Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Dan Kelly

‘She’s a born star’: 13-year-old from Kansas City area is making it big in Hollywood

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Hala Finley might be only 13, but she is a Hollywood veteran and an emerging movie star — even if few people in her hometown realize it.

The Kansas City area native has a major role in the upcoming movie “Paradise Highway,” which stars Oscar winners Morgan Freeman and Juliette Binoche. In fact, she gets third billing in the credits — ahead of Freeman. “Paradise Highway” will be released in select theaters, digitally and on-demand July 29.

Anna Gutto, the film’s writer and director, said via email that Hala’s performance “blew everyone on set away.”

“She’s a born star, like one of those new stars discovered by the James Webb telescope, a star just so enthralling that you can’t stop watching and you just want to see what she’ll be up to next.”

After moving with her family from Gladstone to Los Angeles when she was 6, Hala quickly broke into the business, playing the youngest daughter of Matt LeBlanc’s Adam Burns for all four seasons of the CBS series “Man With a Plan.”

Her character in “Paradise Highway,” which is set and was filmed in Mississippi, is a far cry from her sitcom days. Hala plays a victim of human trafficking who goes through harrowing experiences, highlighted by blasting a man with a shotgun in the film’s first 15 minutes. The role includes a Southern accent and a foul mouth.

“I had a lot of fun doing a Southern accent,” she said. “I was trying to talk to people even in public in my accent.”

As for the generous dose of four-letter words, she said, “Yeah, it was a little different, but I just sort of got used to it for the movie.”

The title “Paradise Highway” is ironic in what is essentially a buddy road trip movie with a very dark side and a strong message about human trafficking. Binoche’s character, a truck driver in an unlikely role for the Paris-born actress, transports then protects Hala’s Leila. Freeman is on their trail as a crusty old consultant to a green FBI agent.

Binoche, who won the supporting actress Oscar for the 1996 film “The English Patient,” was impressed with her young co-star.

“I’ve rarely seen an actress engage so fully,” she said in an email. “She knows how to prepare; she puts her heart into every single moment.”

Hala says Binoche looked after her on and off camera during filming of “Paradise Highway.” “Whenever I was on set, she was always making sure I was OK and seemed like she was protecting me at times,” Hala said. “I was really close to Juliette, had a lot of fun with her.”

Up next is “Hypnotic,” which is a much bigger production than “Paradise Highway.” The mystery/thriller stars Ben Affleck, another Oscar winner, and Alice Braga, and it was directed by Robert Rodriguez of “Sin City” and “Desperado” fame. Filming is complete, but no release date has been announced. Rodriguez also directed Hala in “We Can Be Heroes,” a Netflix flick in which the kids of superheroes must save the planet.

Hala, who plays Affleck’s daughter in “Hypnotic,” said she wasn’t intimidated working with all those Oscar winners. “I bonded with them and had a lot of fun with them,” she said.

Gutto, the “Paradise Highway” writer/director, expects more great things from Hala: “Just meeting her in the hall, she’s not who you necessarily think is going to blow you away, but as soon as the camera rolls, you can see her focused, you can see that she knows exactly what she’s doing. What happened with Jodie Foster, with Jennifer Lawrence, Hala Finley is one of those talents.”

More about Hala

— The Finley family — father Chris, mother Somyia, older brother Kylin and Hala — lives in California now, but Hala now regularly visits relatives in the Kansas City area during summers, including this one. Does she still consider Kansas City her hometown? “I guess so,” she said. “I have a lot of family here.”

— Hala has worked with plenty of other movie stars, including Juliette Lewis and Alex Pettyfer in “Back Roads,” Eva Longoria and Matt Walsh in “Unplugging” and Priyanka Chopra and Christian Slater in “We Can Be Heroes.” She also has appeared in TV shows such as “Magnum P.I.” and “American Housewife.” You can be forgiven if her name isn’t familiar, however. The Star has never done a story mentioning Hala, although her name has appeared in multiple syndicated birthday and TV listings and as a clue in three crossword puzzles.

— She has done a commercial for the luxury car company Lexus.

— Of LeBlanc, who gained worldwide fame as Joey in “Friends,” Hala said, “He’s super nice.”

— She said her family’s move to California was mostly for the sake of her older brother, who wanted to learn cinematography. But she also already had an interest in acting, which she inherited from her mother. Somyia Finley has appeared in several movies, including a short filmed in Kansas City called “Counter Parts” in which she played a woman who has lost both eyes and one leg in an auto accident. Hala made her screen debut in “Counter Parts” as a 4-year-old.

— Hala is of Libyan-American descent, and her name means “halo around the moon” in Arabic. “Yeah, I like my name,” she said. “I think I have a cool name.”


Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.