At a house in the San Fernando Valley, Paul Thomas Anderson, the writer-director of Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and, most recently, the coming-of-age comedy Licorice Pizza, which has been nominated for three Oscars, was setting up a photograph of his newest star, Alana Haim, next to an icy blue, kidney-shaped pool. This ranch-style house, which Anderson owns but does not live in, was built in 1951 and has been lovingly preserved: The kitchen has bright yellow floral wallpaper and knotty pine cabinets; the wall-size fireplace is made of slabs of granite; and the window seats, which span the outer border of the living room, are turquoise cotton rectangles. Like Licorice Pizza, which is set in 1973, the house recalls the scenic charms of California’s past, a history that endlessly intrigues Anderson.
“My hobby is looking through old newspapers,” Anderson said. He was wearing his usual uniform of black pants and a gray loose-fitting jacket with deep pockets. Although he grew up in the Valley and has immortalized that part of Los Angeles in nearly every one of his nine films, Anderson, who is 51 years old, looks more European than Californian. He has short, tousled hair and an innate boyishness that is tempered by genuine sophistication. “I was reading the Valley News from the early 1950s, and I was fascinated by the social section of the paper,” Anderson told me, as he adjusted one of his cameras. “I loved the women in the Valley doing their club activities. There were photos of the ladies at a flower show with their prized orchids. There was a group of art students who were chosen as extras for a Hollywood movie. There was a shot of a wedding shower for the daughter of a prominent family. And there were several photographs of fashion shows, usually for charity.”
Prada dress; Salvatore Ferragamo shoes.
From left: Alana wears a Giorgio Armani sweater; Ralph Lauren pants; vintage belt from New York Vintage, New York; Bass shoes; stylist’s own gloves. Danielle Haim wears a Leorosa sweater; Gucci shorts and shoes; Miu Miu belt; stylist’s own gloves. Este Haim wears a Lacoste sweater; Michael Kors Collection dress; AGL shoes; stylist’s own gloves.
After carefully reviewing the newspaper photos, Anderson decided that his shoot for W should center on a fashion presentation of the latest styles, circa 1950. In addition to Alana, he cast her sisters (and bandmates), Danielle and Este Haim; his eldest daughter, Pearl (Anderson has four children with Maya Rudolph, the brilliant comedian and actor); and various friends and family members to round out his newly anointed “Balboa Ladies Society.”
While the tables were being set and period-perfect delicacies (ambrosia Jell-O, anyone?) were being arranged in a banquet room at the nearby Monterey at Encino, the Balboa Golf Course’s restaurant, Anderson posed Haim in a woven lawn chair at the house. She was wearing a narrow red Prada gown made of cotton lace cut into floral shapes. Anderson first met Haim when he invited her and her sisters over to his home for dinner with his family. Then he directed nine of the band’s videos. “After I worked with Paul a number of times, he mentioned under his breath, ‘I’m going to put you in a movie,’ ” she told me. “I would have been happy with a PA job!” She smiled. Haim has a warm, instantly ingratiating manner that is captivating, which is part of the reason that critics like Manohla Dargis, writing in The New York Times, have called her a “film goddess.” In her debut movie role, Haim is both utterly real and mythic, like the first person you fall madly in love with.
Alana wears a Dior dress.
Anderson wrote Licorice Pizza with her in mind. “My character’s name is Alana Kane,” Haim continued, as she slipped on a pair of black slingbacks. “I immediately freaked out because I was so excited that Paul was using my name. When I read the script, I was in London, and I was so jet-lagged. I called him and gushed about the script. He immediately asked if I wanted to play Alana Kane. I said yes! And then, after I hung up, I freaked out and said, ‘What did I just get myself into?’ Now I’m here, sitting in this chair!”
In actuality, Alana Kane is also based on the actor Kay Lenz, who was best known for playing a free-spirited hippie in 1973’s Breezy, directed by Clint Eastwood. Anderson often uses real people as a point of departure for his scripts—the main character in There Will Be Blood was loosely based on the oil baron Edward Doheny; L. Ron Hubbard, who created Scientology, was an inspiration for The Master. A friend of Anderson’s named Gary Goetzman, who is now Tom Hanks’s producing partner, was the model for Licorice Pizza’s Gary Valentine, a child actor with an entrepreneurial streak, played by Cooper Hoffman. In real life, Goetzman dated Lenz, who worked for him at a waterbed store. There are echoes of that relationship in the film, but Anderson also plays with his own version of the friendship, which is filled with a surprising amount of emotion.
