Constance Wu plays a stripper in Hustlers, which is based on the real-life tale of a group of New York dancers who steal from their wealthy Wall Street clientele. But she says there’s a lot more to this band of misbehaving woman than their titillating jobs.
Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart
September 13, 2019
“I want people to care about these girls as humans and not just write them off as their occupation or their bad deeds,” says Wu on the line from Los Angeles.
“We’re not saying that these girls did these great, glorious things, ’cause stealing from people and drugging people is not great, and we’re not trying to romanticize that. But that’s just the means for us, in the story, to understand the friendships, because that was our goal and I think that’s the most important part of the movie.”
Written and directed by Lorena Scafaria (The Meddler), the film is based on the article “The Hustlers at Scores,” which appeared in the December 2015 issue of New York Magazine. Jennifer Lopez headlines the cast as Ramona, the ringleader of the group that’s composed of Wu, Keke Palmer, and Lili Reinhart, while Cardi B pops up in a small supporting role.
“I want people to care about these girls as humans and not just write them off as their occupation or their bad deeds."
Good girls gone bad
Wu was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, and landed her big break playing no-nonsense mom Jessica Huang on TV’s Fresh Off the Boat. However, it was her starring role in last year’s huge hit Crazy Rich Asians that brought her big-screen acclaim.
Wu played lovestruck Rachel, who was willing to walk away from the man she loved (Henry Golding) for all the right reasons. Her Hustlers character, Destiny, proves a less noble, but perhaps more interesting, character for Wu.
“Destiny is a girl who didn’t really start out with much in her life,” explains the 37-year-old actor. “And she uses the currency that the culture assigns her to get by in this world because she didn't really have much of an education, her family life was difficult. Self-worth is really important in terms of what you'll end up doing. At the end of the day Destiny is a woman who wants more than money and more than security, she wants friendship and she wants love.”
Searching for her Destiny
When Wu first got the script, Destiny’s character wasn’t fully fleshed out.
“But I knew all the pieces were there,” she remembers. “I met with Lorene and I knew that she understood the way to make this story without the male gaze, and when you don’t have the male gaze, when you’re not just looking at the external beauty of women, when you’re actually focusing on what’s going on inside, it humanizes women in a way that I think, recently, our culture and our politics has tried to take away from women.
“So I knew Lorene was the director to do it, and with every draft that she wrote it just got closer and sharper and just tighter and better. And that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, somebody will go through many drafts and they get worse and worse.”
"When you’re not just looking at the external beauty of women, when you’re actually focusing on what’s going on inside, it humanizes women in a way that I think, recently, our culture and our politics has tried to take away from women."
Like many actors, Wu did some fact-finding for the role, which meant hanging out with exotic dancers.
“I definitely did a lot of research, let’s put it that way [laughs]. It was actually really fun, and I got to know some girls who are dancers and it actually sucks because you realize that so many people stereotype these women, and when you actually meet them you see how these women have been reduced to their occupation when they’re people inside.”
Related: Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez reveal how they got into character for Hustlers
About that controversy…
Hustlers is the kind of movie Wu wants to keep making — edgy, promoting female empowerment and with a diverse cast. She got into hot water earlier this year when it was announced that Fresh Off the Boat would come back for a sixth season and she expressed on Twitter that she was disappointed. She later apologized and clarified the tweet, explaining that the show’s renewal meant she had to drop out of a project that excited her. While grateful for what her breakout TV role has given her, Wu wants to be challenged.
“I want to give characters a voice who haven’t had a voice before, that haven’t been explored fully,” she says.
“I want to make sure that I do right by them as an actor and we do right by them as storytellers. I want to support the female directors, directors of colour and LGBTQIA directors. I really have done that for the most part. Since Fresh Off the Boat I’ve almost exclusively, in terms of live-action stuff, only done projects that were directed by either women or people of colour. I’m actually proud of that, and happy to continue to do it.”
Hustlers is a movie to see with your best girl friends
It’s about way more than dancing. Hustlers is about making the best of a bad situation with a little help from your besties. Take your crew for a fun night of girl power and camaraderie.