The con artists of The Hustle would love the opulent St. Regis suite I'm sitting in as I wait for the two stars of the film, Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson. The bed's missing, and in its place is a table, but the three of us opt to sit in a cozier corner — Hathaway and Wilson on a velvet couch with deep blue and zebra print pillow and me on a buttery leather chair.
It's absurdly chilly in New York City for late April, and someone's left a huge window open, but there's a warmth that fills the room when Wilson and Hathaway enter. Immediately, Wilson goes to shut the window as Hathaway looks at me, sitting in my too-thin leopard print blouse and jokes, "Poor Morgan’s been in here like, 'No it’s fine. I’m so happy in here!"
The two play enemies in their new comedy, but right now, they are dream collaborators, gushing over each other's talents ("I don’t think Anne’s ever been funnier...It's effortless") — they're even wearing matching white shoes. (I'm also wearing white shoes, prompting Hathaway to proclaim, "We’re best friends already!")
But we're not here to talk about white shoes (though they are very in), we're here to talk about their gender-flipped remake of the male-led Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The 1988 version starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin, which was itself a remake of original 1964 film titled Bedtime Story, starring David Niven and Marlon Brando. And much like 2018's Ocean's 8, in which Hathaway also starred, a woman-led remake immediately makes sense. Women, as one could see from reading recent headlines, can be very clever con artists and hustlers. Josephine, Hathaway's high-class and unwilling mentor, even says as much to Wilson's unpolished and reckless Penny: "Why are women better con artists? Because no man will ever believe a woman is smarter than him." In short: Give these women a mark, and they'll hit the target.
The Hustle, in cinemas 10th May, is fun. It's dirty and full of scoundrels, just like its inspiration promises — but it's the rotten challenges of making a truly funny woman-led comedy in Hollywood that dominate much of our conversation in this elaborate room.
While making the movie, the duo says they faced unanticipated pushback from the ratings board, which initially gave them a damning R. This was a setback because, as Hathaway explains, similar movies with a male cast rarely undergo the same level of scrutiny. "Rebel had to go out and argue with the board that our movie was no more raunchy than certain comedies that star men that had been given PG-13 ratings," she tells Refinery29. "Even though we, behind the scenes, were doing everything right, we still had to deal with a culture that’s said it’s inappropriate for women to be funny."
Wilson, who also produced the film, even had to break out her law degree to cut through the noise: "I don’t like to be angry at stuff, but when they sent through the list of jokes that we would have to cut to get a PG-13 rating, it was absurd."
During our freewheeling conversation, Hathaway and Wilson discussed everything from the hidden meaning behind Josephine's impeccable outfits to advice from Amy Poehler to what makes the perfect "dinosaur clit" joke (a joke that the two successfully hustled back into the final version of movie, thank you very much).
Do you feel like more opportunities are available to you in 2019, with movies like The Hustle starring and being produced by women?
RW: "I definitely feel like things like the #MeToo movement have helped women step more comfortably into positions of power."
AH: "I think that when that moment in 2017 happened, and after the formation of #TimesUp, the film industry has taken a long, hard look at itself and seen that despite all the films about equality, and despite all the progress ideals that we tout in our films, we are not an industry that represents them. There are a lot of people taking it upon themselves to change that, so maybe this will be the last generation of such gross inequality."
AH: "[Even though] it was one of the more gender equal sets that I’ve ever worked on, when it came time to rate our movie, we got an R rating instead of a PG-13. Rebel had to go out and argue with the board that our movie was no more raunchy than certain comedies that star men that had been given PG-13 ratings. Even though we, behind the scenes, were doing everything right, we still had to deal with a culture that’s said it’s inappropriate for women to be funny."
RW: "When they sent through the list of jokes that we would have to cut to get a PG-13 rating, it was absurd."
Do you remember which ones? Did they end up making it in there?
RW: "Oh yeah they’re in there. There is a reference to pegging, and a dinosaur clitoris joke which we had to tweak slightly."
