'Hustlers' Lili Reinhart Reveals Why She Wanted to Step Outside Her 'Comfort Zone' (Exclusive)

Hustlers, Lili Reinhart
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

ET spoke with the actress ahead of the release of her new movie, co-starring Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez and Keke Palmer.

After booking a role in Hustlers, Lili Reinhart (only somewhat jokingly) promised writer-director Lorena Scafaria that she would immediately start hitting the gym. "And she was like, 'I don't want you to think that. This movie is about celebrating women of different sizes,'" Reinhart recalls. "She's like, 'You're perfect the way you are.'"

Inspired by a viral New York Magazine article, Hustlers follows a group of savvy one-time strippers who team up after the 2008 financial crisis to pick the pockets of their Wall Street clients. As the film's array of exotic dancers, Scafaria cast Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, pop stars Cardi B and Lizzo, and, of course, Reinhart.

"She was so chill about that and just wanted all shapes and sizes and women of so many backgrounds, which is f**king amazing," Reinhart tells ET by phone. Being surrounded by such a diverse group of women, the 22-year-old was able to, she says, "take the pressure off" herself about feeling like she needed to conform to a certain standard.

"That was very sweet to hear," she says of Scafaria's words. "I feel like -- obviously -- there are so many people who would say the opposite and try and put me on a fitness regime and diet plan."

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Joining the film's stilettoed sisterhood also presented Reinhart with an opportunity to play a role that is a serious departure from what she's known for. Quite unlike the sweet, independent Betty Cooper on The CW’s Riverdale, in Hustlers, she steps into the sky-high pumps of Annabelle, the baby of the group who has to be dragged into the scheming.

"It was quite a refreshing role to play because I usually don't play girls who don't have their head on completely straight," Reinhart says. "[Betty] knows what she wants, she's incredibly smart and a leader, and Annabelle was the opposite. She's certainly not stupid, but she's naive and young and I think she really was looking at the older girls to guide her and take her under their wing."

"Ironically, she's sort of the 'innocent' one," she says. “Even though none of them are innocent."

Hustlers was not Reinhart’s first time in a strip club, though. "I think I had been to two strip clubs prior to filming," she says. "But not many." After she was cast, she signed up for private pole dancing lessons. (When she shared her progress on social media earlier this year, it wasn’t her fans first time seeing her hit the pole, either. Betty had a steamy pole dance in Riverdale's second season.)

Her transformation into Annabelle didn't truly begin until the wardrobe department, however. Putting on Annabelle’s mini body-con dress and "sh*tty extensions," it all came together for Reinhart.

"Costume designer Mitchell Travers and I decided she was Miley Cyrus from Hannah Montana days, but a little bit more slutty Hannah Montana," she says with a laugh. "That was basically the vibe. And wearing really sh*tty extensions in my hair and interesting bold makeup, sparkles and blue eye shadow."

"When I got my fitting done, I was like, Oh, I completely forgot that the [movie] was set in 2013," she recalls. "It was so interesting to see how the clothes were so different. You think, 2013, that was only a couple years ago, but you were, like, 'Oh my god. The fashion was so specific.'"

Even then, immersing herself in the mindset of a stripper who, as the story goes, would single out wealthy men at a bar, drug them and then max out their credit cards proved more unusual than Reinhart could have ever expected. There is one moment in Hustlers when she and another actress are dancing in the club's champagne room in front of a half-conscious man. "It was obviously strange and something I had never done before," she says. “Especially in front of a guy I didn't know!"

Which isn't so far from how it might feel to actually dance for strangers in a club. It’s all performance art, in the end. At least, that was one of Reinhart’s takeaways from shooting the movie and pondering what goes on in the real world for women in this particular line of work.

"What a lot of the girls and I realized [while filming was that] when these girls who dance are doing their dances, I feel like a lot of the time they have to put on a different persona in order to get through it," she reflects. "In order to preserve themselves in a personal way, as to not give any of these men an in into who they really are. It's more like an act or a performance. I think that is something that I had to keep in mind to get myself out of my comfort zone."

"I definitely look at strip clubs in a completely new way," Reinhart says. “I have so much appreciation for the women who do what they do. It truly is a workout and incredibly hard, especially in heels that are 12-inches long."

Hustlers hits theaters on Sept. 13.