Paul Thomas Anderson sat down with Variety to discuss his latest film Licorice Pizza, including his unconventional casting choices and returning, once again, to his beloved 1970s San Fernando Valley. He also lets us in on what the family gathers around to watch together. The auteur’s surprising answer? Marvel movies, of course.
Anderson’s latest movie has the audience returning to an era and location that is dear to to the Valley Boy. Heavier films like The Master and There Will Be Blood are what we’ve come to expect from the Oscar-nominated writer and director, but Licorice Pizza is a definite departure delivering a love story and straight up comedy from the actors, Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim. Licorice Pizza tells the story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973.
Speaking of the newcomers, Paul Thomas Anderson explains his choices for our main characters. “Cooper had years and years and years of experience under his belt of making home movies with me and my family. Generally, they are action-oriented films where he’d get beaten up as the bad guy by my son who heroically throws him off a cliff or shoots him in the face. Besides that, he’d not acted in a professional way. I didn’t write it for him. I wrote it for a blurry 15- or 16-year-old boy. I never imagined when I was writing it that it would be Cooper. I thought that I would take the more traditional route and pursue a young actor. There were a few I met that were talented, but most of them already seemed at a young age to be overly trained, overly mannered and overly ambitious, which was not interesting to me.”
Anderson has worked with Alana Haim directing multiple music videos for her and her sisters’ band, Haim. He explains his choice for casting the musician as our leading lady. “This was a story that was very specific to the San Fernando Valley. That was important in terms of casting. It’s like if you’re going to tell a story in New York, you hire Marisa Tomei. Alana looks like a girl from the Valley; she talks like a girl from the Valley; she is a girl from the Valley. She has a ferociousness. She’s very eager and she’s a quick learner. I don’t know how many more boxes you can tick. In the movie, she starts off as the stable one, who has more years under her belt, but it slowly emerges that she’s wobbly and unstable and impulsive and angry and trapped and incredibly immature.”
When asked what films he’s enjoyed recently, responds, “Shang-Chi was good fun. There’s a terrific energy about it, but I also live in a Marvel-obsessed household, so continuing the journey of these Marvel stories is exciting to us. I liked Venom 2. Titane is worth seeing. Proceed with caution: I have no idea how to recommend it, because it’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. I don’t know entirely how I feel about it, but, my God, you are in the hands of a real filmmaker. I was holding on tight for dear life, and that is a terrific feeling. I watched the trailer for King Richard, and when it comes out, I will be first in line. When Will Smith decides to turn it on, it’s so magical. I loved his performance in Pursuit of Happyness. It’s an undertalked-about film.”
And lastly, when asked if getting older has changed him as a filmmaker, he responds, “My instinct is to say that I’ve gotten more confident, but anyone who’s done this knows that confidence is an illusion. One day’s good work doesn’t mean anything. You’re still at the whim of the gods about how the next day is going to go. But as you get older, you get better at predicting a few steps ahead or sensing how a performance is evolving. Having a wider vision comes with experience, but everything has an asterisk with it. You may have 25 years of practice, but when you walk on that film set, you’re right back to being a f-cking novice again. That’s the pull or the addiction for many of us who do this thing.”
The Paul Thomas Anderson love letter to the film industry of 1970s southern California stars Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Ben Stiller, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph and Benny Safdie. Licorice Pizza hits theaters December 25. This news originated at Variety.