AH: "The joke was 'dinosaur clit,' which is a funnier joke than saying “dinosaur clitoris.” And I don’t know why clit isn’t allowed…"
RW: "Ten of the best jokes of the film would have to have gone if we had a PG-13 rating...It was unfair, and it was ridiculous, so I went there in person and said we are going to arbitration on this."
AH: "Because Rebel’s a lawyer. An actual lawyer."
RW: "Hardly any movies get their ratings overturned, and we did. This movie is so appropriate for teenagers so the fact that they were going to try to bar teenagers from getting into it, I was nah, nah, nah."
AH: "Not to mention, Rebel’s got a huge teenage fanbase from the Pitch Perfect movies, and I have a big teenage fanbase from my Princess Diaries movies, and that would have been a huge loss to the film. So when you are talking about the metric of success, and you are talking about the idea that women aren’t funny — then you cut our 10 best jokes. Or we cut out a huge portion of our audience — then you say female comedies aren't successful."
RW: "The last movie that I know about that did was Tina Fey’s Mean Girls...Ours was so satisfying to win. It topped off a great movie."
The clothes in the movie are so good, too.
AH: "Rebel actually designed a lot of her looks."
RW: "I have my own clothing line, and the red glamorous dress [in the movie] was made by Chantelle, who is our lead designer at Rebel Wilson’s Angels. Even though I [play] a successful con-woman, I am the more low-rent one compared to Annie’s character, but, still, all those T-shirts I wear are Marc Jacobs $300 dollar shirts. He probably is not impressed by the way I wear them, but I just want to say: Marc Jacobs I adore you and I’ve always adored you. They just fit my confident character — I probably wouldn’t wear [shirts] that tight in real life — but I loved it."
AH: "I worked really closely with our costume designer, Emma Fryer, and it was this month’s long evolution from the start to the end, but I wanted there to be two separate versions of Josephine. I wanted there to be the way she dressed when she was conning men which was very nipped waist, push-up bra, big hair, high heels."
RW: "To play into what men believe is 'sexy.'"
AH: "Exactly. All those looks were created in accordance with the male gaze. Then, I wanted to show that when [Josephine] is alone, she dresses the way that we dress. One of the things that is interesting is that this movie went into production before that huge flash point #MeToo moment and so much has changed since then. But before then, I felt like I created a character that felt like she knew that she was eccentric enough that she didn’t feel safe being herself out in the world, which is why she lives alone on the side of this cliff. She just wanted to keep that side of herself private. And now, I just see so much more freedom out there in the world."
There have been so many powerful female characters coming out in movies in the past few years — many of them wearing suits, too.
RW: "Power dressing...I love it. I want shoulder pads to come back."
Rebel, you also produced Isn’t It Romantic, and Anne, you executive produced Colossal and Song One, and are producing two more projects. You both also star in all the films you've produced so far. What is the biggest difference between starring in a film, and producing and starring in a film? Do you wish you could produce all your films?
RW: "In my other two movies I have coming out this year, I am just an actor in Taika [Waititi's] movie [Jojo Rabbit] and in Tom Hooper’s Cats. It also is a little refreshing stepping onto set where I don’t have all the responsibility.
"When I first came to America, Amy Poehler told me, 'You’ve always got to self-generate. It doesn’t matter how successful you are.' And it’s true. Not only do we currently have the movies that we are in and promoting, but we have a whole slate of things that we are actively developing — like, four or five things at a time...because if you don’t have anything… that’s why some people are super famous for awhile and then they go away because they can’t generate their own stuff."
AH: "If I sat back and waited for other people to offer me things, I don’t think I would have had as diverse and colourful career as I’ve had because I don’t think people, still to this day, really get me. I don’t need to be the lead of a film. I just want to work with the best directors I can, playing the most interesting parts that I can. Maybe because of the way I started or maybe because of the way I come off in the press, people have this one idea of me when I know I am so much more than that."
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
The Hustle is in UK cinemas from 10th May