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THE HUSTLE

Production Information
FEMME CON-FAB

"I've never conned anyone in real life-I just want to make that clear," says Wilson about her role as earthy swindler Penny Rust. "The Hustle is about a high-class con woman played by Anne Hathaway meeting a low-rent con woman played by myself, and their hijinks in the south of France."

In The Hustle, femme con artists bring their own distinctive skills to the art of the con. "My character is a ruthless con woman, but she also has a heart," says Wilson, who is also a producer of The Hustle. Inspired by Bedtime Story (1964), written by Stanley Shapiro & Paul Henning, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), written by Stanley Shapiro & Paul Henning and Dale Launer, screenwriter Jac Schaeffer joins the mix with director Chris Addison in his big screen directorial debut for this modern twist on these two comedies.

But this is no simple gender-swap comedy. "I wasn't happy with just switching genders. That's not enough of a reason to remake a movie," Wilson says. "I pitched a re-imagined, updated version of the film with two female con artists as the leads and all new scenarios." The key players had already been in each other's orbit. Addison, Schaeffer and Hathaway had been working on another project for about year, and Addison and Wilson had originally met for another movie project. Addison refers to the collaborative trio of women-the two actresses and screenwriter-"as three really good creative partners."

As always, it all starts with the words on the page and the challenge was figuring out how best to execute the gender switch. "There was an opportunity for a lot of different characters and a lot of different types of conning. We thought lots of costumes and wigs and characters would elevate the movie and make it more fun, both for the audience and for Annie and Rebel to play," Schaeffer says.

Addison, a former stand-up comic and actor, had been honing his craft directing episodes of the award-winning satirical series Veep. "The reason you want to do a movie is because the script is good and Jac wrote a fabulously zingy, wonderful script for this movie," Addison says. "It's not an easy thing to do-if you're adapting a beloved classic-to take it and make it feel fresh and put a whole other spin on it. And she's done it really brilliantly."

Given his television background, Addison is a firm advocate of collaboration. "I believe that you have to have the best ideas from all the best people, and that's how you get something good," he says. "You need someone at the center of it who's the keeper of the vision and making the decisions, but you should have all the smartest people around you." On all the phases of the project, from script development through to the finished product, Addison worked particularly closely with Schaeffer, who was on the set for most of the shoot.

"Jac's the smartest person you could ask for," says Addison. "She's so funny and quick and is such a great writer. It's unusual in films to have a writer on set the whole time. But Jac and I have a very good working relationship and I believe in that kind of collaboration. It's been a boon to have her around on the set. She and I work very well together."

Schaeffer relished their similar sensibilities. "My voice is very much in line with Chris. On set, it was even more fun because he brought everything we talked about to life in ways that are far better than I could have imagined. Like the car scene with Penny arriving in Beaumont-sur-Mer. It shows Penny has upgraded her usual mode of travel. I'd imagined the car as neon green in the script, but it showed up on the set and Chris had it wrapped in solid gold. I was like 'Yes! Yes! Yes!' Chris would take my idea for a garish car and then crank it up to an eleven."

Schaeffer appreciated being welcomed on to the set by the cast and crew during production: "It's very unusual for a writer to be on set, especially in a comedy because a lot of movies are written and rewritten by different people," Schaeffer says. "I was there to support everyone. With a comedy unit, you're always collaborating, always trying out alternative jokes and seeing whether a different way would make the scene funnier. Chris and I got very specific on the page with the rhythm, with the structure. It's a tight script, compared to a lot of comedies, because of the nature of the con and how these characters interact with each other. Chris and Anne and Rebel just nailed that right down."

Wilson's dual role as actress and producer was a bonus for the filmmakers. "I was a fan of Rebel's," says producer Roger Birnbaum. "I've seen her in a lot of her films and she's genuinely hysterical. Then you meet her, and you find she is a very bright woman who's not just funny, she's got a lot to say. She was a real rock for this film, and it was also tremendous fun producing this movie with her."

