Besides, not playing a dancer isn‘t a big loss for Stiles. “I don’t want to say that I’d be too shy [to play a stripper], because I feel like that’s shaming the women that do it,” she says. “But it would’ve taken a lot for me to have the guts to do that—and balance on those stiletto platform heels. It would have taken a lot of training.”
That doesn’t mean she didn‘t prep for the movie, of course. Stiles met with Pressler ahead of filming after reaching out to her on Instagram. Both women were working in New York at the time, but they had young kids and finding childcare was difficult. So, they arranged a play date. “I brought my son over to her apartment, and he proceeded to destroy her living room while we talked about everything that led to this point.” Stiles asked Pressler every question she could think of—how she found out about the story, how she got in touch with the women, the process of turning it all into a film.
“There were so many interesting anecdotes I took away from our meeting,” Stiles says, “but I also really learned that she’s got a lot of compassion for the people she writes about. She showed up at Rosie’s—the woman the Constance Wu character is based on—with a box of cannoli as a sort of peace offering to say, ‘I’m not here to trash you, and I’m not here to take advantage of you. I want to know more about you, the person. I’m on your side.’” Stiles says she’d also text Pressler during filming with questions like, “How much do you use a notepad?”
The goal was to not do an imitation of Pressler but rather learn about her process. “I told her we were going to take liberties,” Stiles says. “We took a lot of them, with my wardrobe in particular. I think Lorene wanted me to wear a Chanel jacket to represent privilege, that Elizabeth is somebody who had a lot more options growing up than probably Ramona or Destiny did.”
Stiles found other ways to channel Pressler. “I thought there was something so great about being the only person that has compassion for these women,” she explains. “The dancers run in a world where they’re constantly being exploited and taken advantage of. My character develops a close relationship to them, and it’s the only person who’s not trying to get something from them. She’s actually looking at them going, ‘Who are you, and what’s your version of the story?’”
This did, of course, mean she wasn’t in the movie’s biggest set pieces. “I wasn’t at the club, which looked like it’s a lot of fun to film,” she says. “My scenes were a lot quieter.” Because of that, Stiles didn’t have a full view of how Scafaria’s vision would come together. “Once I saw the movie, I was happy to be the character in the film that grounds it and brings it back to a bit more of a serious note.”