English actress Rebecca Hall has joined Stephen Frears’ “Lay the Favorite.” Written by D.V. DeVincentis (who collaborated with Frears on “High Fidelity”), the film adapts Beth Raymer’s novelistic memoir about her years in the sports betting world. Hall will play Raymer, who tried her hand at social work, in-home stripping, and waitressing before falling in with a local Vegas bookie (played by Bruce Willis) and eventually operating an offshore booking office in the Caribbean. While it may seem like an unlikely role for an actress known for her classical theater background and small yet plum parts in film and television, Hall’s career shares with Raymer’s its upward trajectory in a high-stakes industry.
In a few short years, Hall has built a sterling résumé that goes from strength to strength. As befitting a former Cambridge student of English Literature, she has gravitated primarily toward adaptations, starting at age ten as a precocious, displaced child in the miniseries of Mary Wesley’s The Camomile Lawn. Her first notable adult roles came as love interests — a mouthy college Marxist, a devoted Victorian wife, a gorgeous socialite — in “Starter for 10,” based on David Nicholls’ debut novel (published as A Question of Attraction in the U.S.); “The Prestige,” Christopher Nolan’s version of the Christopher Priest book; and “Frost/Nixon,” Ron Howard’s film of Peter Morgan’s play. However, it was her BAFTA-winning performance as a grieving mother in “Red Riding: 1974,” part one of the television adaptation of David Peace’s crime quartet, that demonstrated her range. Hall’s Paula Garland, whose young daughter has gone missing, offered a quietly compelling portrait of a working-class woman demoralized into inertia by anguish and oppression.
More recently, Ben Affleck tapped her for his highly anticipated Boston crime drama “The Town,” drawn from Chuck Hogan’s award-winning Prince of Thieves. Bank manager Claire Keesey serves as the center of the plot, first as a hostage in a robbery, then as the unwitting catalyst for a secondary heist. While another role in an ensemble cast, the picture gave Hall wider exposure, as will the soon-to-be released “Everything Must Go.” The indie, based on the Raymond Carver short story "Why Don't You Dance?", co-stars Will Ferrell as a relapsed alcoholic who holds a yard sale in an attempt to re-start his life, assisted by Hall as his pregnant neighbor.
Hall has shone in all these supporting parts, but we can’t wait to see what she’ll do with her first major leading role in “Lay the Favorite.” (Nor can we wait to see how Willis will handle a character “dressed like the mentally retarded adults … at a group home” — but that’s another story.) In an NPR interview, Raymer professed a gambler’s love of risk and unpredictability — “If there is an addiction explored in my book, it’s the addiction to living a life of endless possibility” — a sentiment undoubtedly shared by Rebecca Hall.
Photo: Piotr Redlinski ©2008, Property of Sony Pictures Classics