Anna Gutto on why she had to direct Paradise Highway

Step into the world of truck driving with the new thriller, Paradise Highway. Academy-Award winner Juliette Binoche stars as Sally, a truck driver tasked with smuggling illegal items to save her incarcerated brother (Frank Grillo) from a deadly gang just days before his release. Unbeknownst to Sally, the illicit cargo is a young girl named Leila (Hala Finley). Torn between helping her brother or saving the girl, Sally brings Leila on a trip across multiple states in order to avoid the gang as well as a pair of cops (Morgan Freeman and Cameron Monaghan) who seek to end the human trafficking network.

Paradise Highway marks the feature-length directorial debut of Anna Gutto, who also wrote the script. In an interview with , Gutto spoke about why she loves crafting stories about underexposed characters, the film’s reference to Thelma & Louiseand the strong relationship formed between Binoche and Finley.

director anna gutto chats with star juliette binoche in a behind the scenes look at paradise highway.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

: I would say female truck drivers are seen as underexposed characters. How did you decide on making this type of character the protagonist in your story?

Anna Gutto: That’s definitely one of the reasons. I just find it great to see movies that I haven’t seen before and to see stories and characters that I haven’t seen a million times before. And it’s an exciting world! Who doesn’t want to know about female truckers? Because none of us know about it before.

It’s a world that we travel by. We see the truck stop. We see all the trucks. We sometimes get annoyed because they get in our way, but who wouldn’t want to see a female trucker? So I guess that was one of the big reasons. Then, there’s obviously something in this story where that was a very appropriate character for this story.

When you were writing this film, did you have a moment when you decided that if this film gets made, you need to direct it?

Definitely. I knew from the start that I wanted to direct this movie because I am more of a director than a writer, even though I love writing and I am a writer. But I’m not one of those writers that can churn out a good script twice a year. So for me, that was essential. There was a time when I did get offers on selling just the script, and I had to then make, not an easy, but kind of a difficult decision of saying no. I’m not going to go that route. I am going to do the full struggle of being able to make it myself. But I am very glad that I did.

Did you ever get close to selling the script?

Yeah. There were some that were very much wanting to buy it, but for me, I had to take a real round with it at that time. But once I had made that decision, then I would just tell everybody from the get-go that there was just no way this was going to be made without me directing it. And honestly, at a certain point also, it was so clear that there was so much research. I had done so much research both about trafficking and female truckers and knowing the environment and everything. That it was also hard, even just from a producer’s perspective, to imagine someone else being able to step into that in an authentic way.

hala finley and juliette binoche stare at each other and speak in the truck in a scene from paradise highway.
Hala Finley as Leila and Juliette Binoche as Sally in Paradise Highway. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Lionsgate

Two of your shorts, A Light Above and A Lucky Man, deal with heavier, more serious topics such as sex trafficking and sexual violence. Did you want to expand upon those topics in a feature film?

A Light Above has a character prototype that became Leila in Paradise Highway. So that one was the first exploration of a girl who’s been trafficked and who manages to escape. With A Lucky Manthat’s a very, very different topic.  I’ve also done a short film that’s called Mommy Heist. That’s a comedy heist movie. So it’s not like I always want to b