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Alana Haim: 'Licorice Pizza' star and proud Valley girl

Alana Haim plays Alana Kane in the movie <em>Licorice Pizza</em>. "Alana Kane is a little unhinged," Haim explains. "She's very snappy. She will rip your head off at a moment's notice. But she'll also protect the people that she loves."
©Catherine McGann for NPR
Alana Haim plays Alana Kane in the movie Licorice Pizza. "Alana Kane is a little unhinged," Haim explains. "She's very snappy. She will rip your head off at a moment's notice. But she'll also protect the people that she loves."

Updated February 12, 2022 at 10:00 AM ET

"This is like my childhood," squeals Alana Haim as she walks around the Valley Relics Museum, located inside a hangar at the Van Nuys airport. She's surrounded by vintage neon signs from diners, taco stands, bowling alleys and other classic locales she remembers from growing up in California's San Fernando Valley.

Haim tests out some old pinball machines, like those featured in Licorice Pizza, the movie she's co starring in. It's a coming-of-age romance set in 1973, just nominated for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards.

Some of the artifacts used in the movie were donated to the pop culture museum dedicated to the Valley's history. "It needs to be preserved," she gushes, "because it's the best place on Earth."

The gift shop sells t-shirts with old logos, including the one from Licorice Pizza, a now defunct record store chain in Southern California.

"The Licorice Pizza was that mom and pop shop," explains Tommy Gelinas, the museum's founder. "Super cool buyers, and everyone that worked there was really cool. They played all the vinyl. The turntable was by the cash register; they had a stack of Led Zeppelin records."

That was in the 1970's, decades before Haim was born. The 30-year-old remembers going with her sisters Danielle and Este to listen to CD's at Tower Records. They went shopping at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, spent late nights at Du-par's diner, and celebrated special occasions at the Sportsman's Lodge – classic San Fernando Valley locales.

"Even though everyone told me that I was uncool to be from the Valley, I loved it so much because we kind of felt like the misfits of L.A. I still love being from the Valley," Haim says. "It was really one of the things that my sisters and I and Paul connected with."

She's referring to director and writer Paul Thomas Anderson, who grew up in nearby Studio City. He's known Alana Haim and her entire family for years; Haim's mother was his second grade art teacher. Later, Anderson became a fan of Haim, the rock trio Alana has with her sisters.

"I love to, in my spare time, make music videos, particularly for artists that I enjoy," Anderson says. "I loved seeing them play. So I offered my services."

Alana Haim at the Valley Relics Museum in February.
/ ©Catherine McGann for NPR
©Catherine McGann for NPR
Alana Haim at the Valley Relics Museum in February.

Anderson shot nine Haim music videos on location around L.A.. Then he made Licorice Pizza, his love letter to the Valley, with the youngest Haim sister in mind.

In the movie, Alana Haim plays Alana Kane, an earnest 25-year-old who's figuring out life. She's the love interest of a confident teen, played by Cooper Hoffman. She helps him with his waterbed business and pinball arcade and branches out on her own.

"Alana Kane is a little unhinged," Haim explains of her character. "She's very snappy. She will rip your head off at a moment's notice. But she'll also protect the people that she loves."

"Only Alana could play this part," Anderson says. "The movie doesn't exist without her. The movie was written for her."

He says he's always admired Haim's hardworking enthusiasm. "She's beautiful, she's funny. She has great instincts as a performer. And she's willing to sort of pursue instincts that maybe could make her fall flat on her face — so that equals fearlessness, right?"

At the Valley Relics Museum, Haim sits in the van used in the film <em>Fast Times at Ridgemont High.</em>
/ ©Catherine McGann for NPR
©Catherine McGann for NPR
At the Valley Relics Museum, Haim sits in the van used in the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

For the film, Haim learned how to drive a big truck with a stick shift. In one scene, she's in the cab of the truck with costars Cooper Hoffman and Bradley Cooper. She guns it and drives them backwards, down the hills in Tarzana.