Addison seconds that emotion. "What's great about working with Rebel is that she's focused on every aspect of it, and yet she can also be completely free when it comes to filming and improvising. She drove the project through Roger Birnbaum and MGM and it's such a good kind of passion project. Penny's a perfect part for her. She's funny and she's kind of chaotic. She's the outsider. And Rebel has a really good facility for just giving you different versions of each line and lot of different reactions, and it's great. You get this wealth of material with Rebel."

Wilson found a kindred spirit in former comedian Addison. "He was just the right choice because he's steeped in a UK tradition of comedy," said Wilson. "Not only is he good with jokes and dialogue, but you'll see clever little visual touches and flair. There's one scene where I go to a hotel room and the suite name is 'Suite Caroline.' Those little things would always make me laugh."

Hathaway also had her own distinctive comic strengths, according to Addison. "Annie is an absolute joy," he says. " She's really funny, she's whip-smart as a person in real life and is so quick and witty and brings that to Josephine. It's been a pleasure to watch her do things and bring ideas. There was a point early on where Jac and I were behind the monitors clutching each other laughing. She's also tremendously elegant. So, she's the perfect foil for Penny."

Addison recalls a scene in which Hathaway suggests she sing a German folk song during a con where she plays an eccentric doctor named Schaffhausen. It's an improvised moment that wowed the filmmakers. "It's one of the funniest things-it made me think of Madeline Kahn," Addison says. Hathaway appreciated the support. "What a find Chris Addison has been," she says. "I knew how intelligent and funny he was, but I had no way of knowing what a special treat were going to get by having him at the helm and how much he was going to elevate all of this. He's so open and funny, but also so cultured. He's also very populist at the same time. He understands what's going to be funny to everyone, and why it's funny. He and I would sort of nerd out on the science aspect of jokes."

And then there's Addison's skill in nonverbal communication and approbation. "One of my favorite things about working with Chris is if he's in your eye-line when you're doing a take he kind of starts to gesticulate above his head and kind of jumps up and down, so that you know it's going very well and you feel encouraged to continue doing whatever it is that you're doing, " Hathaway says.

And conversely, if an actor is stuck, he's known for guiding them to a better path. "If you're approaching the scene and it's not coming together quickly, he's very patient, very calm and really helpful with helping you find it," Hathaway says. "He always had this really sunny outlook and was super enthusiastic. I really appreciated his sensibility." Hathaway also appreciated the guiding presence of screenwriter Schaeffer: "It's been funny and warm and collaborative, what you always want it to be."

Speaking of warm, the film was set in the south of France on the Mediterranean Sea, so much of Josephine and Penny's wish fulfillment scams take place in a kind of fairytale world. "The entire movie works because it's about a huge, high end, gorgeous, elegant classy world invaded by the complete opposite," says Addison. "It's great watching those two things just spark up against each other."

Opposites do indeed attract, as hustlers. "When Penny meets Josephine she's like 'Wow, this woman does the same thing I do, but clearly does it way more successfully,'" says Wilson. "Josephine is like forty times richer than Penny when we meet her. And Penny's like 'How can I be her?' Which I really related to because I remember when I first met Anne Hathaway I was like 'Oh, how could I be like that? How can I be so glamorous and so talented and such a good actress?' So it was a good partnership in the film to have that element there."

Turns out their different styles meshed seamlessly: "Rebel and I we have two very different approaches and styles of comedy," says Hathaway. "And Chris created a world around us in which both were welcome, both were given a chance to shine and both could support each other, which was so wonderful. Rebel and I discovered that we like each other so much and that we had wonderful chemistry on screen and off. Chris was able to capture that, support, build it up and make it even better."

Hathaway came away from the shoot a diehard Wilson fan. "Rebel just blew me away. The film was written for her and it really played to her strengths. I knew how funny she was, and I knew how talented she was, but I had never seen her given as much freedom and range within a character to go through emotional beats, which she absolutely killed. The physical comedy and then the improv - I don't think I've ever seen anyone so skilled."

