Hustlers may be the juicy, dramatized, based-on-a-true-story, sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll-filled film that we needed to cap off a successful Hot Girl Summer, but Samantha Barbash, the inspiration for the movie's character played by Jennifer Lopez, says that’s not the real story at all. In fact, the 45-year-old former dancer turned club hostess, who was the real-life ring leader of a band of strippers that drugged wealthy clients and racked up huge bills on their credit cards, is gearing up to release a tell-all book of her own very soon, titled Underscore.
“I never wanted to be brought back in the limelight, but since the movie came out, they started putting me back in the press. So I felt like I had to tell the true story, since I didn't partake in the movie,” she tells BET exclusively.
Unfortunately for Samantha, her memoir won’t hit shelves until after audiences have already seen J.Lo’s on-screen portrayal of her. The screenplay for Hustlers was inspired by a New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler that went viral back in 2015 off an account mostly given by Samantha’s literal partner in crime, Roselyn "Rosie" Keo, who later retracted her story, essentially telling the reporter that everything she said was false. So when Samantha says she had to tell the "true story" she’s essentially saying that we never got the real version of the tale that led her to plead guilty to conspiracy, assault and grand larceny in exchange for five years’ probation.
It’s evident that Samantha doesn’t care for the spotlight as soon as we hop on the phone. Her answers to my questions are quick, clear and concise, but not in a rehearsed way. It’s more of a matter-of-fact tone by someone who wants to make sure that their words are undoctored, because perhaps previous experiences with media have not gone very well.
Getting straight to the point, she says, “Hustlers is not my story. I mean, Jennifer Lopez never met me. She doesn't know me or my mannerisms. She's on stripper poles. I have never been on a stripper pole in my entire life.
“I'm not saying that I didn't dance, cause I did dance when I was young, but not for 10 years before I got in trouble. And where I danced, the high-end clubs in the city, there was no poles. The girls had to wear gowns and cover their tattoos. You could never walk around in a bikini. So it's totally their Hollywood version, but I mean, that's not the true story.”
Samantha, who considers herself a J.Lo fan and claims her intent isn’t to criticize the actress, says that Jennifer’s camp did reach out to her while filming but wasn’t offering the compensation she felt she deserved. “Jennifer Lopez doesn't work for free, so why should I? I wasn't just going to give up my film and television rights.”
Explaining she would have had no problem with Jennifer shadowing her for the right price, she continued, “I would have helped her if they would've come to me in another direction.” She says that the overall hype surrounding the production has basically forced her hand to write Underscore. “The movie does not portray anything that's in my book at all. I wanted to take my readers inside those VIP rooms of the high-end strip clubs where I worked with Fortune 500 clientele. And what goes on inside the strip clubs with the management.”
She claims that her book will go more in-depth and is different than previous accounts, because this time, she’s the one telling her story. She shared an excerpt with Page Six that detailed an experience she had with an unnamed VIP client.
“There was one night at Hustler where a well-known R&B singer who had a volatile reputation was partying all night in a private room. He wanted to continue the party in his hotel room, so he requested the host to invite all of us to come over. He said he would pay each girl an extra $8K,” she writes. And the rest only gets more salacious from there.
Behind every movie worth talking about, there’s usually a better book, and no doubt Samantha’s will be riddled with fascinating anecdotes that will keep us guessing on the mystery men behind each one. As previously mentioned, Samantha is still on probation but affirms that “part of my life is over” referring to the series of events that led to her 2017 court case. She’s on the line with me from Queens, New York, where she still resides and, for work, runs a trendy medi-spa, with two more locations in Manhattan and another lash and wax business about to open on Long Island. At her new gig, Perfect Silhouette Spa, the services are focused on postoperative care for liposuction patients and almost anything to do with the face, skin and body, like micro-needling and cellulite treatments. Love and Hip Hop star Alexis Skyy has visited Perfect Silhouette among other bodacious, Instagram-famous ladies.
As far as Samantha’s lifestyle? “I'm still spoiled. I have a fiancé that buys me anything I want. I still have a big shoe collection and bags. And a lot of jewelry. I could spoil myself if I wanted to, too. My spa does pretty well.”
Before we end our conversation, I have to ask Samantha about her relationship with the other women involved in her case, especially Rosie, whose Instagram is essentially one big Hustlers promo sprinkled with backstage photos with Miss Jenny from the block and her castmates during their press run. It almost seems kind of unfair that Samantha’s henchwoman (who in the film is believed to have inspired Constance Wu’s character, Destiny) is getting glory for, as NY Mag put it, their “modern Robin Hood” escapades.
“I mean, there's no hard feelings. It's just that I don't talk to any of them, and that's not why I didn't do the movie… at the end of the day, it was [Rosie’s] story in New York Magazine. Not mine,” she says with a seemingly cavalier attitude before adding, “Jennifer Lopez could have played her and she chose to play me. There has to be a reason why she wanted to play the ringleader.”
Editor's note: Some quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.
(Photo by Suzana Hallili/courtesy of Samantha Barbash; James Devaney/GC Images)