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Every Character Based On A Real Person

Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest universally praised directorial effort, Licorice Pizza, is anchored by Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman’s electric on-screen chemistry as a twentysomething photographer’s assistant and the 15-year-old child actor/high schooler who asks her out on picture day. But throughout the movie, they’re backed up by a series of captivating supporting players.

RELATED: 5 Ways Licorice Pizza Is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Best Movie (& 5 Alternatives)

Set in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley in the 1970s and revolving around a prominent player in the entertainment industry, Licorice Pizza contains some characters based on real-life figures. Some of the film’s characters, like Jack Holden, are fictional creations influenced by celebrities. Others, like political candidate Joel Wachs, are directly based on real people.

9 Jack Holden


Sean Penn and Alana Haim on a motorcycle in Licorice Pizza

Sean Penn is one of a few A-list actors who make a lasting impression with an extended cameo appearance in Licorice Pizza. Penn plays Jack Holden, a movie star who does line readings with Alana in an audition, then takes her to Gary’s regular haunt, Tail o’ the Cock. As his name would suggest, Jack is a pretty overt homage to renowned movie star William Holden.

Holden won an Oscar for Stalag 17 and appeared in such widely acclaimed movies as Sunset Boulevard, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Wild Bunch, and Network. Penn was the perfect casting for this role. He has the same grizzled, brooding veteran Hollywood movie star quality embodied by Holden.

8 B. Mitchel Reed


B Mitchel Reed on the radio

Ray Chase appears in Licorice Pizza as radio DJ B. Mitchel Reed. Reed enjoyed a prolific 25-year career as a DJ in both Los Angeles and New York.

During this time, Reed worked for both Top 40 and album-focused rock radio stations. In Licorice Pizza, his cinematic counterpart is used to introduce some of the soundtrack’s grooviest needle-drops.


SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY

7 Lucy Doolittle


Lucy Doolittle onstage in Licorice Pizza

When Gary and Alana first become friends, she accompanies him to a stage appearance as a chaperone. The show is hosted by Lucy Doolittle, played by Christine Ebersole. Gary goes off-script during the show to make a crude joke just for Alana, for which Doolittle furiously berates him backstage.

RELATED: Paul Thomas Anderson’s 5 Most Lovable Characters (& 5 That Fans Love To Hate)

Lucy Doolittle is a clear homage to legendary comedian Lucille Ball – better known to audiences as Lucy, thanks to her TV shows I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, and Here’s Lucy.


6 Mary Grady


Mary Grady on the phone in her office in Licorice Pizza

Gary’s mom acts as his business partner in the waterbed and pinball machine industries, but he also has an official agent to represent him as an actor.

The agent, Mary Grady, played by famed character actor Harriet Sansom Harris (recognizable from a handful of TV roles), is based on a real Hollywood child talent agent. Grady was the mother of actors Don Grady and Lani O’Grady.


5 Fred Gwynne


Regular Anderson collaborator John C. Reilly makes a brief cameo appearance during the convention scene in Licorice Pizza. In the midst of a glorious long take following Gary to his waterbed-selling station, Reilly can be spotted dressed as Herman Munster.

He’s actually playing Fred Gwynne, the actor who played Herman Munster, making a live appearance in costume as a cheap marketing gimmick.


4 Rex Blau


Tom Waits on a golf course in Licorice Pizza

When Alana goes on a date with Jack Holden, it immediately becomes clear that he isn’t interested in her at all and just wants to regale her with his own long, rambling stories. He invites a director friend of his, Rex Blau (played brilliantly by Tom Waits), to join them at the table.

As the scene progresses, Blau goads Holden into performing a motorcycle stunt on the golf course. Blau’s eccentric personality is based on the filmmaker Mark Robson, who directed The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Peyton Place, and Valley of the Dolls.


3 Joel Wachs


Joel Wachs running for office in Licorice Pizza

When Alana becomes disillusioned with Gary’s immaturity, she volunteers to work on the political campaign of Joel Wachs, played by Uncut Gems co-director Benny Safdie. Wachs was a real Los Angeles politician who served on the Los Angeles City Council from 1971 to 2002 (and served as its president from 1981 to 1983).

RELATED: 5 Roles In Paul Thomas Anderson Movies That Were Perfectly Cast (& Who Almost Played Them)

In the movie, Wachs calls Alana to a restaurant where he’s on a date with his boyfriend so she can provide a cover to keep his sexuality from becoming public knowledge. Although he was noted for his support of gay rights issues, Wachs wouldn’t publicly disclose his sexuality until he ran for mayor in 1999.




2 Jon Peters


Licorice Pizza trailer Bradley Cooper header

Bradley Cooper gives a scene-stealing turn as film producer and former hairdresser Jon Peters in Licorice Pizza. He only appears in a couple of scenes when Gary and Alana take a van on its last legs to deliver a waterbed to Barbra Streisand’s boyfriend’s house.

Cooper lets loose in all his scenes – whether he’s yelling at kids, trashing his own garage, or bringing a lighter to confront people at a gas station – taking full advantage of the outrageousness of the material.


1 Gary Valentine


Gary Valentine doing the quiet sign in Licorice Pizza

Gary Valentine, the teenage actor-turned-entrepreneur at the heart of Licorice Pizza, is a fictional character. But according to Variety, Anderson was heavily influenced by Gary Goetzman’s showbiz anecdotes while he was writing the character.

Much like Valentine, Goetzman was a child actor who sold waterbeds on the side. He later became a prolific film producer and co-founded the production company Playtone with Tom Hanks.

NEXT: 10 Movies That Influenced Paul Thomas Anderson

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