Hala Finley is always looking for new challenges to take on, light sitcoms like CBS Man with a plan at most serious with dark subjects like human trafficking as his latest film Paradise Highway. Finley plays Leila, a girl who unwillingly participates in a smuggling operation, and befriends a reluctant truck driver, Sally (Juliette Binoche). Following an exchange that goes wrong, the two find themselves on the run and in danger, trying to escape their pursuers. Finley spoke to Bleeding Cool about his work with the writer-director Anna Gutowho made her theatrical debut, and her co-star Binoche.
Bleeding Cool: What interested you in Paradise Highway?
Hala Finley: I loved the script. It was absolutely amazing. Leila’s journey describing a real problem is what intrigued me the most.
BC: What was it like working with Anna?
Finley: Anna is such an amazing director. We also bonded almost immediately. We also talked about how to keep Leila real, like her accent. I’ve studied a lot of people from Mississippi since that’s where she’s from. They have a really strong accent, so I wanted to make sure Leila did the same. It was absolutely amazing working with Anna, and I really hope to be able to work with her again.
BC: Given the dark subject matter of the film itself about trafficking, was there anything you did to prepare yourself that helped you step into your role?
Finley: I spent three weeks immersing myself in Leila’s universe. I wanted to make sure I portrayed a real person going through what they’ve been through. I watched a lot of documentaries about trafficking and the stories of survivors. I just kept digging into Leila’s past because I wanted to see how someone from her upbringing would handle this situation.
BC: How would you describe working with your more experienced co-stars on set?
Finley: I love working with Juliette, and I learned from [my co-stars’] example of how professional and serious they were in their own role. I spent most of the time on set deepening my role. Juliette was so amazing and fun to work with; she even felt like a mother figure to me. On set, she always made sure I was okay and protected me. We developed a very close bond, which was also important for the film because Lila and Sally have such a special connection.
lionsgate highway to paradisewhich also features Morgan Freeman, Frank Grillo, Veronica Ferres, Cameron Monaghan, and Christine Seidel, is in theaters, digital, and on-demand now.