Alana Haim Is the Ultimate Valley Girl

The musician and actor talks 'Licorice Pizza' and her go-to spots in the San Fernando Valley.

alana haim
UA Releasing/Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

Alana Haim and I were both in New York when we met over Zoom last week, but spiritually, we were in the San Fernando Valley.

I was quick to establish that I'm from the Los Angeles area where Haim's new movie Licorice Pizza is set, and she, of course, is also a Valley girl, a title I think it's fair to say we both wear with pride. (She was also aware that the house I grew up in is featured in the film, and wanted to know if I had ever crashed my car in the very steep driveway. I didn't, but I explained I got into accidents elsewhere on Ventura Boulevard.)

Haim is best known as one-third of HAIM, the Grammy-nominated band she formed with her older sisters, Este and Danielle, but she makes her film debut in Licorice Pizza as Alana Kane, a role Paul Thomas Anderson wrote with her in mind after directing a number of her band's music videos. Alana is an aimless twenty-something working for a school photographer when she meets Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman), a teenager aging out of being a child star and into a consummate entrepreneur. Despite repeatedly rebuffing Gary, Alana eventually gets into business with him selling waterbeds, all the while wondering why they are still hanging out.

As the movie heads into wide release over Christmas—and Haim celebrates her 30th birthday—we linked up to talk about our shared hometown, Jewish girl tummy issues, and her read on the ending of Licorice Pizza. Some light spoilers do follow.

Alana haim, licorice pizza
UA Releasing

Thrillist: What does the Valley mean to you? What does it mean to travel back in time in this place?
Alana Haim: Being from the Valley, I don't know where you hear it first, but it's just like a feeling where you're like, "Oh, everyone thinks that we're uncool in LA." We're the uncool kids, but it's weird because no one ever sat me down and was like, "Oh, the Valley is uncool." It was just this thing that you kind of grow up knowing, but weirdly it makes you proud of it because, I mean, as you know, going to some party not in the Valley and then you're looking for your Valley kids. And then you'll meet someone that's like, "Yeah, I'm from Studio City." And you're like, "Oh no, no, no. Now we're best friends." Like, "What middle school did you go to? I went to Millikan."

It's just like this unspoken thing. And I think that was one of the main things that me and Paul connected on when me and my siblings met him, we've always loved the Valley because we were always proud of living there. I mean, even though now, funnily enough, people seeing the movie are like, "I want to go to the Valley," and I'm like, "It's a suburb." I guess I'll take you to the Fashion Square? But yeah, I just always loved it because everyone thought that it was uncool. And I was like, "Well, if it's uncool, then I don't care. Then that makes me feel cool because I think it's cool."

And being in this movie: All of the points of reference, I knew exactly where they were. And if I didn't know where they were, I knew what had taken over after it was a thing. It was a little bit farther down Ventura, but when Du-par's closed I mourned that for a very long time. The facade of Du-par's is still there. They haven't changed the sign or anything. They just painted over everything and it's a Sephora and you're like, "The amount of memories I have at this place," because that area was basically where I grew up. So, that was my place. Late night, you go to Du-par's.

It was great being in the Valley and knowing it because it helped with my character. I mean, I'm a Valley girl, and Alana Kane is a Valley girl. I grew up the same way as Alana Kane. I lived with my parents until I was in my twenties. And I'm still so close with my parents. I call them every day. And they come visit me every day at my house, even though I don't want them to, but it's okay because that's a Jewish family for you. We can't get away from each other.

What are your current Valley spots? What are your favorite places that are still in the Valley?
It's so hard because COVID really did kind of switch things up. So I don't know if these places are even open. Going to Disco Saturday Night at Oil Can Harry's was my Saturday night. And it's weird because it felt like overnight the secret was over. Like, someone let the secret out that Oil Can Harry's was the place to be because I would go there and there would be just the regulars. You know what I mean? I would see the same people every week. And then it kind of felt like one night I went and there was a bachelorette party or something. And then the next week, it was like, "Oh, wait, I can't even get in?" I mean, every night is amazing at Oil Can Harry's, but Disco Saturday Night was always super fun because I'm such a fan of the '70s music. But I loved Oil Can Harry's. There's a rumor that it's coming back, but I don't know. It might be Valley folklore.

Art's Deli was my deli. If it wasn't Canter's, it was Art's. If I couldn't make it over the Hill, it would be Art's. And Casa Vega was the thing. And also, funnily enough, the first Menchie's ever opened up down the street from my house. And that was the craziest technology, where I'm like, "Oh, you do the... " [gestures pulling a frozen yogurt lever]. I remember I desperately wanted to work there because I think they opened around the time that I was 14 or 15. And they never gave me a job. I didn't even get interviewed. They were like, "No, you can't work here." And I was devastated. I worked at Crossroads Trading Company on Ventura Boulevard. That was my job when I went to Valley College. And what else? Oh, More Than Waffles in Encino. I'm sure you knew that. And everything came with a fucking waffle. What more could you ask for? Those were my Valley hangs for sure. I mean, I have 50 million more.

