Laura Prepon, Stephen Frears, Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis, and Joshua Jackson. Photo by George Pimentel/Getty Images.
Celebrated filmmaker Stephen Frears was positively giddy about introducing the world premiere of his latest film, Lay the Favorite, on Saturday night at the Eccles Theater. Festively outfitted in a long red scarf and wordlessly roaming behind the podium, he seemed as excited for film’s world premiere as the audience. After all, he said, “I just finished it last Friday.” The true story of Beth Raymer (Rebecca Hall), a young wanderlusty private dancer who moves from Florida to Las Vegas and finds a job—and an unexpected calling—working with a professional sports bettor named Dink (Bruce Willis). After a falling out with Dink, Beth movies to New York and then to tropical Curacao, making lots of money but getting in over her head. Mr. Frears was joined for the post-screening Q&A by his screenwriter, D.V. DeVincentis, and actors Willis, Hall, Laura Prepon, Joshua Jackson, and Corbin Bernsen.
Q: This is for Bruce Willis. First of all, my mom says hi, and that you have the most charming smile she ever saw. And you’ve been my inspiration since your first Die Hard movies. Did you have to prepare for the movie? Did you watch bookies doing their job in Vegas? Or did you just get into it.
Bruce Willis: I wanted to work with Stephen Frears. I like movies. I like acting. I like trying to do stuff that I’m afraid of. Yes, I still like trying stuff. I love this film. Acting is a peculiar thing. Have you ever seen these films where I shoot guns all the time? Well there’s no shooting of guns in this film. We were kind to everyone, even the hamster. I can’t believe I have a close up in this film. Thank you, Stephen, for having a close up of me. It cracks me up, this film. It’s just in that little, interesting side of things, which I love. You kind of ease into it.
Q: How true was the book to this?
Beth Raymer: Uh, I don’t know. (Laughs)
Q: I think he meant how true is the movie to your book?
Beth Raymer: Oh. Then I’d say the first half is very true, and then when she moves to New York it becomes very fictionalized. (She steps back and breaks into hysterical laughter).
Q: This question is for Rebecca Hall. Tell us how much time you spent shadowing Beth, because you’ve got her down to a T. (Laughter) Because you’re a nice, sort of, Oxbridge girl.
Rebecca Hall: I know, I suppose so. Well, I spent a lot of time with her. We hung out in New York, where she lives, and I tried to become friends with her. And she let me. We had a good time in the process. It was a lot of time, 2 or 3 months or more. (Author again breaks into hysterical laughter)
Q: I was curious about the experience of doing a Sundance film opposed to a larger Hollywood-type film. What are the differences?
Bruce Willis: It’s challenging. It was and still is an ambitious movie. Everybody worked on it worked really hard. Everybody works hard all the time. Every movie you’re going to see here, people worked really hard on. Nobody’s phoning it in. Nobody’s saying oh, you know what, we’re going to hack our way. There’s a real Dink. There’s a real Beth. And it is a difficult thing to try and be someone else, and still be…what? (someone tells Bruce that the real Dink is in the audience) Dink! (Dink stands and receives applause). It makes it even more difficult to live up to those things and to make it fun. They’re great people, and there’s a real life, and there’s such a back-channel of not shooting people, not running down the street, and just telling a story. Everyone tries as hard as they can. I think Stephen Frears did a phenomenal job. He kept us on that line every day. Not pushing, not making it something that it wasn’t. It was a real roping kind of story. And it’s adorable. And that’s it. Dink! (Pumps a fist)
Q: To Stephen Frears, what specifically attracted you to the story?
Frears: I liked the story and I liked the script. It wasn’t like every other film. It was so much more interesting, so original. You try to find things that are fresh and original. It’s a world that I—I mean I don’t know that anybody knew existed. Well a few, certainly Dink knew it existed. You just stumble onto this really interesting group of people. Its freshness was a big attraction.