“I found this!” Anderson said midway through the shoot, holding up a roll of 50-year-old film from Russia. “There are only 10 shots. Let’s use it and see what happens.” Haim stared directly at the camera; her gaze was serene. The two did not speak much. “We have it,” Anderson said after a while. “Let’s go to the party!”
At the banquet hall, the tables had centerpieces of pink and red carnations, and a large extravaganza of a cake, with cherries on top, was placed in the center of a buffet. Since Anderson had decided to shoot the W story and, simultaneously, film a video for the new Haim song “Lost Track,” there was a movie camera waiting in the corner of the large room. As if on cue, the women lined up. Alana was in the center, in an emerald green diaphanous Dior gown, flanked by Danielle, in a navy wool suit, and Este, in a pale belted dress with a large circle skirt. “And the winner is,” Anderson said loudly, as he settled behind the camera, “Alana Haim, for her pineapple Bundt cake!” The song began, and Danielle grabbed an antique microphone and began to sing along. The extras, all in ’50s finery, walked up and down as Danielle sang. “That looks great,” Anderson said. “Let’s go again!”
Top, from left: Danielle wears a Dior coat. Alana wears a Dior jacket and shorts; stylist’s own gloves. Este wears a Dior coat.
Top, from left: Este wears a vintage dress from Western Costume Company, Los Angeles; stylist’s own gloves. Alana wears a Dior jacket; stylist’s own gloves.
From left: Alana wears an Undercover top, skirt, and tights; Van Cleef & Arpels ring. Danielle wears an Undercover top, skirt, and tights; Mansur Gavriel shoes. Este wears a Banana Republic turtleneck; Undercover skirt; Wolford tights; stylist’s own shoes.
Alana wears a Wolford turtleneck; Batsheva skirt; Gucci shoes.
After a few hours and many different setups, Anderson moved the girls into the hall of the building. From that vantage point, he could capture his main characters in the foreground and the other women in the back. While Haim and her sisters were wearing current clothes, the rest of the cast was in head-to-toe vintage. “I like the contrast,” Anderson said. In a sense, all his films embrace that combination of historic awareness and the vividness of the present day: Licorice Pizza may be set in the 1970s, but there is nothing dated about the feelings for the Valley that are expressed in the film. Whatever the year, Anderson is the cinematic poet of this place.
Back in the main room, a camera assistant was measuring a wide circle. Anderson likes running—in Licorice Pizza, the characters are constantly racing toward one another. As Danielle sang and ran around this perimeter, the other women were intentionally oblivious. “I like that!” Anderson exclaimed. He paused. “Let’s gather together,” he said, after a few more running takes. He positioned the group in a Valley News–type assemblage. “That was so magical,” he said approvingly. “Like the past, but better.”
Sittings editor: Allia Alliata di Montereale. Hair by Mara Roszak for RŌZ at A-Frame; makeup by Loftjet for Dior Beauty at the Only Agency; manicure by Stephanie Stone at Forward Artists. Extras: Donna Haim, Delaina Hlavin, Sarit Finkelstein-Boim, Demelza Cronin, Mary Wigmore, Reina Reyes, Pearl Anderson, Jenny Delaney, Patricia Peña, Leslie Samovitz. Consulting producer: Sara Murphy. Production designer: Florencia Martin. Prop master: William Potter. Food stylist: Patricia Riley. Floral designer: Leah Schiros. Produced by Wes Olson and Hannah Murphy at Connect the Dots; production coordinator: Nicole Morra at Connect the Dots; gaffer: Michael Bauman; photo assistants: Trevor Loomis, Chris Sloan; film loader: Bobby Pavlosky; electrics: Tommy Dangcil, Mike Lyon, Thomas McCarty; key grip: Jeff Sherman Kunkel; best boy grip: Joe Couchanian; dolly grip: Jonny Mang; grips: Vic Chouchanian, Matthew Michaels; postproduction supervisor: Erica Frauman; editor: Andy Jurgensen; retouching: DTouch; fashion assistants: Derek Brown, Josephine Chumley, Sage Mckee, Tara Boyette; production assistants: Alison Yardley, Madison Krieger, Brandon Fried, Peter Ditzler, Essence Moseley, Kevin Spitzer; hair assistants: Arbana Dollani, Kelsey Hellenbrand; makeup assistants: Amy Atti, Luna Vela, Victoria Foster; prop assistant: William McMillin; tailor: Irina Tshartaryan at Susie’s Custom Design.