"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
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
Scoundrels (1988), written by Stanley Shapiro & Paul Henning and Dale Launer,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
chemistry on screen and off. Chris was able to capture that, support, build it
up and make it even
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 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
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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
character who finds himself in the middle of this strange world where things are
shouldn't be happening. He's so innocent and we feel quite sorry for him as he's
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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