About The Production
Although Bloom's 2014 memoir ends with her FBI arrest, the story of how MOLLY'S
GAME got to the
big screen begins before Bloom even realized her reign was ending. When Bloom
was still running a
game at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, she met Executive Producer Leopoldo Gout
at a party. Gout was
working on his first novel, and Bloom's story piqued his interest. "She was an
woman in a man's world, and that's what really hooked me," Gout says.
Gout introduced her to his publisher, and Bloom got a book deal, but her arrest
put the deal on hold.
When the trial was over, Gout and Bloom shopped the book around Hollywood and
though there was a
lot of interest, nothing seemed right until Producer Mark Gordon got a call from
Ken Hertz, Molly's
lawyer, and Pete Micelli, her agent at CAA. "I heard that Aaron was reading the
book as well, so I
reached out to Aaron and proposed working on the project together," Gordon says.
Initially, however, Sorkin had reservations about turning Bloom's book into a
film, mostly because of the
players who had come to her table. She keeps most of the names confidential to
protect their private lives,
yet Sorkin still worried about the implications. "I know some of the people
you've written about. I've
worked with some. Others, I'd like to work with," Sorkin says. "A couple of them
are friends of mine.
And there's no way I'm going to write a movie that gossips about them or about
Today Sorkin is glad Bloom wasn't taken aback by his attitude in that first
meeting and that she continued
to explain more of her story. "Fifteen minutes later, I desperately wanted to
write this movie because I
discovered that she paid a high price for taking the same position that was
costing me nothing."
GETTING THE STORY RIGHT
Sorkin's certainty about the material helped speed up the writing process.
"Usually when I sign on to do a
movie, it's a bit of a blind date. There will be something that interests me,
but I have no idea what I'm
going to do, so there are months of climbing the walls until I crack it. With
MOLLY'S GAME, in the five
minutes it took me to drive home, I had the whole movie."
Sorkin found the story he wanted to tell within the details Bloom neglected to
include in her book, a
process of discovery reflected in Idris Elba's character, criminal defense
lawyer Charlie Jaffey: "You
finished the book before you got to the good part." Charlie reads the book and
notices some glaring
omissions, such as poker games lasting for days without any mention of drug use,
and no discussion of
the Russian mobsters whose involvement led to Bloom's arrest. Bloom also rarely
talks about her family,
particularly her complicated relationship with her father, who was instrumental
in pushing her and her
two brothers in athletics and academics.
Sorkin's understanding of Molly unfolds in much the same way as Charlie's. She's
been dubbed the
Poker Princess by the tabloids, and Charlie thinks she's been actively seeking
the publicity for her own
gain. "I saw an opportunity to create a character who was asking a lot of the
same questions of her that I
was asking," Sorkin explains. "For example, why was she arrested in the middle
of the night by FBI
agents wielding automatic weapons as if she were a dangerous person?" Although
Charlie is a fictional
version of her lawyer, Sorkin notes that "Molly did have a criminal defense
lawyer, and when she talks
about him, it's with great respect, reverence and affection. Molly even said he
was really the first man
she'd met who was honorable."
Although poker drives the plot, the resonance of the story comes from Bloom's
strength, inner character
and ability to beat whatever system she challenges by remaining true to herself.
"I saw this as an
emotional story and the kind of story I like to tell, with a quixotic sense of
right and wrong." Her personal
journey, her crucial relationship with her lawyer, and her refusal to give up
her former clients are the heart
of the story. "She was holding the winning lottery ticket," Sorkin says. "She
could have been rich and
famous simply by telling the truth, but she wouldn't do it. I really admire
that, and the movie admires
Pascal says Sorkin's ability to bring depth to characters elevates MOLLY'S GAME.
"Aaron loves heroes
and he finds the beauty in people not everyone sees at first glance," says
Pascal. "It's a character study,
and no one does it better than Aaron."
