Constance Wu Takes Centre Stage With Hustlers

October 10, 2019
After lighting up the screen in Crazy Rich Asians, Constance Wu brings the moves in Hustlers. We spoke to the actress on the rise at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Though it’s Jennifer Lopez who takes the top tier on the Hustlers casting marquee, it’s Constance Wu – star of TV’s Fresh Off The Boat and the breakout smash Crazy Rich Asians – who boasts the film’s central character arc. In this based-on-fact drama, she plays Destiny, a single mother struggling to survive while looking after her ailing grandmother. When she meets magnetic exotic dancer Ramona (Lopez), Destiny sees a way out, but she’s soon in over her head when her new friend and instant mother figure instigates a get-rich-quick take-down scam, with their wealthy Wall Street clients as the victims…

Constance Wu in Hustlers.

I heard that you put in a lot of practice to learn all of the moves? “I definitely did do pole training for a really long time, but what was way more important to me was the heart of this character, and the emotional life of the character. That was my priority, because I didn’t want this movie to just be a glitz and glam movie. I wanted to make sure that it has heart. These people have heart and Hollywood hasn’t traditionally treated women in this occupation with heart. I was going to really focus on that and that’s what I did.”

Did you meet the real Destiny? She’s been very supportive of the film on Instagram. “I met her a couple of nights ago, but she was a little bit cautious at first, so I didn’t get to meet her before the movie or during the film. She was cautious obviously because she had some legal stuff. I was like, ‘How much should she say? How much is it based on her?’ But now she is fully on board. She’s really supportive and she’s written a book about her experience with it. I think it’s doing really positive things for her and I’m really glad I got to meet her.”

Talk about how you wanted to approach the character with respect… “You approach them the way you would approach any character, be it a suburban mother on Fresh Off The Boat or an ingenue on Crazy Rich Asians. You just build everything…what a person says and every quality that a character has is just a clue into their history. So you create a history for a character in order to understand that. And you do that through empathy and you do that through imagination. And so instead of thinking, ‘Oh, she’s a stripper and I’m gonna judge that’, I think, ‘Okay, she is a stripper. Let’s think about that. She probably grew up around a culture that said that women are valued for their sexuality. She didn’t do that while in school so she couldn’t go that route.’ That was a clue into understanding the types of media she was exposed to while she was younger and that’s part of building the life of the character. And when you can do that, it’s your private work that nobody knows. It’s not even on a page. You just have it in the marrow of your bones. So hopefully when you’re out there it’s not Constance but it’s somebody else speaking through you.”

Constance Wu in Hustlers.

Could you talk a little bit about the complexities of her character? “Destiny is a deeply lonely person, and I think this originated when her mother left her when she was a very young child. Of all the women who are always supposed to be there for you, your mother should be the one. Her mother leaving her was a great trauma. It left her with abandonment issues and trust issues. She is scared that if she is ever dependent on somebody they are just going to let her down, like her mom did. So that’s her way of protecting her heart. But deep down inside, people need people. She wants a mother, and she wants to know why. She wants all these kinds of things. So, when she finds this relationship with Ramona, it’s kind of like all of her dreams come true. Then there’s the whole moral thing…because yes, what they are doing is bad. Drugging them and stealing their money is bad. Destiny is the first one to realise that it’s bad. In Ramona’s head, she thinks it’s like a Robin Hood thing. Destiny just gets caught up in the feeling of being a part of something. She is part of a family. She’s loved.”

How do you feel like society looks at women who are in the strip clubs or sex workers? How easy is it to move from one world to another? “It’s really difficult. There is a lot of judgment around it. If you think about what strippers do, they use their bodies for entertainment to make money. That’s the exact same thing a pro athlete does, but we judge and we shame strippers. We don’t judge and shame athletes. They could get whatever job they want when they retire. So it’s a comment on how we view sexuality. It’s this horrible tug of war because you’re supposed to be sexy, but then you’re not supposed to be sexy. It’s hard to know which side to fall on because there is no one right side. There is one that is authentic to yourself. We could all do better to not judge people’s choices just because they don’t align with ours, because it does make it harder. Like when my character applies for a job at a department store, it makes it harder. That’s why we need stories like this…we’re humanising these women.”

Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers.

Your character’s relationship with Jennifer’s seems very genuine. I wondered how that carried on off screen. And also, what it meant for you to work with a pretty much entirely female cast and a female director. “Working with Jen was great. She’s probably one of the most caring actresses I’ve ever worked with. She is an icon. She could do whatever she wants but she was always checking to see if I was okay and asking what she could do to make me feel better if I was uncomfortable. She cared about her girls and that was really special and rare. And what’s been interesting about doing these press rounds is that a lot of people have been like, ‘Oh, it’s all women. Were you catty and competitive?’ That is an untrue stereotype because we are so used to a patriarchal society that only gives women one seat at the table, so if you only think you have one seat at the table, of course you are going to be competitive. But it’s a commentary on scarcity and not on gender; it was all women and nobody had to pretend that they were one of the guys to get ahead, or pretend they are super cute to get ahead. They could just be themselves. We could talk about tampons without freaking people out. We could just be ourselves and it was so freeing to be that way. And the fact that Lorene [Scafaria, director] hired so many different ages, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds just made it even better, right? We could just be ourselves. I would love to work with an all-female cast again.”

Do you think that Hustlers will change things? “I hope that Hustlers isn’t the one single story about and by women. I hope that this movie helps spur on content from other female creatives and teams because people want to see it. People always say that it’s a great time for women right now, but I think it’s a great time for men. Men are finally getting to see the content and the perspectives that they didn’t get to see in media and culture growing up. That’s only going to grow their empathy and that’s only going to make them a better person.”

Constance Wu in Crazy Rich Asians.

Do you have a start date for a sequel for Crazy Rich Asians? This is a trilogy, isn’t it? “Yeah, I’d signed on for both the second and the third ones. I love that cast and Awkwafina is one of my best friends now. We’re excited to work together, but I don’t know anything about the production side, because I’m not a producer.”

You’re a lead in Hustlers and Crazy Rich Asians blew up…what has been the biggest thing that you’ve noticed going from TV to this point and what have you learned about the business? “I’ve learned that I’m still figuring it out and that there is never any one right way to do something. There is only one way that is authentic to you. Finding that takes time and patience with yourself and listening to both your friends and critics.”

Hustlers is released in cinemas on October 10. Click here for our review. Click here for our interview with the film’s director Lorene Scafaria.

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