In the sexy and scandalous heist film Hustlers, Keke Palmer plays a skilled practitioner of advanced burlesque arts — a.k.a. a stripper — named Mercedes. She is part of a crew of dancers out to line their pockets with money snatched from unsuspecting Wall Street fat cats who frequent their club. Starring Jennifer Lopez as the maternal yet ruthless Ramona and Constance Wu as the green but eager Destiny, Hustlers is the Set It Off meets Boiler Room action drama that you never knew you needed in your life.
Having sprinkled her beautiful, dimpled visage across TV screens in Star and Scream, Hustlers is Palmer’s first film since 2018’s Pimp, directed by Lee Daniels. In that film, Palmer plays the titular pimp named Wednesday, who grew up on the streets of the Bronx learning the game from her father. So what did Keke think about the contrasting roles?
“When I did Pimp, in my mind I said, ‘I wonder if I could play a stripper?’ And the next thing you know, a couple years later I’m in Hustlers playing a stripper,” she tells BET.com. “Of course, they’re totally different. Though the role of the pimp that I played, she had a lot of heart. She had rough moments, but she was a kind person at the end of the day, even though she was a pimp. And then Hustlers, I had to give more of a sexier vibe, the seductress type of energy. It was fun to play. I love being able to go from one to the other.”
Directed by Lorene Scafaria, Hustlers also stars two of the biggest names in music at the moment, Lizzo and Cardi B. The latter was a stripper in real life and, according to Palmer, was a joy to work with on set.
“I remember she was really shocked about how long the scenes took [to shoot]. But what I really loved was how she was truly invested in making sure that ‘Wow, this is my first acting job. I want to nail it.’ And she did.”
Palmer’s previous experience with strip clubs was purely from a customer’s POV, and she fondly remembers her first time attending one.
“I was about 18 in L.A. I went with my girlfriends, and we were all kind of curious. Especially when you’re a new adult, you think about all the things that you hadn’t done. And one of them was ‘Ok, a strip club. How ya’ll feel about a strip club? That would be cool. Let’s go look at it.’ It was really cool, and all the girls were really super nice to us. Also, because we were girls, they felt super comfortable. It was fun.”
Based on a true story, Hustlers gives audiences a fresh and needed perspective on the lives of exotic dancers that sees the performers as women first. Thanks to Scafaria’s eye, the camera highlights the strength of the women despite their rather vulnerable state of undress. In one beautifully shot scene, the collective focus and coordination of this team of beautiful bandits is conveyed in just a few steps, as they prance across a bar to swoop in on their next unsuspecting victim.
“I know exactly which scene you’re talking about,” says Keke. “I remember we were all thinking ‘This is so cool, this is so dope. The music that was playing at the same time gave us all that confidence that we needed. And I remember Lorene specifically saying that she wanted us to have that power shot that you usually only see in movies where guys are the stars. She wanted to make sure that we looked strong and powerful. Knowing that gave us the extra umph.”
This year Palmer has taken to people watching of a different kind, joining Michael Strahan and Sara Haines as a co-host on Good Morning America.
“I’ve always been a very curious person, hosting is something I’ve always had a lot of interest in,” she says of the new gig. “Even outside of celebrities, getting to know everyday people. It just puts me in a space where I get to explore more of that.”
Catch Keke Palmer in Hustlers, in theaters Friday, September 13.
Photo Credit: BET