TORONTO — Constance Wu has finally met the woman who inspired her “Hustlers” character and it turns out they have a few things in common.
The “Crazy Rich Asians” star says while filming the comedy-drama, about the true story of savvy strippers who fleeced Wall Street clients, the only reference point she had for her role as Destiny was the script and a New York Magazine article about the women behind the headlines.
But that changed when, just days before the film’s world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last weekend, she came face-to-face with the former dancer she portrays onscreen: Roselyn Keo, who is about to release a book about her experience.
“I just met her a few nights ago,” Wu said in an interview at the festival.
“It was great. My best friend is Cambodian-American, my best friend from high school, and so is Rosie. We just had a lot of similarities. And my best friend is a Cancer, and so is she, so I was just like, ‘Oh, this is so funny.’
“She’s just like an open book and this is all really exciting for her.”
In theatres Friday, “Hustlers” also stars Jennifer Lopez as Ramona, a star stripper who takes rookie Destiny under her wing — or, in this case, an extravagant fur coat — and teaches her pole dancing in a club frequented by Wall Street clientele.
When the 2008 financial crisis hits and affects the club’s business, Ramona recruits Destiny and several other strippers in a scheme to lace the drinks of rich business types and give them a wild night while maxing out their credit cards.
Lorene Scafaria wrote and directed the story, which also stars Cardi B, Keke Palmer, Julia Stiles, and Lizzo.
“At the time I read the script, I was really looking for a project that told the story about loneliness, because I think loneliness is very pervasive in our culture, and I think that’s why we’re so politically polarized right now,” Wu said, noting her character feels isolated from being abandoned by her mother as a child.
“I think social media has caused us to have the illusion of connection but we really actually aren’t connecting as much anymore, because we’re on our phones.”
“Hustlers” is getting rave reviews for delivering a lively look at the world of stripping but also a nuanced portrayal of the women and socioeconomics within it.
“Objectively these are women who use their bodies for entertainment to make money — that is exactly what a pro athlete does,” Wu said.
“But our society shames strippers way more than they shame pro athletes. In fact, pro athletes are considered almost God-like to some people. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong to do that, but it’s just interesting to look at and to understand the expectations we have for gender.”
The strippers in the “Hustlers” story are exploiting a society that tells men “they’re worth the size of their bank accounts” and makes some of them hustle and do illegal things in order to boost that value and emotional currency, she added.
“Wall Street versus these girls drugging these men and taking advantage of this: One gets shamed and the other one (the Wall Street clients) should be in jail, but they’re not,” Wu said.
“It just says how our culture allows women to exist.”
Ultimately it’s a complex story of women’s empowerment, with the women dancing not just for men but also for themselves, said Wu, who compares the film to Martin Scorsese’s mob classic “Goodfellas.”
“These women are doing objectively bad things: They’re drugging men and robbing them,” Wu said. “And the gangsters in ‘Goodfellas’ are doing really bad things, but they’re likable characters, you understand how they’re gaming the system.
“But I do think there’s one key difference, and that is that ‘Goodfellas’ glamorizes that lifestyle. The first line of that movie is, ‘All my life, I wanted to be a gangster’ and the last line of that movie is essentially ‘I’m not a gangster anymore and I’m so … bored, I wish I was still gangster.’ Our movie has the beats and has those different types of characters and everything like that, but Lorene is very careful not to glamorize it.
“Yes, there are glamorous moments … but people’s lives get destroyed.”
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press