Wilson's physicality was a key part of the equation. And it's one she relished. "I love doing physical comedy," she says. "I love putting my body on the line for comedy." Hathaway concurs and describes Wilson as someone who seizes the funny. "It's kind of amazing to watch her just pull comedy out of thin air. She can come up with so many variations of every line on the spot. She's incredibly quick-witted. It's like little funny bubbles floating above her head and she just pulls one down and delivers it," says Hathaway.

Hathaway had Wilson and others on the film over to dinner just before the shoot, as a way to kick off the collaboration. "Rebel and I toasted, and I remember saying 'Rebel, thank you so much for believing in yourself because that's the reason why we're all here,'" Hathaway said. "She saw this project and she claimed it."

WHEN HIGH CLASS MEETS LOW-RENT

Josephine Chesterfield is sophisticated and seemingly aristocratic. In fact, she's a master criminal whose team consists of her butler Albert (Nicholas Woodeson) and the corrupt local police captain Brigitte Desjardins (Ingrid Oliver). Together they pull off fantastically successful scams, with Josephine at the center, inventing characters depending on the man she's scamming. She's been doing it for a while and is well settled in her modern mansion in Beaumont-sur-Mer.

To get into the role, Hathaway studied the script and developed a backstory for her character. "I love when scripts feel a bit like a puzzle," says Hathaway. "I think Josephine spent a lot of time traveling as a young person and she was a naturally brilliant linguist. The thing I kept coming back to was she really spends a great deal of time by herself, in this sort of palace that's she's built up around herself. I kept asking why, what's happened to her? She can't really confide in too many people. She has to be very careful about who she brings in. She has many masks, and she has many cons. The cons are her exploits. But the mask is the way she is able to travel through the world. I had a bit of perspective on that, being someone who has a public life and someone who has a private life. And I've had to work pretty hard to actually bring those two together."

Hathaway shares some personal observations about reconciling her personal and public selves, and how that process served her in digging into the part of Josephine. "Early on in my career people told me that my public life would be something outside of me, and so for many years I thought that my public self had nothing to do with me, she didn't dress like me and didn't even really talk like me-which made it difficult to figure out who I was, actually," she confided. "So I just had all those things going around in my head when I thought about Josephine."

The more she pondered, the more Hathaway got into Josephine's psyche. "When Josephine's at home, she's exactly who she wants to be," Hathaway says. "But she's not going to put that person out in the world for the world to do what they want with it. She's very protective of that person. So who she is on the outside is someone who is a bit intimidating, someone who seems unapproachable and someone who seems very well brought up. The joke we had about Josephine was that she only plays posh people. So, I focused on that. She uses the language of proscribed femininity, which has really been defined in so many ways by men. I think it's part of the reason why she goes for older men, because they seem to have very rigid, somewhat limited ideas about what women are. So I was very interested in exploring these ideas."

But there had to be a limit to Josephine's posh side. "We had to be very careful about Josephine's haughtiness," says Hathaway. "We had to soften her a bit, otherwise it would feel like a cartoon-you know the haughty, high-nosed posh Brit." She has some reason to be haughty though - she's excellent at her chosen craft. "She's a master con woman, and is kind of the queen of the patch, pulling off these incredible high-level scams conning very rich, gullible men out of large sums of money," according to Addison.

When we first meet Penny, she's effectively working her trade. "She's trying to scam some dude in a New York bar out of $500," says Addison. "Then she's chased away by the police and that's how she ends up coming to Beaumont-sur-Mer. She and Josephine first meet on a train." Wilson further elucidates: "She's pulling these cons on guys who are online dating and maybe not the honest guys that you want them to be. So Penny pulls a quick one on them. But then the law kind of catches up on her, so she decides to go to fresh territory and off she goes to Europe."

