5 Behind-the-Scenes Details From 'Hustlers,' Told by the Women Who Made It

STX Entertainment
STX Entertainment

One of the best aspects of Hustlers is just how multilayered it is. One minute you're squealing over Cardi B or Usher's appearance, the next you're appreciating the subtle way it tells its story of women reclaiming their power in a system that is designed to keep them down. There's so much going on that it would feel overwhelming if it weren't so well constructed.

Director Lorene Scafaria adapts Jessica Pressler's New York magazine reporting to tell a fictionalized version of a true story about a group of strippers, who in light of the 2008 stock market crash, start drugging and scamming men out of thousands of dollars. Constance Wu plays Destiny, who first meets Jennifer Lopez's entrancing Ramona in the pre-recession boom period, but teams with her once again when things go bad.

A few weeks before its Toronto International Film Festival premiere and this past weekend's theatrical release, Thrillist got on the phone with Scafaria, Wu, Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart. Here, they divulge just what it took to make one of the most fulfilling movie-going experiences of the year.

lopez in hustlers
STX Productions

Everyone got along

Scafaria assembled, frankly, an insane group of performers from various arenas to play the employees of the club in her film. In early scenes, when the economy is booming, the dressing room is filled with the likes of Lopez, Wu, Cardi B, and Lizzo. "We have like, classically trained theatre actors in there, and we have strippers that we cast from the club that we shot in there," Scafaria says. "And we have burlesque dancers and strippers-slash-stand-up comedians, and of course, like global superstars and megawatt icons. The joy was to see how all of them were able to exist in the same space together. We could take people from all these different walks of life and have them actually coexist in the same movie together, it was a really beautiful, lovely thing to watch."

Scafaria worked with Jacqueline Frances AKA Jacq the Stripper, who served as a consultant. "She and I would certainly walk around to make sure everyone felt safe and comfortable, remind the girls you're in control," Scafaria says. "Certainly in our movie the girls got to choose the guys and not the other way around." As a director, Scafaria wanted to make sure she was highlighting how athletic the work is as well as never losing sight of the friendship at the core of the story. 

That went for Wu as well. "I think you can actually see in the film how much Jen and I really enjoyed each other," Wu says. "And all of the girls really. It was just really peaceful and everybody got to be free and be themselves because it was all women. That's what made it so great. Women, when they band together are, like, powerful beyond measure and that's why the patriarchy always tries to keep us apart. And, you know, it's already happened on this film in that people are trying to start rumors that it was there was, like, you know, tension on set or there was diva behavior, when nothing could be further from the truth."

click to play video

Constance Wu went to clubs for research 

Wu's process for developing Destiny was multifaceted. She dove into the tapes from Pressler's interviews with Roselyn Keo, the real-life version of the woman she was playing; she took pole dancing lessons; and she frequented clubs herself, befriending the dancers who worked there. "I would take them out to dinner and we would hang out at a bar and then we just became friends naturally," Wu explains, adding with a laugh: "So I guess in a way I picked them up at a club." For the most part, it was not, she says, tedious work. "I mostly went with my guy friends," she says. "It's funny because when you're the only girl in a group of guys and you're there to talk to these girls and have fun, it's almost like you get the most attention because you're the least threatening. I had a lot of dollar bills to give out because because one of my friends would give me stacks of ones. He was funding my research in that way. It's fun to see these girls and what incredible dancers they are. It was fun to drink with my friends. It was fun to talk with some of them and then ask them to be my friends." She does acknowledge that there were other clubs she frequented where the environment did not yield a good time. 

STX Productions

The costumes are key

One of the reasons Hustlers feels so evocative is that it absolutely nails the not-so distant past, unearthing the music and fashion of the strange era between 2007 and 2013. It means scenes set to "Gimme More," "Love in This Club," and "Beautiful Girls" and copious bandage dresses and midriff-baring tops. "My character has Apple Bottoms on," Palmer says. "Apple Bottom Jeans! That really takes you back. Even those wedge shoes or sneaker-type heels." (Alas, the film, in its final iteration, does not feature Flo Rida's "Low," which shouts out that brand.) Reinhart describes Annabelle's look as "slutty Hannah Montana." When Annabelle's not at work, she's in big T-shirts and sweatpants; when she is, it's all body-con dresses and heels. She switches it up the way Miley Cyrus' Disney Channel character does when she's transforms into an international pop star. "It was sort of like Miley Cryus when she was on Hannah Montana," Reinhart explains. "The cozy at-home clothes and then mixed with shorter dresses and big belts, chunky jewelry." As for Destiny, Wu didn't want to reflect her own version of glamor. "It was about Destiny, and what Destiny thinks is cool," she says. Which means, as she recalls, a bra with clear straps. 

Lili Reinhart fake-vomited animal crackers and Sprite

One of the most satisfying recurring gags in the film involves the weak stomach belonging to Lili Reinhart's Annabelle, part of Destiny and Ramona's scam fam. Poor Annabelle just can't stop from puking when a situation gets stressful, which it frequently does when you're trying to steal thousands of dollars from Wall Street assholes. "That's an amazing way to remind the audience that she's incredibly overwhelmed," says Reinhart, who also stars on The CW's Riverdale. "And even though she's doing this job, which makes her seem mature and sexualized and older, she's definitely still a kid." The actual act of simulating regurgitation was easier than Reinhart thought it would be. She just would put a concoction of animal crackers and Sprite in her mouth. "It wasn't even gross," she says. "It tasted like animal crackers and Sprite. It truly didn't taste disgusting. They made it as easy on me as they could."

Cardi B wasn't just improvising 

The joy of Cardi B is in the unrehearsed frankness she displays on social media, and her Hustlers character, Diamond from the Bronx, isn't that far removed from her actual identity. Diamond is hilarious and outspoken, talking about her vibrator boyfriend and teaching Wu's Destiny how to do a lap dance. Like Diamond, Cardi worked in a strip club before becoming a rap superstar. So one would assume she could pretty much improvise all her lines, given that was par for the course on Scafaria's set. "She certainly ad-libbed, but to her credit she also stuck to the script," Scafaria says. "I say that to her credit because I think it's easy to imagine that she's every good at improvising, but I think what was marvelous to see, what I marveled at was that she was very good at playing a character and delivering dialogue and existing within a scene with other people doing the same. That was thrilling." The point is: Cast Cardi in more movies. 

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, get Streamail for more entertainment, and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.