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Stephen Frears, who got best director Oscar nominations for 1990’s The Grifters and 2006’s The Queen (which earned Helen Mirren best actress), brings his third film to Sundance this year, Lay the Favorite, with Bruce Willis as a sports gambler and The Town’s Rebecca Hall as a stripper with a head for numbers and a bod for sin. Frears’ brilliant The Hit, with Tim Roth and John Hurt as hit men, played Sundance in 1985 and the still more brilliant The Grifters, in which both Annette Bening and Anjelica Huston got Oscar noms as con artists, played in 1991. Lay the Favorite plays Salt Lake City’s Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center at 6:30 pm Jan. 23, Park City’s Eccles Theater at 3:30 pm on Jan. 28, and Sundance Resort’s Screening Room at 1 pm Jan. 29. Frears told The Hollywood Reporter about his new Sundance film.
The Hollywood Reporter: Is the success of Moneyball good for you? Is it a good time to gamble on gambling in cinema?
Stephen Frears: Yes, I see what you’re saying. I hope so, you know. Cinema – it’s like sport. It’s like gambling.
THR: Is the Bruce Willis character’s gambling system anything like the system in Moneyball?
Frears: I wouldn’t say it’s anything like Moneyball, except that sports is somehow involved.
THR: People don’t realize that Willis came out of the theater – he was great in the 1997 Hailey, Idaho revival of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love, originally an Off-Broadway hit that launched his career in 1984. Isn’t he the ultimate Sundance indie actor?
Frears: He gives a naturalistic performance in the film. A wonderful actor and a wonderful man.
THR: Did anything notable happen in Las Vegas during the Lay the Favorite shoot that should have stayed in Vegas?
Frears: The film isn’t about people who spend a lot of time in casinos. It’s about professional gamblers.
THR: It sounds high-concept – a Florida stripper turns Vegas cocktail waitress, then high-stakes gambler – but it’s based on a real memoir by Beth Raymer.
Frears: It’s about a woman who enters a man’s world.
THR: What was the inciting incident for your involvement?
Frears: My friend D.V. DeVincentis, who wrote High Fidelity [from Nick Hornby’s novel], kept telling me how interesting it was. I thought it was a world I don’t know anything about. It’s the way I like it.
THR: What’s your memory of the casino that is Sundance?
Frears: I’ve only been to Sundance once before, for The Grifters, so I don’t remember it well. I’ll learn more this time.
THR: You must have been so dewy. What’s the difference between going to Sundance then and now?
Frears: I’m older. I’ve gotten more foolish.
THR: Is Lay the Favorite like The Hit, which you’re remaking with American actors going to Mexico to snatch a guy, instead of Brits going to Spain to snatch Terence Stamp?
Frears: Slightly. It’s not really a crime film.
THR: IMDB credits you with 40 major awards. With all the success, has it gotten easier to make movies, or harder?
Frears: Both, really. I’ve had a lucky life, I’ve got nothing to complain about. But I can see it’s harder.
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