Sunday 22 September 2019

'People are so ready to write women off at a certain age' - Jennifer Lopez

Hustlers is inspired by real-life events and follows a crew of savvy strip club employees who turn the tables on their Wall Street clients. Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu and Keke Palmer tell Georgia Humphreys about their empowering roles in the hotly anticipated film.

CFDA Fashion Icon Award recipient US singer Jennifer Lopez arrives for the 2019 CFDA fashion awards at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City on June 3, 2019. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)
CFDA Fashion Icon Award recipient US singer Jennifer Lopez arrives for the 2019 CFDA fashion awards at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City on June 3, 2019. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)
Jennifer Lopez (Ian West/PA)
Hustlers star Jennifer Lopez admitted she was nervous about pole dancing in the film (Jennifer Graylock/PA)

Georgia Humphreys

Jennifer Lopez is famed for her iconic dance moves.

But while the New York-born actress, who turned 50 this year, still has enviable fitness levels, she wasn't prepared for how difficult learning to pole dance would be for her latest movie, Hustlers.

"I am athletic, and I work out and I dance, but it was more athletic and more acrobatic than anything I had ever done," admits the star, who's also a successful singer, fashion designer and businesswoman.

"Dealing with this pole, which doesn't move, and trying to fly and dance around it really proved to be hard!"

There's a lot of buzz around Hustlers, a sassy, thrilling female-led comedy drama.

It's based on real life events, following an article by Jessica Pressler which was printed in New York Magazine and went viral, and tells the story of a group of savvy strip club employees who cook up an inventive scheme to rob wealthy Wall Street bankers.

Lopez, who also serves as producer on the film, plays Ramona, inspired by ex-stripper Samantha Barbash, who Pressler interviewed for her piece.

Hustlers star Jennifer Lopez admitted she was nervous about pole dancing in the film (Jennifer Graylock/PA)

She may have worked as a dancer on American comedy sketch series In Living Colour before pursuing her acting career, but admits she was "super nervous" ahead of filming the pole dancing scenes.

"It's like, 'OK go up there and do your pole routine'," she quips, when recalling the vulnerability she felt performing on a stage in a club in front of 300 extras.

"It's like, 'Oh my god, take off your clothes and wear a thong'."

But it was "really stimulating to think of playing a character like Ramona, who was so multi layered".

"She was tough and fierce and ambitious and strong," says the mum-of-two (she has 11-year-old twins Emme and Max with her ex-husband, singer Marc Anthony).

"But, at the same time, she was loving and nurturing,"

She agrees another appeal of the project was how different it is to roles she's had before.

"It's so funny, with my tour this year and this movie coming out... People are so ready to write women off at a certain age, right?" she retorts.

Lili Reinhart, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, and Constance Wu in Hustlers (STX)

"But I just feel like my best years are ahead of me, and the more I learn and the more I live and the more I'm open to growing, the better my work gets."

The cast of Hustlers boasts some great names - Constance Wu, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart and singers Cardi B and Lizzo.

Wu - famous for last year's hit rom-com Crazy Rich Asians - plays Destiny, a young woman struggling to make ends meet.

Destiny's life is changed forever when she meets Ramona, who gives her a crash course in various poses and pole moves.

The two women end up making lots of money from the Wall Street clientele that frequent the club - but then the September 2008 economic collapse happens.

And that's when they decide to turn the tables, along with their colleagues Mercedes (Palmer) and Annabelle (Reinhart).

The cast is also notably diverse, in terms of both ethnicity and women's body shapes.

And Wu, 37, acknowledges the film is making several important points


Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star in Hustlers (STX)

"So much of Hollywood's movies have been told with a male lens on things, and we get a lot of our ideas of attraction and love from media," suggests the Virginia-born star.

"I think it can be harmful if there's only one type of person who is perceived as being beautiful, and Hollywood is part of creating that perception."

She continues thoughtfully: "There's somebody for everybody and that should be something that's celebrated and I think the more types of stories that we make about that, the more people can start to take ownership of what they are and kind of love themselves."

Lopez has been making romantic comedies since she was in her 20s - successes include Maid In Manhattan and The Wedding Planner - and notes traditionally there has always been a "a certain type of actress that plays those roles".

But she's hopeful the change she has always been pushing for is happening now, citing the success of Crazy Rich Asians as an example.

"I think it's a great time for women too, where we're coming into our own and unafraid to say what we think and stand up for ourselves," she adds.

READ MORE: A look back at Jennifer Lopez's romantic history as she turns 50

"It's a good time for men too," follows Wu, who also stars in ABC television comedy Fresh Off The Boat.

"We talk about how men objectify women a lot; well, that's systemic. It's not because men are bad people, it's created by the culture.

"I'm just saying it's good for men to get to see perspectives that they don't understand - not just good for their emotional health, it's also good for storytelling because it's good to hear new stories and hear new points of view.

"It makes you a better person because it just grows your empathy a lot. Telling more diverse stories and more stories led by women is a win for everybody."

Hustlers incorporates some heavy topics and themes. However, Palmer's character brings lots of comedic relief.

Jennifer Lopez (Ian West/PA)

"Mercedes seemed like she always found a way to make it light, or make you feel for a moment that you can breathe or you can laugh," highlights the Illinois-born actress and singer, known for TV shows such as Scream Queens.

The 26-year-old shares that her research for the part was easy, having visited strip clubs since she was 18.

"Especially my generation, it's not something that is as taboo, so I've gone there with friends, birthday parties - you name it!

"So, I was very comfortable in what the environment was."

READ MORE: Jennifer Lopez says playing a stripper was ’empowering’

Because of these experiences, she wanted to make sure their depiction of this story felt truthful.

"I think the movie has moments where it is glamorous, because it can be, but we also have the moments where it's getting real and it's not as pretty as one would like it to be," she reasons.

Jennifer Lopez

"I feel I took that same approach with my character, wanting to humanise her, because I've seen many different personality types of strippers, and I wanted to make sure it came off real, and that it was authentic.

"[It was] fun and exciting that I get to humanise these everyday people. People get wrapped up in the occupation of a stripper, but they're more than just their job."

Hustlers is in cinemas from Friday, September 13

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