Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu play unlikely friends in the film. Picture: Roadshow Films
Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu play unlikely friends in the film. Picture: Roadshow Films

Co-star spills on JLo’s ‘diva antics’ on set

"CLIMB into my fur."

As far as character introductions go, this one is pretty iconic. These are the words first uttered by Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) to Destiny (Constance Wu) in Hustlers, the stripper crime movie that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last month and is in cinemas this week.

The pair meet after Ramona clambers down from the pole after debuting an impressive dance routine, one that involves her grinding along the stage with the dexterity and the rhythm and the skin - my God, Jennifer Lopez's skin! - of a woman 30 years her junior.

The dollar bills rain down. Ramona tosses off the line: "Doesn't money make you horny?" And then she takes her money-induced horniness to a chilly New York rooftop for a cigarette, clad in nothing but a bedazzled bodysuit and the aforementioned fur. Destiny follows her up there. And that's when Ramona, eyebrow cocked, invites her to climb in.

Hustlers is a movie about money, and the way that money binds everything together, like eggs in a cake. Money is sticky and slick; it's the grease that keeps society turning.

It's money that is tucked into Ramona's G-string by thick-fingered stockbrokers and it's money, later, that incites Ramona and Destiny to get what they believe is theirs by hatching a scam to skim the credit cards of their clients to buy designer handbags and pearl necklaces and bottles of Dom Perignon.

(Hustlers is based on a true story about a network of strippers who conspired to steal from their rich clients and give to the poor, by which I mean, themselves.)

Wanting more isn't a crime in and of itself; the women of Hustlers are never judged by the film.

"This city," Ramona says, at one point in the movie, "this whole country is a strip club. You got people tossing the money. And you got people doing the dance."

When Ramona invites Destiny to climb into her fur, she's offering her the opportunity to make it on her own terms in the world of stripping.

Ramona represents "everything," Constance Wu explains to "The entire world," she adds, laughing. "You know, the sun, the moon and the stars.

"Ramona is a boss, she's in this profession where women are judged and disrespected, and yet she has figured out a way to be in this profession (in a way) that garners respect and devotion. Not judgment, but empowerment … She really is a unicorn and everybody loves her. The sun shines when she walks into the room."

Not so with Destiny. Wu's character couldn't be further from Rachel Chu, the sparkly economics professor girlfriend of "Asian bachelor" Nick Young (Henry Golding) in the breakout hit film Crazy Rich Asians.

Destiny is lonely. She craves community and the chance to belong. She takes a job as a stripper out of sheer desperation in order to care for her grandma, and after a few failed attempts to make friends with her fellow dancers, Destiny hides behind her thick curtain fringe and is excluded from the playful camaraderie of the other dancers, a roster that includes cameos from Lizzo and a larger-than-life Cardi B.

Until Ramona and her fur come along, that is.

For Wu, Hustlers was a movie about loneliness long before it was a movie about strippers. "Yeah, I know some people think it's just a 'stripper movie'," she explains. "But it's really not, it's a human movie. For Destiny, for her (the crime) was about friendship."

"I think (this) is something the world needs right now - stories about loneliness," Wu adds. "Because of how polarised we are right now, both because of social media and because of politics."

Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu play unlikely friends in the film. Picture: Roadshow Films
Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu play unlikely friends in the film. Picture: Roadshow Films

The relationship between Destiny and Ramona is at the heart of the film. After climbing into her fur, Ramona takes Destiny under her wing, educating her in how to survive in this man's, man's world. The two spend almost every scene in the film together, including one intimate moment in which they strip for a male client as a pair.

Wu instantly felt a connection with Lopez. "She's just a really normal person who cares about all of us girls," Wu recalls. "She was just down to earth. We shared a lot of stories together and it was just a really peaceful set and a really good vibe between the two of us."

One of the film's highlights is a moment early on in which Ramona gives Destiny a lesson on the pole, with a little help from Cardi B. (We should build entire cities in tribute to the way Cardi delivers the line "drain the clock, not the c*ck!" with a cheeky Cheshire cat grin.)

Both Wu and Lopez went to "stripper school" to train for the movie.

"I had a pole installed in my living room so I could practice on my own," says Wu. "It was very physically demanding. Not just the moves you have to do, but once you do the moves you also have to do them as if they are easy," she explains.

The hustle is all in "selling it". The secret was finding a groove that felt right for Wu. "When you're at actual strip clubs, not all strippers are doing these insane moves," she explains. "It's like to each their own … You just find your own style."

"I'm an actor," she adds. "I'm used to diving into something … There's this weird thing with actors that happens sometimes, it's like diving into a pool. Thinking too hard is what's going to mess it up. You don't think too hard you just dive in."

Constance Wu at the Hustlers premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Picture: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Constance Wu at the Hustlers premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Picture: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Production on Hustlers was plagued with rumours of diva antics and behaviours, like all movies that feature more than one female character.

(Hustlers is so dedicated to telling female stories that almost all of the male characters don't even have names. They are referred to, instead, on IMDB's cast list as "drunk guy", "businessman" and "strip club patron 1".)

Wu wants to set that particular record straight. Working on Hustlers "was so freeing," she exclaims.

"I think women, when they band together, are so much stronger. Which is why the patriarchy often tries to separate us. Because of our strength."

Hustlers, which stars Riverdale's Lili Reinhart, Julia Stiles and Keke Palmer alongside Wu and Lopez, was also written and directed by a woman, The Meddler's Lorene Scafaria, and it shows. "It was our story," Wu stresses. "We had the female ensemble … I dunno, it felt like everybody was cheering and supporting each other."

"There is this preconceived notion that women are catty and competitive," she adds. "They're not! Any person, male or female or whatever you are, is gonna feel competitive if they think that there's only one seat at the table … Cattiness is born out of scarcity, not out of gender. "And being on Hustlers proves that. Because once we were running the table we weren't just thinking there was only one spot for a woman in this movie."

There was a sisterhood percolating off-screen just as it was onscreen. "There was nothing but peace and a spirit of family and freedom," Wu says. "Because we didn't have to worry about what the boys were thinking, or worry about whether the boys thought we were hot, or worry about wanting them to think 'I'm one of the boys'. We didn't have to worry about that. We could just be ourselves."

Hustlers premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and is in cinemas on 10 October.

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