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Constance Wu is good at many things. When it comes to loving her pet rabbit, she’s particularly adept. There’s also her Golden Globe-nominated acting talents as a leading lady, which have landed the star major roles at the head of projects on television (ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat) and in big-budget studio blockbusters (Crazy Rich Asians). But, when it comes to perfecting the art of lap dancing, Wu admits she has plenty to learn.
In Lorene Scafaria’s upcoming stripper dramedy Hustlers (inspired by Jessica Pressler’s 2015 New York magazine article “The Hustlers at Scores”), Wu plays Destiny, a young woman who turns to the stripper grind to make ends meet for her family. She’s later entranced by a veteran dancer, Ramona (producer-star Jennifer Lopez), who brings her in on an elaborate plan to drug and scam money out of their Wall Street clients after their wealthy customer base dries up in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
To entice their prey, however, Destiny quickly learns she needs to think like an executive, but pounce like an enchantress. So, she leans into the technique with help from a no-nonsense strip club colleague, Diamond, played by real-life ex-stripper (and now multi-platinum recording artist) Cardi B.
“[We filmed] a scene where she’s teaching me how to give a lap dance,” Wu tells EW of filming the project. “She’s like, ‘Show me what you’ve got!’ So, I try. She’s like, ‘Honey, no! This is terrible!’”
“I didn’t have to try that hard to be terrible,” Wu remembers with a laugh. “It’s not my intuition, so, she was like, ‘No, no, no, you can’t do this! This is what you’ve got to do,’ and she explained what you’ve gotta do and why you do it. You could tell she knew the job and how to do it well, and she definitely taught me!”
According to The Meddler helmer Scafaria (who, along with her cast, researched at real strip clubs and interviewed plenty of working girls for insight into the craft), Cardi’s past experiences with stripping brought an earnest authenticity to Hustlers, but the rapper-actress’ natural charms elevated it to the next level.
“She didn’t have any changes to make, she didn’t see anything egregious enough to tell us that it wasn’t realistic to her, but I certainly let her improvise and step that out as much as she wanted to,” Scafaria explains. “I gave her a script and she delivered scripted lines, but if she wanted to make something her own, she could. There were moments I’d just have her yell at someone, there were moments where it’s a locker room scene of 15 women and they’re all playing characters and, Cardi [transforms into] one of them.”
The filmmaker credits such natural abilities as innate to musicians like Lopez, Cardi B, supporting actress Keke Palmer, and Lizzo, who has a small role as a flute-playing dancer at the club.
“Musicians, performers, dancers, and singers make great actors because they have rhythm and timing. Cardi has that, and Lizzo does, too. But, Cardi just came with a lot of authenticity and history,” the director adds. “She’s an incredibly gifted and talented person who came from a lot, and I find what she’s made of herself to be an inspiration. I’m so grateful she was in this film [and that] Cardi read the script and felt it was authentic enough to be a part of!”
Hustlers — also starring Lili Reinhart, Julia Stiles, and Oscar-winning Fisher King actress Mercedes Ruehl as the strip club’s matriarchal manager — dances its way into theaters Friday, Sept. 13, following a world premiere screening at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival earlier that month. Check out EW’s full preview of the movie here.