Alana Haim's family played her fictional family in Licorice Pizza. Sisters Alana, Danielle, Este, their mom Donna, and their dad Mordechai "Moti" Haim pose here.
Melinda Sue Gordon / MGM
Alana Haim's family played her fictional family in Licorice Pizza. Sisters Alana, Danielle, Este, their mom Donna, and their dad Mordechai "Moti" Haim pose here.

"I was sweating. Oh my god, it was so intense," she recalls. "Bradley Cooper definitely didn't know how bad of a driver I was. I mean, he was shocked and said, 'Are you really driving this truck?' And I was like, 'No, dude, I'm fully driving this car.' But I killed it. I didn't crash once."

Haim says a stunt driver did pull one maneuver in the truck. But she's still shocked Anderson chose her and Cooper Hoffman, son of the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, as his leads.

"We both had never done this before, and there would be times where I'm like, 'Are we making a movie? Like, this is crazy,'" she says. "I'm just so grateful that Paul saw something in both of us and made us feel like 'yeah, no, you can do this.'"

Haim is still trying to wrap her head around the idea that Anderson wrote the part for her. "It was so mind blowing that he even wanted to work with me and my siblings to begin with," she says. "I think he saw I'm like this wild beast, that I'll take on any new adventures."

Actually, Licorice Pizza was a whole Haim family affair. Alana's sisters and parents play her fictional family in the movie. In one scene, Alana brings home a boy to Shabbat dinner – then gets scolded by her father when their guest says he's Jewish and an atheist. General mayhem ensues.

"It was art imitating life," says the oldest Haim sister, Este. "That was like a copy and paste to a day in a life of the Haim family, just with 70s garb and 70s hair."

The middle daughter, Danielle, says being in the film was a bit surreal but fun for the whole family. "The craziest part was that dad never got a script. Paul just kind of let dad run free, which was really fun to watch," she recalls.

Este and Danielle say it was also a joy watching their fiery, precocious Sagittarius younger sister acting with Bradley Cooper and Sean Penn and holding her own in her first movie.

"We're just such proud older sisters," says Danielle. "Alana is just probably the coolest one out of all three of us," Este says.

/ ©Catherine McGann for NPR
©Catherine McGann for NPR

Anderson says that on-set for that family scene, the Haims' real-life dynamics came into play.

"We had probably shot half the movie, and Alana was really...independent, being separated from her sisters and her family that she's normally so close with," he says. "Then to suddenly step back into her family life, I think that was actually shocking. It doesn't matter that you're starring in a movie, you're the baby of the family, period. Like, she was put right back in her place."

The Haim sisters clearly enjoy spending most of their days with each other. Alana says they began as a family band, which they named Rockinhaim. Dad played drums and mom, guitar. They handed Alana a tambourine and timbales. Everyone sang.

"It started when I was four," says Alana. "It was like our family's weird version of camping, like getting close to the family."

Rockinhaim played covers for fun and for charity, at the annual St. Francis de Sales fair, and eventually at the Kibitz Room at Canter's Deli.

When she was 14, Alana and her sisters began writing and recording their own songs as Haim. They got their big break in 2012, when a London DJ played their song "Better Off" on the radio.

Haim has become a pop rock darling, but Alana Haim still seems floored by their success. Now, with the spotlight on Licorice Pizza, she remains a proud Valley girl, an ambassador to the 818 area code.

"I'm from the GREAT one eight," she says. "And now I'm playing the Hollywood Bowl. It's wild."

In May, Haim will headline at the very concert arena the sisters once snuck in to see The Strokes and Tom Petty perform. But first, they'll be cheering for Licorice Pizza at the Oscars.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: February 10, 2022 at 10:00 PM MST
A radio version of this story that ran on All Things Considered on February 10 indicated that Paul Thomas Anderson grew up in Tarzana, California. He grew up in Studio City.
As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.

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