Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway talk to Beatrice Hazlehurst about calling the shot.
Rebel Wilson looks over her shoulder as Anne Hathaway lets out a raucous laugh in the next room. "This is why I asked them to move our trailers further apart on set," she jokes.
In The Hustle, a female-centric take on Michael Caine and Steve Martin's famous Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Hathaway portrays an infamous British con woman, and Rebel Wilson a small-time swindler and thorn in her side.
It was Wilson's idea to remake the 1988 MGM classic and her producer title saw her directly involved in the casting of Hathaway as her co-star. While the duo's on-screen relationship is tumultuous at best, Hathaway readily sings her co-star's praises at a moment's notice despite admittedly being total opposites — in the opposite way you might expect.
"Rebel is shy . . . what?!" Hathaway exclaims. "She's such a wonder. Like, I 100 per cent believe that she got malaria and had a fever dream about winning an Oscar, I believe she got the highest score on an intelligence test as a teenager and was recruited by an Australian intelligence organisation. She's such a multi-dimensional person and thinker."
The feeling is mutual. When asked if anything surprised her about working with an actress with such omnipotent star power, the actress reveals she didn't expect Hathaway to be so "cool and funny".
"She gets a bad rap sometimes in the press, which I just don't get," says Wilson. "I really respect her as a person — she's smart, she's so talented. We'd go head to head, I would improvise in her face all the time and she'd never break character."
Their rapport certainly makes for an entertaining watch. Both actresses claim to enjoy physical comedy, and it shows. Hathaway is hilarious in her portrayal as the ill-intentioned mentor ("It felt good to be mean and awful"), and Wilson's character must be put through her paces before being declared worthy of high-stakes cons.
Woven throughout the film is rationale for the character's illegal activities, so audiences can relate to the protagonists' desire to rip-off men. This was apparently a conscious decision to combat any criticism.
"There was no reasoning in the original," explains Wilson. "[The original male characters] just felt entitled to con women because they thought the women were stupid. We're not going after men because they're stupid, it's time females get back at the dirty, rotten, small percentage of men who have been underestimating females for years."
It's Hathaway's character who delivers the movie's signature line, claiming she's never suspected because, "No man will ever think a woman is smarter than him," something that instantly elicits affirming murmurs from viewers. "She's using all these techniques to get men in trouble," she says. "But her thing is, "If you're not looking you won't be falling for it."
She reveals pre-production involved extensive meetings to devise an elaborate backstory as to why her character opted for a life of crime. "Finally one day I said, 'Guys, we're trying too hard'."
"She doesn't need a reason to be a con artist because she's a woman, she's good at it and she likes it. And because, in a world where the best you can do as a woman is make 78 cents on every dollar that a man makes — and that's just if you're white — if you play by the rules, then you're the one getting conned."
Ironically, The Hustle itself almost fell victim to a classic Hollywood con. Wilson used her legal degree to overturn the Motion Picture Association of America's R-rating in favour of PG-13 (for perspective, not even the likes of Anchorman was classed at a R-rating). It's a move that would have prevented the film's primary demographic and a large chunk of both Wilson and Hathaway's fan bases, teen girls, from seeing it in theatres.
"In order to get that audience we would've had to cut our 10 best, funniest jokes," the latter explains. "And then you think about the argument people make that women aren't funny, or female-led movies don't make money. We're set up to fail."
Wilson's character in The Hustle is not too far a cry from that of unabashed Australian import "Fat Amy" of the Pitch Perfect franchise. While the Sydney native has fought to avoid typecasting since, she admits to still being "selfishly" attracted to the easy laughs associated with lower-status characters. When asked her biggest takeaway from Pitch Perfect's success, Wilson claims to have realised just how much audiences were thirsting for body diversity on screen.
"I'm the average size of the American woman, but when you look at plus-size leads in film it's less than one per cent representing 50 per cent of the population. So there's a big gap in representation. I'm representing a completely different body type to the majority of actresses."
Just because call-out culture has made diversity the buzzword of the minute, says Hathaway, doesn't mean we can rest on our laurels.
"I'm worried about [the industry regressing] not right now, but I do worry that people who think they're part of the solution haven't done the work to think if they might be part of the problem too. Even if you're someone who has been oppressed, you can still be perpetuating harmful views. We all need to dig down deep and look at ourselves — even if we've been victims, we can still be oppressors."
The next genre the twosome want to feminise is kung fu, with both claiming to be "obsessed" with films inspired by the martial art. It's particularly attractive because female-led fighting films are few and far between.
"Hollywood talks a good game when it comes to equality, but you look at the numbers and they're really bad," says Hathaway. "I'd always wanted that to change, then there was this huge awakening in 2017 and a lot of us that felt isolated in these desires realised we were so connected — we're half of the world, and the other half of the world should want this too."
Who: Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway
What: The Hustle
When: In cinemas from today