As Hustlers’ Destiny, Constance Wu is a woman looking to pay her bills by stripping in a New York club. One night she meets expert pole dancer and hustler Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), and the pair team up to take down some of Wall Street’s richest players.
Based on the true story of Roselyn Keo—made famous by a New York Magazine article—the film takes us on a rollercoaster ride through epic rip-off schemes and devoted female friendship, while drawing parallels between the financial crimes of Wall Street guys circa 2008, and those of the women who fleeced them. Wu’s portrayal is both fun—Cardi B hilariously teaches her to lap dance—and poignant—the overarching theme is one of isolation and disappointment.
DEADLINE: What was it that made you see yourself in this role?
CONSTANCE WU: Well, at the time, I was looking to play a character who was really lonely, because I think loneliness is pervasive in our culture right now. I think it was just an interesting role to play. The way that Destiny manifests her loneliness at first is by saying, “I don’t want to need anybody, I want to be independent,” when really, she does want friends and wants people to love her. So that’s really what drew me to it. I was looking for that kind of project.
I think the way the script was structured, and even the articles and New York Magazine article was structured around Roselyn Keo’s journey. It just gave me so many different opportunities and different ways to flesh out the arc of somebody’s journey in a movie. I remember when I read it I was like, “This is the thing I want to do. Hands down.” I understood her voice. I knew what I wanted to do with the part when I read it.
DEADLINE: Did the notion of playing a stripper give you pause at all?
WU: Strippers are often prejudged based on their occupations, and what’s cool about this movie is that we explore the human stories behind this preconceived notion of what an occupation is.
When you explore somebody’s human story, you understand why they might make the choices they make. So, I think some people might’ve been like, “Did you do this because you wanted to be sexy?” No. It was about loneliness for me. But from loneliness springs a lot of things… So that was how I made my choices, because it was about her, not about me. Because it’s definitely not something that I would be comfortable doing in my real life.
DEADLINE: At its heart, the film is also about this great friendship between two women.
WU: I’m so glad you saw that, because for me, that’s what it is. I mean, I say it’s loneliness, but it’s how the loneliness is soothed, which is this friendship. That’s what it’s about, is friendship.
DEADLINE: What was the atmosphere on set like? There have been those typical reports of supposed problems, suggesting a group of women can’t get along.
WU: It was just really peaceful on set. Because it was all run by women and women of all kinds, it was very freeing and very peaceful, and nobody was competitive or anything. Which is why both me and Lorene [Scafaria, director], when there were like, diva reports or first billing reports, we were just like, “What? This is so not even true.”
I mean, the billing was there even before I signed on to the project because of the script. The reason it was in the script was for the news article. Because the news article was about Roselyn Keo, right? The New York Magazine article was about her. So that’s why it was there in the first place, not because of any demands. But it just showed us how much the patriarchal media wants to separate women, and cause some kind of rift, because when we band together, we are powerful beyond belief. The only way the patriarchy can stay in power is if they keep us separated.
So, to me, I think it’s so not true. Because we were all women, nobody was competitive with each other. Nobody was catty with each other. We were just loose and free and peaceful and happy to be doing what we were doing.
DEADLINE: That scene with Cardi B showing you how to lap dance was so perfect.
WU: Yeah, that was really fun to do. She was such a natural. Not just at being in a strip club, because she has experience in that, but also just in acting, because she’s talented and she’s very free and she likes to play. It was just having fun being with an actress who is 100% authentically themselves, and really takes ownership of who they are. It was fun just seeing her teach me how to give a lap dance and learning that there’s an art to it, in a way.
DEADLINE: Speaking of art, Jennifer Lopez is such a talented pole dancer.
WU: Yeah, it’s incredible. I mean, everybody was just stunned. We didn’t want it to stop, because she was so good and she commanded the stage. It’s like you want to stand up and cheer.
DEADLINE: Destiny and Jennifer’s character Ramona are so close. How did you build that relationship?
WU: I really didn’t meet her until I started on the movie, because she was in Miami and New York a lot. The person I talked to the most before we started on the movie was Lorene. Then once I got to New York and the movie, that’s when I got to know Jen. We did a little table read at her apartment. We talked about our lives. I got to know her sister, and her kids and A-Rod were there a lot. Everything felt very normal and down-to-earth.
DEADLINE: Did you have moments of vulnerability during the sexier scenes and when you wore the stripper costume?
WU: I think me as a person, when I’m in the fitting room and or I’m doing a costume fitting, I definitely get insecure and vulnerable a little bit. But a weird thing happens when I start acting. I just dive in and it just all goes away. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s just weird. It’s like jumping off a cliff into water. It’s kind of like if you think too much, you won’t do it. You just kind of dive in and then you forget it all, because you’re in the moment of this character’s journey. Then your mind isn’t on Constance and my insecurities, because I’m not Constance, I’m Destiny. So, I’m looking around the room. I’m looking to see what guys I think are going to have the most money. I’m looking for my targets. I’m doing what Destiny would do.
It’s funny, one of the girls I befriended who’s a stripper, she told me, “You all got to target the bald men. They’re the ones with the most money.” But you might think that it’s like they want to target the hot guys. No, because they’re at work, right? So, when I went on the floor, I’m not thinking about Constance’s insecurities, I’m thinking about Destiny. And Destiny’s like, “Where are the bald guys?”
DEADLINE: What sort of research did you do into that world?
WU: I took a lot of classes and lessons. I had a pole installed in my living room that I would practice on a lot. I befriended a lot of different girls from all different types of strip clubs and all different backgrounds. So, I got a little bit of the, I guess, inside baseball of it. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on that I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t befriended some of these women, who I’m still friends with now. So that was what was fun. Just getting to know them as people, and they’re all different. Everybody has a different story. There’s not one type of person who is a stripper, everybody’s different.
DEADLINE: How do you feel now about the criminal things those women did?
WU: Well, the thing that I loved about this movie is there are no heroes and there are no villains. Everybody is a complex human being working within a system that has been unfair to them, but doing the best they can. That includes the men.
What I want people to take away is I want these audiences to care about these women. Care about them as people, and not just prejudge them as occupations. Listen, the culture tells boys that they’re worth the size of their bank accounts. And women, that they’re worth their sexuality. No wonder both genders are going to exploit that, and sometimes in ways that aren’t legal.
What the guys did on Wall Street wasn’t legal. But they’re hustling for worthiness because they think worthiness is made for men by having a big bank account. They’re merely a symptom of a bigger disease. A strip club is sort of the opposite side of the same coin. Women are exploiting the thing that the culture has told them they should be valued for. Sometimes, like they did in this movie, they did some illegal things. But the world’s been unfair to these girls.
We’re not asking you to admire them as like Robin Hood. We’re not asking you to hate them either. We’re asking you just to understand that they’re complex humans who could have conflicting emotions and conflicting actions. That’s also why I wanted to do a movie about loneliness because nobody’s one thing. When we think somebody’s one thing, that makes us lonely, it’s the polarization.