NEW YORK CITY: The pursuit of having-it-all has always been the beating heart of this metropolis. People from all over the world – including myself – come here for the vicarious thrill of the pace, the chase and the electricity felt post a career win. Talking industry, how you experience New York is directly proportionate to how hard you hustle for the opportunities; What you put in is what you get out. Nobody knew this more so than Ramona, the take-no-prisoners stripper brilliantly brought to life by Jennifer Lopez, in the new Lorene Scarfaria-directed film Hustlers. “This whole city, this whole country is one big strip club,” Ramona says. “You have people tossing the money and people doing the dance.”
Based on a 2015 New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler, the diamonte-clad drama follows a group of female strippers who, post-recession, band together and drug unsuspecting Wall Street suits and run up their credit cards. Along with Destiny (Constance Wu), Ramona enlists colleagues Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) to scour the city’s bars for men who can be lured by a glittery display of agile ass-shaking. It’s payback for the money the bankers stole from millions of people, Ramona says. Cardi B and Lizzo also make an appearance in a film that took an impressive US$33 million at the box office on its opening weekend in the States. (Be on the lookout for the first time you see Lopez’s pole-dance. With only one day to shoot, film crew said the 50-year-old walked on set as Ramona – and the strength in her performance, in a sequinned G-string, no less – will absolutely blow you away.)
Reinhart sits down with GRAZIA to discuss how she hustled her way to become one of the biggest stars on television, her most confronting scene in Hustlers and how she still finds New York incredibly overwhelming.
GRAZIA: Hustlers is about a group of women pushing and pushing until they get what they want. Can you think of a time in your life or your career where you’ve had to hustle really hard to make a dream become a reality?
LILI REINHART: “Yes! When I was 18 years old, I moved to LA for the first time and was struggling for five months. I didn’t have any money. I had saved up to move out to LA but it was slowly dwindling and I had to sort of go to every other audition that I was offered. I really had no money; I had to pinch pennies and eat at 7/11 – gas station food – in order to get by so much so that I decided I needed to move back home for a while in order to save up money again. I moved back in with my parents and when I was 19, I tried it all again. That was the kind of hustle I experienced. It took me a while!”
GRAZIA: The film is inspired by a real-life story. Can you tell us a little bit about your character Annabelle?
LR: “The characters were somewhat inspired by some of the girls involved in [Pressler’s story] but I think our director and writer Lorene had a specific vision for what she wanted Annabelle to be. She’s loosely based on one of the girls but I think her personality and specific traits of her character are all from Lorene’s brain. Lorene was very willing to collaborate with me on who Annabelle was and she was open to suggestions, open to improvisation, she really was an open book when it came to that so I just felt like I had free rein with what I wanted to do with Annabelle. Lorene had already done such a good job of creating her own paper that it was quite easy role for me to step into the role – a very loveable role. Annabelle is the baby of the group, she’s very sweet. When she was abandoned by her family after they found out what she was doing and where she was working, she was embraced by these women who opened their arms which was incredible. As a young girl who is more of a follower than a leader, I think Annabelle was one hundred per cent swept up in their influence and lead to this life of crime.”
GRAZIA: Like co-star Jennifer Lopez, did you visit any strip clubs to soak up what being a dancer was all about?
LR: “I actually didn’t go to any strip clubs during filming or before filming. I had been to a strip club before, twice actually. I took two private [dancing] lessons but JLo on the other hand was dancing for months in rehearsals. You don’t actually see me dance in the film but I sort of wanted to get a gist of what it was about and it was incredibly hard and you have to be extremely athletic to do it, it is not an easy thing to do. But it really does make you feel sexy, like it was really sexy and fun. I would definitely do it again, either as a workout class or go for another private lesson.”
GRAZIA: When you were researching the worlds of these women, what was one of the most surprising things you learnt? I know that Jennifer said she was surprised to learn most of these women are just struggling to get by.
LR: “When I had to do a scene where I was dancing in front of this guy who was watching and ogling at me. Now, clearly he’s a guy I didn’t know, he’s an actor but it felt weird. I was like, ‘Oh, this is strange having to dance in a seductive way in front of a man that I don’t know’ and it kind of made me think, ‘Wow I couldn’t do that’. It makes me uncomfortable. I wouldn’t be able to do that as a job like these women do, and I think what I took away from the film after having some conversations with the other girls on the set – and also just sort of doing a little bit of research – is that a lot of women look at stripping as performance art in order to get by. To do their job, they have to almost put on an act, that’s not who they are as people. They don’t really give the people that they’re dancing in front of any part of their real selves. I thought it was really an interesting way of thinking about it. It totally makes sense because I think it would feel a lot of more uncomfortable and sort of violating if you were actually giving these men a lot of who you were as a person.”
GRAZIA: Annabelle reminds me of a young Violet Sandford in the 2000 film Coyote Ugly – Piper Perabo’s character – sort of wide eyed, innocent and experiencing the dark nooks of New York City for the first time. Do you remember the first time you came to the city?
LR: “I was pretty young when I first came to New York. I think I was 12 years old and my mum used to drive me from Ohio to New York for auditions because I had begged her to. It was very overwhelming, I found and I still find New York incredibly overwhelming. Filming there for a month was really wonderful because usually every time I go to New York, it’s very quick – I’m in and out like 24 hours or two days – but this time I had actual free time to explore and sort of get the lay of the land more and see the city for what it was. I definitely have a lot more appreciation for the New York culture and how much it has to offer and how many different people are there. It’s truly amazing the amount of diversity that’s there but I do still find it quite overwhelming. Like, I feel like I have to take a deep breath when I step outside. You need to know where you’re going. You can’t be looking at our Google maps, you have to just know what your whereabouts and where you’re going and how fast you want to walk.”
GRAZIA: Jennifer Lopez was a producer on this film as well. How would you describe your relationship dynamic with her and what was she like to work with in between takes?
LR: “She’s wonderful. She’s like a mama bear. I got that vibe from her, even during my first day on set when we were filming a scene where we’re all in a jail cell together and Jennifer is just incredibly kind and very much like a mama bear. She held my hand in the scene and was treating me like I was a really close friend or a daughter that she cared about and that was really sweet. She’s very much a strong, badass woman who is really very motherly.”
Hustlers is in Australian cinemas on October 10.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE OCTOBER 2019 EDITION OF GRAZIA AUSTRALIA.