Anderson said he knew Haim would be good but “I didn’t know she was going to be that good. I’ve worked with the same guys for like 20 years, and I just kept looking around at them for verification. Like, you have to tap me on my shoulder to make sure I’m seeing what I’m seeing. Don’t let me be delusional. And everybody collectively on set was seeing what I was seeing — her skill and the way you can photograph her.”
It helped that her co-star, the effortlessly charismatic Cooper Hoffman (son of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was a frequent Anderson collaborator) had also never been in a movie before. Anderson cast him late in the process, after auditioning a number of young actors who felt too mannered and formally trained to match Haim’s naturalistic style. Hoffman and Haim had met briefly through Anderson five years prior, never thinking their paths would cross again, but as soon as they read together, Haim recalled, “It was like, oh, we’re a team. We can take on the world together.”
Despite the characters’ relatively chaste relationship, the age gap between them has caused some controversy. In real life, Haim, who turns 30 this month, is 12 years older than Hoffman (they bonded so much during the shoot that she still calls him “one of my best friends”), though in the movie her age is a little ambiguous. At one point the character says she’s 25, but there’s a pause between the two numerals that suggests she might be rounding up. “There was never really a conversation between me and Paul about how old Alana was,” she said. “Somewhere in her early 20s. I say some ages in the movie, but you don’t really believe Alana. She kind of doesn’t even know how old she really is? She’s very secretive. But really, it’s about her and Gary’s friendship more than anything.”
When we spoke on a late November afternoon, Haim was battling a sinus infection she blamed on the Santa Ana winds. As a Southern California breeze tickled the curtains of her open living-room window, she occasionally paused our conversation to blow her nose with humorous theatricality. (“Oh, that was a lot!”) She wore a white T-shirt, jeans and, around her neck, her most prized possession, a “Sisters of the Moon” pendant given to her by one of her idols, Stevie Nicks. In conversation Haim is garrulous and ebullient, occasionally clipping the ends off her sentences in an excited hurry to get to the next thought.
As they were shooting, Anderson found that the actor Haim most reminded him of was Joaquin Phoenix, whom Anderson directed in “The Master” (2012) and “Inherent Vice” (2014).
“She can throw herself into something, a lot like Joaquin,” Anderson said. “You cannot tell if they’re completely out of control, or if they’re so in their body that they’re able to make it look like they’re out of control. They’re very similar. It’s weird. They’re both feral, you know? You’re not really sure what’s coming next.”