Friday 18 October 2019

J-Lo hustles her way into Oscar race - reinventing the stripper movie for a female audience

Director Lorene Scafaria spoke to Donal Lynch about reinventing the stripper movie for a female audience

TENSIONS: Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu go front and centre in a scene from Hustlers
TENSIONS: Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu go front and centre in a scene from Hustlers
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

'There's no better feeling than having money fall all over your body," says Jacqueline Frances, a stripper who consulted on the new Jennifer Lopez film, Hustlers. After this weekend, the makers of the film might say the same.

In the US, buoyed by a 95pc rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it has been a box office behemoth. The movie is tipped to gross $25m on its domestic debut in America - a career best for Lopez - and this side of the pond there have already been calls to just give her the Oscar and be done with it.

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Pulling off a performance as a stripper, at age 50, has earned her a third career act and the film has wit and sex appeal. Part heist-movie, part rage against the systems that led to the financial collapse of 2008, Hustlers was a story that begged for a glossy Hollywood retelling.

It's based on a 2015 New York Magazine article about a group of strippers who, in the wake of the 2008 economic crash, swindled millions from their Wall Street clients. Some of them drugged the clients and ran up five-figure sums on credit cards. Sometimes the men would complain to their credit card companies, but more often or not they would drop it. When the women were caught, eventually, they received probation or light sentences.

The story sparked the eye of writer-director Lorene Scafaria who developed it into a script. She told the Sunday Independent that the film explores "a broken value system", where a woman's worth comes from her beauty and body, and a man is judged for his wealth, power and success. It's a film about how capitalism affects women".

Scafaria displayed her own hustle to get the film made. She knew that for a film like this the casting was crucial. She is charmingly open about the lengths she went to.

Top of her list, for fairly self-explanatory reasons, was the stripper-turned-world famous rapper, Cardi B.

"I chased Cardi for two years," laughs Scafaria. She sent the rapper multiple DMs on Instagram and eventually a number was sent to her. Scafaria texted that number. "I got back a 'We know, we'll get back to you'," she recalled. "I didn't know if I was talking to her or somebody else."

Even now, Scafaria isn't sure to whom the phone number belongs.

"I have two phone numbers in my cell: Cardi 1 and Cardi 2. I'm not sure if either of them are actually Cardi."

As with the Sex and the City movie, Hustlers has somewhat inevitably suffered from rumours that its co-stars, Lopez, Cardi and Constance Wu, had tensions onset and off. The New York Post's Page Six had an item about Wu being a "difficult diva" onset.

"That that even has to be addressed just shows how ingrained it is in our culture that women should be pitted against each other. Honestly, when I heard about it, it was such an insult to my set, because I don't work like that," Scafaria said.

"Everyone was easygoing. Jennifer and Constance really did have that rapport and that great relationship right away."

Scafaria was particularly impressed with the way Lopez rose to the physically demanding task of playing a career stripper.

"She's obviously such an unbelievable dancer, but she trained so much for this. Pole dancing is not like anything else. It's almost like a sport in terms of the athleticism you need. It required muscles you don't know you have. So we did treat it a little bit like a sports movie in that way."

Lopez even did a bit of field research with her fiance, baseball legend Alex Rodriguez: "She and Alex went and visited a strip club, and she was able to give me her impressions," she laughed.

Scafaria is an actress- turned- screenwriter- turned- director whose first script, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, put her on the map. She then directed movies like the Steve Carell-starrer Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012) and the Susan Sarandon/Rose Byrne dramedy The Meddler (2015), which showed the industry she could craft touching stories with big-name talent. Hustlers will mark her out as a director who can do more than dramedies, however.

"I hope Hustlers is a film people enjoy," she said. "It's got a lot of incredible layers to it and it is a comment on the times we live in, too. You can see the dynamics from the film in figures from pop culture, like the Kardashians.

"They started from a man who made lots of money and women who traded on sex and their looks. Even though this story played out 10 years ago, we see the same dynamics all around us today."

'Hustlers' is on nationwide release now

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