right aesthetic for the era. “The whole philosophy behind the hair and makeup of the movie was that you gotta be truthful to the time and be truthful to the valley. For my vanity, of course, I wanted to look cute,” she says. “But sometimes, I look insane because when you put makeup on in the valley and it sweats off, that’s what it looks like, so I was being very truthful to the valley.” Again, Alana is nothing if not genuine. “I don’t have perfect skin. I have a full-blown Zoom beauty filter on my face right now,” she confesses with her signature smirk. “It was so funny. After one of the screenings, someone came up to me and asked, ‘So did they put zits on your face, or was that just your skin?’ And I was like, ‘Oh no, kind sir. That is just my face.’ And that’s okay!”

So what’s up next for the musician, actor, makeup artist, and truck driver? Celebrating, for starters. The singer and her sisters cheekily announced that Haim would be going back on tour in 2021 in an Instagram video that included a present-day verse of Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song” (see: Omicronukkah), which Sandler himself praised. Last week, she attended a birthday celebration with close friend and fellow Sagittarius Taylor Swift. And finally, she’ll be ending the year on a high note with the wide release of Licorice Pizza, in theaters everywhere on December 25.

After ringing in the New Year, Alana and her co-stars are headed back into the press gauntlet for award season. And if her premiere look (a gorgeous Loewe dress styled by Rebecca Grice with super-shiny hair by Mara Roszak) is any indication, Alana Haim is ready for her close-up—no filter needed.

Up Next: Alexandra Shipp Has Her Eyes on the Prize, Not the Clock

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