Alana Haim Talks to John C. Reilly About Her Life-Changing Acting Debut
Alana Haim has gone solo. As a member of the SoCal rock trio Haim, the 29-year-old musician has been playing guitar and keyboards alongside her older sisters Danielle and Este since they were teenagers growing up in the Valley. But when the filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, who has directed several videos for the band, approached her about making her acting debut in his 1970s-set coming-of-age story Licorice Pizza, she couldn’t pass up an opportunity to work with one of the greats. John C. Reilly, another frequent P.T.A. collaborator, knows the feeling.
ALANA HAIM: This is my first interview as a solo person.
JOHN C. REILLY: I’m honored to be here. Can you give readers a little history lesson on your relationship to Paul?
HAIM: My mom was an art teacher at an elementary school in Studio City. She was younger than I am now when she was teaching there, and she only got the job because the previous art teacher had a heart attack in the parking lot. Paul was one of her students.
REILLY: Oh my god. Fate.
HAIM: For my whole life, any time we watched Boogie Nights or There Will Be Blood, she would say, “I taught that guy. He’s artistic because of me.”
REILLY: So for the people out there wondering how Paul Thomas Anderson started directing Haim videos, the answer is that he knew their mom.
HAIM: Actually, not quite. Paul saw one of our videos around the time we released our Forever EP, and he was talking about it at a party. Someone gave him our email address, and he invited us to his house for dinner. We were like, “Let’s not tell Paul Thomas Anderson that mom taught him art. Everyone hates their teachers growing up.”
REILLY: He didn’t even know?
HAIM: He didn’t know! My mom was always Miss Rose to him. We showed up for dinner and weren’t going to tell him, but then word-vomit Este told him. He disappeared for a bit and came back with a painting of the mountain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind that he’d made in her class. When we made our short film, Valentine, we reunited mom and Paul.
REILLY: I’ve known Paul since before he directed his first movie, and he’s always been very private and very paranoid. He prefers to be the mysterious wizard behind the curtain of all his movies. I’m sure his face is twitching somewhere right now knowing that we’re even talking about him. When I came to visit the set, and learned that all his kids were in the movie, and that you would be in it, it felt like he’d decided to say, “Fuck it, this is the truth about me.” How did you come to be in the film?
HAIM: It might be the COVID of it all, but it’s hard to say how it happened. I remember when he emailed me the script. I assumed that if he sent it to one Haim, he sent it to all three. I fell in love with the story, especially being from the Valley. I read it three times the night he sent it to me. I think I stayed up till five in the morning with it. Later, when I actually asked my sisters what they thought of it, they were like, “What are you talking about?”
REILLY: People are going to say this movie is a love letter to the Valley in the ’70s, and it is. Paul has such affection for the little idiosyncrasies of the Valley, but you’re so much younger than him, so you know a different version of it. Is the script compelling to you because it’s a version of the neighborhood that you never actually experienced?
HAIM: My sisters and I live and breathe the Valley. In the ’80s, it got a really bad rap, with Valley girls and all that. I grew up loving it because everyone hated it, and that weirdly made me feel proud of it. I’m also so drawn to the ’70s as an era, so spending a whole summer living in the ’70s was really fun.
REILLY: Had you acted before? Did you ever do a school play?
HAIM: I played the Wicked Witch of the West, twice.
HAIM: Totally. I just wanted to make people laugh.
REILLY: So it wasn’t such a foreign thing that Paul asked you to do?
HAIM: It was. We’re talking high school plays here. Shooting a movie was totally out of my depth. The first time Paul called “Action!” I pissed my pants a little bit. And I kept looking at the camera.
REILLY: How did acting feel to you?
HAIM: I approached this project the same way I approach music. Even when we’re headlining shows, I’m convinced that people are just there for the opening act, and that they’re going to clear out as soon as we get on the stage. With acting, I arrived every day expecting to get fired.
REILLY: “They’re gonna figure it out.”
HAIM: The last day of shooting I was like, am I fired?
REILLY: It’s very expensive to fire an actor.
HAIM: I’m glad they didn’t because it’s fucking cool being in movies, man.
REILLY: I’m an old dog, and when I did my first movie with Paul, he was the youngest person on set. It’s a beautiful thing that now, a new generation of people are carrying on the tradition of creating these special visions of his. But blah blah blah, enough about Paul. Let’s talk about Cooper [Hoffman]. You two really bonded during this film. Did you feel like you were two soldiers in the trenches who connected because of the extreme danger of their situation? I felt this way about Cooper’s father, Philip Seymour-Hoffman, when we did True West together. We had each other’s backs every step of the way.
HAIM: That was me and Coop, for sure. Neither of us had ever acted before, so of course we had anxieties about everything. We called each other every night, saying, “We’re the worst. What are we doing?” Having this experience with him was the biggest gift. Plus, the second that we read together, it was like, “Oh, it’s over.”
REILLY: Those videos Paul made of you and Cooper screen testing were adorable.
HAIM: I am terrified of the Beatlemania that is coming for Cooper when this movie comes out. I told him, “Now you have three older sisters that are rooting for you.”
REILLY: That may have been the first time I ever saw you without your sisters. You guys roll deep. Do you ever wish that they were less up in your business?
HAIM: My family is so close. I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you without my siblings.
REILLY: I’m talking about those moments when you’re like, “Just leave me alone. I want to experience this moment without your input.”
HAIM: I really was alone while making this movie, and it was a huge growing experience. My two older siblings have carried me through life, so it was jarring to be like, “Oh, they can’t get me out of this one. I also couldn’t blame them for anything, or be like, “Danielle did it, not me.” I had to show up on set every day, know what I was doing, and hold my own.
