‘Hustlers’ Director Lorene Scafaria Tells Us How She Got This Crazy True Story Made

Hustlers enters the fall movie season with a lot of hype (and a big Toronto Film Festival premiere), so it’s somewhat surprising that this true story of a group of New York City strippers – led by Jennifer Lopez’s Ramona and Constance Wu’s Destiny – who drug and rob their rich, Wall Street customers would be something hard to get made. But, yes, as Lorene Scafaria explains, nothing about getting this movie made was easy – going as far to say she feels a kinship with the main characters of her film because she, too, has metaphorically had to “dance for the money.”

Part heist movie, part rage against the one percent that led to the financial collapse of 2008, Hustlers taps into a lot of today’s discord – but to get there Scafaria needed to paint her “Hustlers” with a little more empathy. How did these woman get to a point where they are now literally drugging and stealing. Ahead, Scafaria explains the challenges of not just getting Hustlers made, but also turning an interesting story into a true narrative. Also, she explains how her own experience working in a stock market boiler room influenced her thought process about that industry.

There’s so much hype.

Let’s all lower our expectations.[Laughs] No, it’s very nice, it’s very nice.

So I’ve read the New York Magazine piece by Jessica Pressler the movie is based on and it is one of those stories that feels like it should be a movie, but I suspect a challenge was, visually, there has to be more to it than men passing out and credit cards being charged.

I felt similarly, in that I read the article and thought it was so well-written and an incredible story. A wild ride, obviously, so it felt like movie in every way. Then, of course, it needs to be filled out in order to begin to understand where these women were coming from. Writing for me has always been an exercise in empathy, so I wanted to see if we could walk a mile in their shoes and tell that story and explore a world that we have seen so much of in other movies and TV shows, but not really that many from their perspective. There’s such a stigma around strippers and sex workers and what they do for a living so that, honestly, was the biggest challenge and why I thought it was a responsibility in telling the story because I understood where they were starting from. Part of it was reading between the lines of that article and realizing there was an interesting friendship story here about these two women who started this business.

The movie does feel more empathetic than the piece. And you also focused a lot more on the 2008 financial crash.

The more research I did, the more strippers and strip club employee’s I talked to, the more that thesis was true. Obviously, the crash changed a lot for everyone. It changed the local economy, so it did have a profound impact on their industry. Specifically in New York, where Wall Street is in their back yard. In a flash, money changed, and so what someone is expecting for $20 changed, and what someone might be willing to do for $20 changed. Of course, like other things, everything gets back up and running eventually. I think we all know the difference between right and wrong, so I wanted to stay true to what happened and didn’t want to water down their crimes. I didn’t want to change anything, because I felt like I needed to be true to that part of the story. And, certainly, there are scenes that didn’t happen. I didn’t get a chance to speak to them ahead of time, like I certainly would have wanted to. But in reading between the lines and talking to other people and doing research, it was honest how the 2008 crash had an impact on them. It really did happen.

So, the women didn’t talk to you?

No, I didn’t get a chance to talk to them ahead of making the movie. I started to get in touch with them while I was making it, which was great to be able to contact them about what I was doing, my approach to the story. I wanted them to know I was approaching it with empathy and not just telling a fallacious story. I’m really grateful that I had contact with Rosie and Corinna. They’re both really just living their lives on the other side of it. It’s really reflective about this crazy time in their lives and I’m just glad that they saw the kind of story I wanted to tell.