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From SXSW breakouts to 'Licorice Pizza' stars: Hanging out with Haim at Alamo Drafthouse

Eric Webb
Austin 360

The sisters Haim — Alana, Danielle and Este, of the Grammy-nominated rock band that shares their surname — are movie stars now. Out of the gate, the lines between the silver screen stardom and normal rock stardom are a little blurry. Their characters in filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film “Licorice Pizza” are sisters named Alana, Danielle and Este. 

“I talked to Paul about it. It was kind of, ‘What else am I going to call you?’” says Alana, 30, the movie’s lead and the band’s youngest sister. “I think he always loved our names. We did change the last name. It’s not Haim, it’s Kane.” 

The band came to Austin on Dec. 4, where they sat down with the American-Statesman in the Highball bar at Alamo Drafthouse’s South Lamar Boulevard location to talk about their big celluloid moment. Later that day, “Licorice Pizza” screened at the theater for a special sneak peek, and Haim treated the lucky audience members to a mini performance of some of their songs. 

It's an unexpected turn toward a different kind of stardom for a family band that first broke out almost a decade ago at Austin’s South by Southwest Music Festival.  

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Danielle Haim, from left, Alana Haim and Este Haim of the band Haim came to Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar Boulevard ahead of a screening of their new film "Licorice Pizza" on Dec. 4.

And worry not: The sisters, especially lead actress Alana, are compellingly good in “Licorice Pizza.” 

So good, you start to wonder if the dynamic between Alana, Danielle and Este Kane resembles the one between Alana, Danielle and Este Haim. 

“I feel like it’s the opposite. I feel like all I do is scream at you guys in the movie,” says Alana. Este, the eldest sister, quickly agrees. Like siblings who are also coworkers, their answers often bleed together in conversation.  

Alana explains the character dynamics in the movie. She gestures to Danielle: “I yell at you all the time.” She turns to Este: “We are constantly fighting.”  

“Does not happen in real life,” Este says, with an index finger of emphasis raised.  

“I feel like it’s the actual exact opposite depiction of our relationship, which I think was fun,” Alana says. 

“And I’m also not the favorite in the family” Este says, and the finger is back, “which I play in the movie.” 

“That is a lie,” Alana says.  

“That is a lie,” Danielle says, nodding in agreement.  

“That is a truth!” Este says. 

“You are the favorite – you're the first!” Alana says.  

“I’m definitely not the favorite,” Este says. 

“That is something the favorite would say,” Alana says. “The favorite never says they’re the favorite.”  

We agree; Danielle says, "Thank you.” 

Este closes her eyes and smiles. “I did not relate to my character in the movie in that way,” she says. 

So. Maybe a little parallelism, in good fun. Did we mention that the Haims' parents play their characters’ parents in the movie, too? 

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Cooper Hoffman, left, and Alana Haim star in the movie "Licorice Pizza."

'We're all going to get fired'

Though this is the sisters’ feature film acting debut, Anderson and the Haims go way back. He’s directed many of their music videos, including for last year’s “The Steps,” which Danielle co-directed. The camera-and-subject relationship certainly is not new.  

“We were just stoked to be in the movie,” Alana says. 

“We asked zero questions,” Danielle says. 

“I was like, ‘I’ll believe it when I’m on the set,’” Este says. 

“Even when we were on the set, we were like, ‘This might not happen,’” Alana says.  

All three, in disjointed stereo: “We’re going to be fired.” 

In “Licorice Pizza,” Alana plays a 25-year-old who’s living at home with her family in the early 1970s in the San Fernando Valley. She’s working as a photographer’s assistant — not in a cool way, in a school pictures kind of way — and generally doesn’t have her life together. Who does have his life together is 15-year-old Gary, played by Cooper Hoffman, a preternaturally confident child actor who decides he’s going to win Alana’s heart.  

She's very lost, Alana says, but finds herself very quickly. 

“I think the thing that I loved the most about Alana Kane is that she’s so incredibly hardworking, and anything that she gets thrown into, she wants to be the best at it,” she says.  

That gumption is on display in how her character quickly rises in the office of a local political candidate, played by Benny Safdie. Then there’s the way Alana Kane puts her whole heart into the waterbed business that she and Gary start, which becomes central to the meandering coming-of-age plot. 

And she might know how to sell, but she’s still “incredibly unstable sometimes, and will scream at her family out of nowhere,” Alana says with a laugh. 

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In Paul Thomas Anderson's "Licorice Pizza," Cooper Hoffman (the son of late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Alana Haim (of the Grammy-nominated rock band Haim) make their feature film debuts.

In supporting roles with few lines, Danielle and Este also make their mark on the receiving end of the screams. The latter, who plays bass in the band and is known among Haim fans for her meme-able expressions in concert, brings no shortage of facial elasticity to her onscreen alter ego. 

“I don’t really have a lot of control over my face,” Este says. “It does some weird gymnastics. When I’m playing, I let it do what it wants to do. I think that when I was onscreen, filming, it was kind of the same thing.” 

