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Constance Wu ('Hustlers') Constance Wu ('Hustlers')

'Everyday I'm Hustlin', Hustlin'

When we meet Constance Wu's character Destiny in the new movie 'Hustlers', she's the new dancer at a gentlemen's club. She's there because of economic circumstance, but we come to learn there's more to her character.

"I think the deeper meaning of how she ends up in this job is that I think growing up, she and a lot of American girls are taught that their value and worth lies in their physical beauty and their sexuality," Wu says.

"And then it's funny, because then when you exploit that value system to try to get by, to pay your rent, then you're shamed for it. I mean, you think of what a stripper does: They're using their bodies for entertainment. It's exactly what an athlete does. But we more harshly judge one and shame one than the other."

The movie, which is inspired by the true story of Jessica Pressler's New York magazine story "The Hustlers at Scores," sees Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) take Destiny under her wing. And when their club's Wall Street clientele begins to dry up after the financial crisis of 2008, the strip club employees scheme up a way to keep the money coming in.

The rest of the cast features some big names (Cardi B, Lizzo) and rising stars (Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Trace Lysette). It's written and directed by Lorene Scafaria.

And for Wu, it's the latest big role in a career that has recently seen her take star turns in the ABC sitcom Fresh off the Boat and the blockbuster movie Crazy Rich Asians.

In an exclusive interview with us, Wu talked about what attracted her to the role, working on a female-driven movie, and the state of play for women and people of color in Hollywood today.

Why did you take this role? - "I was actually really seeking a project that was about loneliness. I think a lot of people, they think, "Oh, she must have wanted to do this sexy, cool, fun movie." But it's just about a woman who is deeply lonely, because she has abandonment issues because her own mother left her when she was very young; so she has trust issues, so she can't let anybody in."

"And Ramona, the character played by Jennifer Lopez, becomes like a mother figure to her. And I chose it because it tackles loneliness, but it sort of gets it on all sides. It's the beginning of it, and then struggling through it, and then finally not feeling alone in the world, and then when you lose that again. It really was just such a dynamic story arc."

On acting in a movie that doesn't pit two women against each other? - "No catfights. And the thing that I've always said is that traditionally, in a patriarchal society, whether it's in the boardroom or in an action movie, there's usually only one or two women."

"And I think that it's the fact there seem to be so few positions available that makes somebody competitive. It's the scarcity, not the gender."

"And I think working on Hustlers really proved that women are not inherently catty or competitive, because we, on Hustlers, we were all women: women director, woman writer. And it was our table, you know? It was not patriarchal it was matriarchal, I guess."

"And it was so great because so many times when I'm in an environment that's a lot of men, I feel like I have to either be cutesy or girly or sexy, or I have to act like I'm one of the guys to fit in."

On how her personal background affects her portrayal and career? - "I didn't work in strip clubs back then, but I worked in restaurants a lot. I did bottle service for a club for a little bit."

"But yeah, I definitely related to the struggle that comes along, and the fear and scarcity complexes that come along, with not having a legacy in the place you grew up."

"Not growing up with privilege, but also just there's a psychological legacy that comes from knowing that you have ancestors, great-great-great-grandparents, who have been in this country and are of this country and have survived."

"I think it's statistically proven that like if a kid has a parent who has gone to college, they're more likely to go to college. I've said representation equals possibility, and sometimes the parents model that behavior."

On living in the moment? - "I mean, I do this acting job because I love it. I think one of the best things an actor can have is sort of what they call being in the moment, which I naturally have which is not always a good thing."

"So I think the reason I stayed in it is because I wasn't thinking about the future. Because if I had systemically laid out all the possibilities and thought of the future, I don't think I ever would have entered this profession at all."

And finally, on her recent response to Fresh off the Boat being renewed for another season, which was initially judged out of context? - "It really broke my heart that my moment of heat, where I was just disappointed because I couldn't do a play that I really wanted to do, that that had an impact on the people who I love on this crew, and how some people might have perceived that it was a reflection of how I felt about the show."

"Which, well, nothing could be further from the truth, because I love the show and I love the people on it. I was just temporarily bummed because I'd been looking forward to doing this other project."

'Hustlers,' which also stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Cardi B, Lizzo and more, hits theaters September 7th, 2019.

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