REILLY: That energy really transfers from you into your character. I felt melancholic after watching the film, even though it’s about a very sweet and innocent relationship. I think I felt that way because your character is really at sea in so many ways. She’s constantly looking for certainty about something—about anything—but she can’t find it. I remember that feeling when I was young. I would adopt the views of people I admired just to have an opinion. You mentioned feeling untethered and adrift from your family during this experience. Do you feel that way in life? Or can you say, “I know who Alana is, and I know what she likes”?
HAIM: I obviously have many similarities with my character. I’m about to turn 30, and I’ve been reflecting a lot on my early twenties, which is my character’s age in the movie. I had no idea what I was doing. I had a job, luckily, but performing for a living is so insane, and involves so much rejection. I couldn’t tell if what I was doing was fulfilling, or if it would do good in the world. In your twenties, you’re being pushed and pulled in so many directions.
REILLY: Do you think Paul saw that in you?
HAIM: There were some parts of my character that were so not me, and so badass. The role pushed me more in that direction, which was beautiful. Like, I had to drive a manual ’70s U-Haul in reverse. If you asked Alana Haim to drive a stick-shift in reverse without hitting any cars or people, you’d be out of luck. But I got into this zone of, “Maybe I can’t do this, but she can.”
REILLY: It’s intense to be loved by Paul in that way. Even though you don’t feel like you’re capable of something, he seems to believe it. I know how it feels to have Paul as an audience, and I don’t think it gets much better than that.
HAIM: I never in my life would have thought I would be in a movie. When we finished shooting, I told him, “You saw a side of me that I’d always hoped would come out one day—finding my independence, doing something on my own—and you brought it out of me years before I was ready to do it.”
REILLY: Do you know how hard it is to give the performance that you gave, especially when feeling that way?
HAIM: It’s like a universe thing—two characters meet, and their lives change. That’s how I feel with Paul and Cooper. I met them, and my life was changed. That’s what the whole movie is about.
REILLY: When Paul sent me that first screen test, I was like, “Dude, if you can keep them feeling this free, I think you’ve got a movie.” You know the phrase, “You can’t take your eyes off her?” I’ve experienced that feeling before, watching a fireplace or a baby, but rarely with adults. When I visited the set, I remember sitting there and being glued to the monitor, even between takes. I turned to Paul, and I was like, “You can’t take your fucking eyes off her.” He looked at me like, “Right?”
HAIM: Oh my god.
REILLY: The only other actor who makes me feel that way is Joaquin Phoenix. Watching him is like watching a raccoon rummage through garbage cans. What is he gonna do now? Why look at anything else, while this is going on? It’s hard to keep that energy on camera, Alana. Take it from an old clown like me. How many times would you say you’ve fallen in love?
HAIM: I think about this all the time. I think I’ve fallen in love once. It has been ten years, and I still think about the person every single day. It didn’t work out, I think, because of timing. It’s a very lucky thing to have even been in love once.
REILLY: What would you like the world to know about you that they might not know?
HAIM: I wish that I was more private than I am. I think the most surprising thing about the past two years is that, before this movie, I honestly thought that the person that I was in my late twenties was who I would always be. This experience turned everything upside down. That was a very shocking thing for me.
REILLY: Does it feel like suddenly becoming the lead in a movie upended the family hierarchy?
HAIM: Everything is exactly the same. I am still the servant, Este is still the boss, and Danielle is still the mysterious genius. I feel like actors want to be musicians and musicians want to be actors. We each want a peek behind the other’s curtain.
REILLY: Does acting feel like making music at all?
HAIM: There’s a metronome in my mind that’s constantly ticking. Conversations have a rhythm to them. You don’t want to talk over people, you don’t want to talk too quickly. Very weirdly, acting does feel like making music.
REILLY: I saw you on set towards the end of the shoot, and then shortly after that Haim performed at the Grammys. And I was like, “Goddamn, it’s just not fair. She’s either brilliant on camera or shredding on stage.”
HAIM: I went right back to my day job.
REILLY: You didn’t miss a beat. Here’s a quick side question. I have crooked teeth. As an actor, I sometimes wear fake teeth to cover them, which makes me smile way differently. Your teeth are a bit crooked, too. Have you ever felt like fixing that?
HAIM: Do you know why I have a snaggletooth? When I was four, I was in ballet class and we were doing jumps at the bar. I hit my tooth on the bar and chipped it, but I really didn’t think anything of it. When my mom picked me up after class, I smiled at her and she was like, “What the fuck!” I didn’t care, but she flipped, so I had to go to the orthodontist to get it shaved down. Now I have a little baby snaggletooth and this space between my teeth.
REILLY: I’ve always been self-conscious about my teeth. I grin most of the time instead of showing them. I told Paul once that I wanted to get them fixed, and he was like, “Why would you do that? Are you out of your mind? That’s what makes you, you.” Paul really seems to zero in on the beautiful flaws in people. That seems to be a recurring theme in his movies.
HAIM: It’s true. I talked to him about my teeth too, because there are some full-on close-ups of just my teeth.
REILLY: I’ve been there, girl. And mine are way more fucked up than yours.
HAIM: I realized that my teeth are going to be this way, and I’m keeping them.
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Hair: Mara Roszak using RŌZ at A-Frame Agency
Makeup: Loft Jet using Pat McGrath Labs
Fashion Assistant: Catie Lane
Manicure: Naoko Sata using Chanel Le Vernis at Opus Beauty
Production Assistant: Isabelle Fileds