Este is particularly proud of one grimace she got into the film. See if you can find it. 

By contrast, Danielle’s "Licorice Pizza” analogue is a sphinx with a cigarette, silently listening and then dispensing wisdom to the oft-exasperated Alana.  

When asked if she modeled her character on any real-life confidants of her own, Danielle gestured to Alana and Este: “I feel like this is a boring answer, but my sisters.” 

“Got a built-in wolf pack here. Do not (expletive) with us,” Este says playfully, but also a little seriously. 

That wolf pack was forged through genetics, yes, but also years of hard work as musicians. The sisters formed the band Haim in 2007. They first caught fire in 2012 at SXSW, and after their 2013 return to Austin, they took home the festival’s inaugural Grulke Prize for developing U.S. act. The band‘s debut album, “Days Are Gone,” came out later that fall. Earlier this year, Haim became the first all-female rock band nominated for album of the year at the Grammys, for 2020’s “Women In Music Pt. III.” 

Alana Haim, Danielle Haim and Este Haim perform at Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2016.

The Haims grew up playing music as a family band in the same San Fernando Valley so lovingly portrayed in the film. Filming “Licorice Pizza,” very much a tale of its setting, felt special for the sisters.  

“I think the coolest thing was being in L.A. and being in the Valley shooting, and seeing the Valley in the ‘70s,” Danielle says. “I feel like we’ve always dreamt about, ‘What would if we were alive —” 

“With mom,” Alana interjects, overlapping. 

“In the ‘70s,” they both finish in unison. 

“If we could be a fly on the wall, like in 1973, when our mom first moved to L.A.,” Este muses. She adds, “Driving through Laurel Canyon as kids — there's just so much folklore surrounding Laurel Canyon and the Valley in general. It’s collectively our favorite era, so to be able to make a movie within that period was a dream.” 

Danielle praises the film’s spot-on period details. The set decoration and costumes impeccably resurrect the time and place, from garish patterned wallpaper to a billboard for now-defunct L.A. radio station KMET. 

“There’s details that no one will ever notice,” Alana says.  

The deeper you go into the Valley in real life, Este says, the more you feel like you are time-traveling. Buildings that would have been around in the time of “Licorice Pizza” still stand. “We literally shot around the corner from our childhood home,” Este says.  

The sisters didn’t get to keep their era-accurate wardrobes from the movie. They wish they had. There’s a dress that Este wears in a scene in a pinball arcade that she loved. 

“I got to take the headphones from the airplane,” Alana says, referring to a scene where she acts as Gary’s chaperone on a flight.  

“You did?!” Este asks in disbelief.  

“The TWA headphones, I took them,” Alana says. “I’m going to frame them.”  

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“I think the thing that I loved the most about Alana Kane is that she’s so incredibly hardworking, and anything that she gets thrown into, she wants to be the best at it,” Alana Haim says about her character in "Licorice Pizza."

'Better together'

The central relationship of “Licorice Pizza” is unusual, to say the least. Gary Valentine and Alana Kane find themselves in situations few would expect – piloting an empty-tanked moving truck backward through rolling hills in the dead of night while avoiding the vengeance of Barbra Streisand’s boyfriend (as played by Bradley Cooper), to cite an example from a memorable scene. And even fewer people would expect the pair to hang out at all. (The film also has raised eyebrows on social media from some critics, who disapprove of the ambiguous romantic tension between the leads in the plot, as Hoffman's character is underage.) 

To understand the bond between the two characters, “I always go back to the first time that I met Cooper,” Alana says.  

“Paul conned us into babysitting Cooper,” Este adds. 

In 2017, the sisters first met Hoffman, the son of frequent Anderson collaborator Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died in 2014. The band was about to shoot the video for their song “Little of Your Love,” directed by Anderson. At the time, he was deep into the editing process for his film “Phantom Thread,” which would go on to score multiple Academy Award nominations. 

When the Haims arrived in the editing room, the young Hoffman was there. Anderson got called away, Alana says, and asked the sisters to take Hoffman out to get food. What followed at the restaurant was like a scene out of “Licorice Pizza.” 

“He’s going to be so sad that I said this: He took his Invisalign out, put it on the table and was like ‘What do you want? Do you want a Coke?’” Alana says. 

“We were like, ‘Who is this kid?’” Este says. 

The sisters of the band Haim (from left, Este, Danielle and Alana Haim) became the first all-women rock band nominated for album of the year at this year's Grammy Awards.

Just a few years later, they would all star in a movie together. It’s already netted Alana critical praise, including a Golden Globe nod for best actress in a comedy/musical and an award for breakthrough performer of the year from the National Board of Review. 

The vibes from that first meeting remind Alana of the story of “Licorice Pizza.” Gary and Alana meet in a “very crazy way” in the movie, she says. They don’t know it at the time, but their lives will soon change.  

Feels familiar. 

“It’s their friendship that helps them overcome these insane obstacles that life is putting them through,” she says. “They do it better together than they do apart.”