Wilson took to the part with gusto. "The low rent thing is often associated with me and Penny is such a hustler," says Wilson. "I love that her comedy comes from all angles, she's quite crass and there's a lot of physical comedy associated with this ruthless con woman." When Penny sees how successful Josephine is, she becomes an eager student.

Josephine resists, then Penny threatens to expose her, forcing the well-spoken Brit to tutor her less posh Aussie counterpart on high-stakes scamming. "She teaches her about dressing appropriately, about researching your mark so you know what you're going for and what their weak spot it," says Addison. "She teaches her physical skills like knife-throwing, how to pour champagne and be tremendously elegant, which is difficult for Penny because she's an energetic ball of chaos."

Hathaway enjoyed the offbeat mentoring aspect of her role. "There's something a bit wonderful, kind of like a My Fair Lady transformation that happens," she says. "I actually think the film does a beautiful job of getting across this idea that we all want to transform, but really we do have to be happy with who we are at the end of the day."

THE SCAMS: DO THE HUSTLE

For Josephine to be believable in her high-yield shenanigans, director Addison was convinced she had to have a posh British accent. Hathaway resisted as long as she could, then tackled the linguistic challenge. "I didn't want to do the accent, Chris Addison made me," confides Hathaway with a laugh. "I tried to convince him otherwise, but he won. We were very much in line about the tone, that it should feel elevated. We agreed the humor should feel very relatable, but also sophisticated. To that end, he felt very strongly that Josephine should be British. I am, of course, not British, so I thought she should be American. I didn't want to work that hard. And also, I was scared to do an accent. But he insisted she would be funnier if she were English. "

Ultimately, Hathaway embraced quite a few accents in the film, in the guises of her various scheming characters. "In this film I have a British accent, a German accent, an Australian accent," she says. "I speak Dutch, I speak French. I speak sign language. I'm sure there are other things that I've either forgotten or blocked out. But yeah, it was a lot. It was daunting." Fortunately, dialect coach Joan Washington was there for language assists. "Thankfully, it was a lot less scary when Joan came on board," Hathaway says. "She's an amazing teacher, kind of a legend in her own right and she got me over the finish line."

Hathaway also experimented with improvisation-for the first time. "She was so good in the improv scenes," says Wilson. "She never lost focus which some people do when you're being silly. She would always just be there in the scene, even when I was saying crazy things to her."

Wilson studied a con artist's handbook-with reservations. "A studio executive had given me a book about how to con people," Wilson says. "I could never do it in real life because I would feel so guilty about it. I could never actually pull something over on someone, especially not getting money from somebody by conning them. And if someone ever did that to me, I would be really upset. One time I did a television show in Australia where we were kind of conning people for like 30 minutes and I was pretty bad at it, because I still felt bad even though it was an acting job."

THE LOOK OF LARCENY: HOW TO LOOK -AND HUSTLE-LIKE A MILLION BUCKS

Josephine's fabulous home on the French Riviera was meticulously conceived by production designer Alice Normington. Adds Addison, "Alice is a stone-cold genius. We had a decision to make about whether we wanted to modernize the look of the movie or stick with a sort of classic-looking South of France look. We decided to modernize it. Yet we didn't want it to feel like it would date too much." Continues Addison, "We wanted the movie to feel modern, like it's from exactly now and it's fresh and all the other words people use in sentences like this one. We wanted it to have a slightly timeless feel to it. We also didn't want it to look like any movie set in Los Angeles, so the challenge was to make it look like a modern house, but still make it feel like it's in the Mediterranean, rather than California. The other key was to make it elegant. Josephine's world had to be gorgeous. The casino had to be rich, the hotel had to be vast in scale and beautiful in design."

And the overall look of Beaumont-sur-Mer was indeed as elegantly inviting, as it was larcenous. "I've never felt so keenly when walking on a set that I just wished it was my house," says Hathaway. "I wanted to invite Alice into my life and just say 'Please just shape everything.'"