How did you approach where Alana is in her life in this movie? She's in this middle ground of being an adult but not feeling like one.
I feel like every single person on this planet has gone through that point in their lives where they have no idea, where you're in that in-between. I mean, I talked to my mom the other day. My birthday's tomorrow, so me and my mom always have this—

Happy birthday!
Thank you. We always have this call every year, where she tells me the story about how she sneezed and her water broke. That's how I came into this world, with a sneeze. She was like, "I can't believe you're turning 30." And I was like, "I know. I can't believe it either. I still feel like I'm 16." And she was like, "Me too." You know, everyone goes through this time where they feel so young. They don't feel like an adult, but they're considered an adult, but you weirdly are like, "Okay, I have to act like an adult, but I don't know how to act like that."

To know that your parents felt like they were 16 when they had you,  they were very much flying by the seat of their pants, was also weirdly comforting and also kind of scary because I look at my parents being like, "Oh, you guys had all the answers," and really, they had no answers. Especially with someone like my older sister, they really were like, "We have never done this before." The amount of first-time parent mistakes that you make. I feel like every single person on this planet goes through that time where they're looking at their life and they're saying like, "Okay, I'm in this in-between. What do I do?"

That's very much where Alana Kane is. I think she's super willing to work. I think she really wants to succeed. And she has all the tools, but doesn't have someone. Like, her siblings are not helping her through this time. Her parents are not helping her through this time. If anything, they're like, "You'll get into the family business," and that's it. And she has bigger dreams for herself. She wants to do something on her own. When she meets someone like Gary who's like, "I want to start a water bed business." She's like, "All right, then let's start this water bed business." She's up for it. That's what I admire about her so much is that she's super willing to do the work, but she just doesn't have any direction.

haim, grammys 2021
Alana (middle) performing with her sisters at the Grammys. | Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

I'd love your take on the ending of the movie.
You know, I laugh about this all the time because the thing that I love about Alana and Gary's friendship is that they're constantly at each other's throats, but the universe pulls them apart and brings them back together. My take on the ending is, probably, they're running and it seems like, "Oh, they figured it out." And then, in my mind, Gary pulls Alana too hard and she falls forward and gets scabs on her knees. She doesn't talk to Gary for another three weeks, and then is like, "All right, fine. I'll talk to him." He'll probably chain call her and she won't answer. And then finally, she'll be, "All right, fine. I'll talk to you." And then it's like a never-ending rollercoaster. They'll never get it together, but that's the funny part of it. They're two pieces that are trying to fit, but it's like you never know where it's going to go with that. But I do have this vivid image of Alana falling and then never talking to Gary again and then being like, "All right, I'll talk to you. Fine. Let's go to the Pinball Palace. I'll meet you there."

There's a lot of running in this movie for you.
So much running. So much. And I'm not a runner.

What was the importance of the Jewishness of Alana and the Kanes for you?
It's no secret that I'm Jewish. I mean, I have the nose. I have the name. I grew up doing Shabbat dinner every Friday. My humor comes from my Judaism. My stomach issues come from my Judaism. As we all know, every Jewish girl knows, our tummy issues are very... it happens. And that's okay. And we grow up with it. And that's fine.

But especially with the Shabbat dinners. I mean, the funniest moments in my life have always come from Shabbat dinner. That story that's in the movie is true. It wasn't Shabbat, though, it was Passover. Not my boyfriend, but my middle sister's boyfriend had come to Passover, and we're reading the Haggadah, as you do, you know, you take turns. You sing the songs. You take turns. And then you eat matzah for the next week, which prolongs your tummy issues. Let's talk about matzo brei all that time. You're fucked.

I do love matzo brei though.
Oh, my mom makes an incredible matzo brei. It's insane. But it literally fucks with my stomach for the next three years. I'm still dealing with all the Pesachs through the years. This whole interview is just going to be about my tummy issues. I'm really going to get a lot of dates through this interview.

But yeah, it was my middle sister. She brought her boyfriend at the time to Passover. And it got to him, and he refused to read the Haggadah. He refused to read this little paragraph. It was incredibly awkward. And I remember telling Paul that story years ago, and while he was writing the script, he was like, "What was that story again? There was a guy that Danielle brought over?" I told him the story. And then when I read the script, it was in the script. Honestly, shooting that scene—I feel like all of us, because my family, my dad, my parents have never acted, obviously, just like me.

Your dad is so good in the movie.
He's incredible. He's literally Robert De Niro. I'm like, "Who are you?" But while we were shooting it, we were laughing so much that, after the day was over, I think we all got on a family conference call and we were like, "There's no way Paul is putting this in the movie. This is going to be on the cutting room floor." Now, seeing it in the movie and having people laugh… Because that's the thing, especially me and my siblings, but my whole family, we love making people laugh. That was my upbringing. It's like, if I can make a dude in seventh grade laugh when I was in seventh grade, I thought that he would have a crush on me. I was wrong. Very wrong. But that was my strength, like, "I'm funny. I'm funny. Come on. I'm funny. Why don't you want to make out with me?" But yeah, we love making people laugh. So, watching the movie and having people laugh at my dad, it's just so funny. We find it amazing. It's my favorite part of the movie, for sure, other than being with everybody else, like Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper. But, you know, my dad's pretty great too.

alana haim, licorice pizza, sean penn
UA Releasing

You mentioned the Sean Penn scene. Can you tell me about being on the back of that motorcycle with him and falling off?
I mean, it was so great. I think the thing that Paul kind of quickly realized working with me on music videos is the amount of crazy things that we did on music videos—I say this all the time. This is LA. This is not the Valley. But I'm a Sagittarius. So, I know my star sign. I'm obsessed with my star sign. I'm very LA in that way. But I'm a Sagittarius. And Sagittarians love new adventures. They're up for anything. And something like the sentence, "You're about to get on a motorcycle with Sean Penn and then fall off," was like, thank you. I'm so ready. I've been preparing for this moment my whole life. Something completely out of my comfort zone and never thought I would ever do to a Sagittarius is like, "Let's go. Of course." And so, it was just fun. I mean, what can I say? Being on the back of a motorcycle with Sean Penn. There's worse things that I could do on a Saturday night. There was nothing wrong with that image. It was just so fun to be able to try things that I would never in my life ever think that I would ever try. Again, Sagittarius. If anyone's like, "Do you want to jump out of a plane?" I'm like, "Yes. I would love that. Let's do that. A hundred percent." If you ask that to Danielle Haim, who's an Aquarius, no, she would not do that. Me? 100 percent.

What were your first moments of bonding with Paul, where you sort of realized that like, "Okay, this is going to be a really, really fruitful, creative relationship in my life"?
I think about it all the time. I say it all the time also that I felt like my whole life, me and my siblings and Paul were kind of just in this weird orbit waiting for us to collide. And I always kind of secretly knew, I'm like, "If I ever met Paul, I really do think that we'd be friends," because of just the Valley connection and just his movies are so fucking incredible and I'm such a big fan of his that I just like felt like we have so many points of reference that we can connect on. I didn't think we were going to become family. I felt like we were going to be friends, but not family. There wasn't a moment where I was like, "Oh, we're going to be family," but it was just this thing of he understood, we both understood where we came from.

He's always just been so supportive of my siblings and I. It's very rare to find someone like that in your lifetime, someone like Paul, because all he wants is for everybody around him to succeed. It's very rare to find, especially—I mean, I hate to say "in this business," because I mean, I've been in the music industry for a very long time and that's basically my connection to Paul. But it is true. I haven't found anybody like Paul in my whole life that just genuinely supports you. It's just endless. He wants you to succeed. And he makes you feel like you can succeed. Especially even with this movie, the amount of doubts that I had, and he never made me feel like I didn't belong. He supported me and constantly reassured me that I could do it, even when I didn't think I could. And that's rare. When you're in Paul's crew, when you get to call Paul your friend, you're a very lucky person. And that's how I feel. I feel very lucky to consider him a friend and also to consider him a part of my family.

Did you have a favorite Paul movie before meeting him?
I wasn't really allowed to watch Boogie Nights until later in life. But my siblings, we have this tradition in our family. Este started it. So, when Danielle turned 16, Este went to Second Spin on Ventura Boulevard and bought [Danielle] ten CDs that were going to be like her Bible for the next chapter of her life because when you turn 16, I mean, you're in high school. It's a big deal. You're going to discover heartbreak. You're going to discover going to parties. And Este bought her ten CDs. You're getting a car, so you need CDs. Este and Danielle shared a car for a very long time. So, she got her these CDs. And one of the CDs was the Boogie Nights soundtrack because Este was obsessed with Boogie Nights, and it's one of the best soundtracks of all time. And so that's how I was introduced to Paul. I thought that it was like a Now That's What I Call Music! for the '70s. I obviously saw the cover and it looked like a movie poster, but I didn't fucking know. And so, just knowing Paul through music, funny enough, I was like, "This is sick." That was the first time I heard "Brand New Key" by Melanie. I would listen to it constantly. I would steal Este's Walkman CD player from Costco. And I would listen to that soundtrack constantly. So, that's how I was introduced to Paul, through his music taste, which is impeccable.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.