Everything looked so appealing that Wilson even arranged to buy a lot of the furniture from Josephine's house for use in her real-life home. "I bought pretty much all the beautiful furniture that you see that was custom built for the film," says Wilson. "Yeah, it's going to be in my new Sydney house. That's one of the perks of being a producer. I had first dibs on the props."

While it was shot on the Spanish island of Majorca, which is a Mediterranean seaside paradise very much like Beaumont-sur-Mer. "It was an unusual decision, but it's beautiful and elegant and it's on the Med, and it give us these gorgeous trees and these wonderful blue skies and ocean," Addison says. And who can complain about shooting on a scenic island and indulging in local delicacies? "It was off season and we'd work what are called 'French hours' on this film which means you don't have a lunch break, but you finish early," says Wilson. "We'd all have dinner out on the terrace and be watching the sunset and having a lot of tapas. It was really great. It's not every movie that you get to share experience like that with your cast and crew."

Attire was another major concern. "All the costumes are immaculate and beautiful," Addison says. "That's down to our fabulous costume designer Emma Fryer who has such an incredible eye and is so able to make people look richly dressed and elegant. She and Annie had tremendous fun putting Josephine together. Her wardrobe is extraordinary because she has these different characters she's playing and even her clothes at home are amazing. She has to look like her own woman, like nobody else does."

The players looked wealthy and well-dressed, despite the rather slim budget. "There's no way Josephine could work as a character without Emma Fryer," says Hathaway. "I went to her with specific ideas of what I wanted to do with each character, how I wanted them to look, where they came from, what their background was, and she just went out there and interpreted it."

AIDERS AND ABETTERS: THE SCHEMERS AND THE SCAMMED-UPON

Josephine has a small, but loyal, crew, who assist in her scams. The police chief helps Josephine pick out her marks and assists in planning some of the cons. Her butler, Albert, facilitates the conning. "The cast on this is one of the most talented and fun that I've ever gotten to be a part of," says Hathaway. "With Ingrid, it's so hard not to laugh in my scenes with her. And with Nick it's amazing to watch somebody who knows how to be funny without saying a word. Your game winds up getting raised when you're with a cast that's this strong."

And then there's the mark that Josephine and Penny select, nerdy tech millionaire Thomas Westerberg (Alex Sharp). He invented a hugely popular app called "You're Burnt," similar to an insult version of Snapchat. (It sends insults to your friends and they disappear in ten seconds). "We're really lucky to have Alex on this one, he's a Tony Award winning, Juilliard-trained theater actor and he brings so much to the character of Thomas," Hathaway says.

And it can't be easy to play straight man to Wilson and Hathaway and their zany antics. "Most of the time Thomas is caught between these two lunatics tugging at him from either side, and he plays it so beautifully," says Addison. "He plays this poor, bewildered, sweet and completely well-meaning character who finds himself in the middle of this strange world where things are happening that shouldn't be happening. He's so innocent and we feel quite sorry for him as he's being scammed." It's a confusing world in which Sharp, who is British, is playing an American and Hathaway, who is American, is playing British, except when she's playing a German doctor. "The only person actually talking in her own accent is Rebel," says Addison.

After Addison yelled cut, and the shoot had wrapped for the day, the group would get together for tapas and wine. And the fun had just begun. "In the evenings people are using their real voices and it was genuinely freaky," Addison says. "Our producer went out with Alex to the theater one evening and Alex started to talk in his regular British voice and the producer said he couldn't relax all evening; he didn't know who this person was."

Hathaway found this compelling. "Everybody took it seriously," she says. "Of course, there was a slightness to it, it's a comedy. But nobody took it for granted. Everybody brought their A game every single time. And I'm so proud to have been part of a company like that."

Yet there were also lots of non-serious moments, and those were the hands-down favorites for Hathaway. "I giggled so much when I was making this movie," said Hathaway. "When you laugh in the middle of a take it's called 'corpsing,' and I think I did it at least once a day. It's a really fun experience when you're making a film and you just spend your day giggling through it. I'm hoping that audiences have as much fun seeing it as we had making it."

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