Bloom's fantastic sense of humor and sky-high IQ also impressed Sorkin, but
mostly, he says, "I found
Molly Bloom to be a truly unique movie heroine." He laughs at the thought that
he wanted his daughter to
meet "someone who has pled guilty to a federal crime." But as Sorkin listened to
Bloom, he thought she
represented an extraordinary role model for young women.
Over the next two years, Sorkin heard more of the stories that Bloom had
excluded from the book, and
then he spent roughly a year writing the screenplay. He wove in the narrative
background, broke away
from a linear chronological structure, and refocused Molly's story in his
script. The movie includes
material from the book, which is incorporated as a character of sorts, but
stands as its own story.
And while MOLLY'S GAME is biographical, Sorkin was careful to fictionalize the
"It's always been important to me that nobody be inclined to play a detective
game with the movie and try
to figure out which character is supposed to be which real-life personality. So
everyone is a compilation."
As a playwright and screenwriter, Sorkin has always
enjoyed being close to what he writes throughout the
process, including as showrunner on "The West Wing,"
So, "When I sat down to write MOLLY'S GAME,
directing it was the last thing on my mind," Sorkin
reflects, adding, "It is the most visual thing that I've
written, and that's not my comfort zone." But he says he
started leaning toward taking on the challenge of
directing because he "was having a lot of difficulty
describing what was in my head to the studio, to the
producers, to friends, even to Bloom. I was starting every conversation by
saying 'This isn't the movie
you think it's going to be.' But then I couldn't describe what it was going to
be, even though I was seeing
it so clearly in my head." The producers knew immediately that Sorkin was the
perfect person to direct
MOLLY'S GAME. Gordon recalls, "He was so engaged with the project, like in
everything he does, and
it really felt like he was ready to direct." Adds producer Matt Jackson, "It was
so personal to Aaron. The
idea that it's a story about a woman competing in an all-male world was
something that spoke to him."
As much as Sorkin as a director and writer wanted to focus on the underlying
emotion in Bloom's story,
he knew that above all else, the poker scenes had to feel as real as possible.
"I did a lot of research on
poker to make sure that the details are right," he says. "We have terrific
professional players as
consultants at every step. Our dealers are professional dealers. Even the extras
playing in the games are
professional poker players. You do not have to be a poker fan to enjoy the
movie, but poker fans will
appreciate its authenticity." Through tactile poker scenes, we see Molly as a
character learning-but not
playing-the game and honing her ability to manage people.
In addition to surrounding himself with talent behind the camera, Sorkin was
able to attract an all-star cast
that includes Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom, Idris Elba as Charlie Jaffey, and
Kevin Costner as Molly's
Says Chastain, "It's wonderful working with a director who's both a writer and
director because it really
is their vision of the story. Aaron's been friends with Molly for a long time,
he knows her very well and
he's very protective of her story. And I'm not sure that he actually would have
ever felt comfortable
handing the screenplay over to another director. I can't imagine anyone else
directing the story."
Says Elba of working with Sorkin, "I've always been a huge fan of Aaron's
writing, both his TV work on
shows like The West Wing and then of course the incredible films he's written
from A Few Good
Men to The Social Network to Moneyball, Jobs-he is truly one of the most
prolific and distinguished, if
not the most distinguished, writer of our time. So I really leapt at the chance
to work with him, and then
to have this be his directorial debut and be a part of that process was a
remarkable opportunity. It was
such a fascinating experience to work with Aaron-he has such a distinct voice
and evolved point of
view, and really gives you the space as an actor to find your voice in
inhabiting the characters that he
JESSICA CHASTAIN as Molly Bloom
Casting Molly was not difficult in terms of attracting talent.
"I'm happy to say that the best actresses in town wanted
this part," Sorkin recalls. "And I have no doubt that they all
would have been wonderful. But I wanted Jessica from the
beginning." He observes that Jessica, like Molly, "has a sly
and wry sense of humor. Plus, she's strong without having
to play tough. Usually when people are playing tough, it's
because they don't feel they are personally and have to
imitate that quality. But Jessica has it already."
Pascal agrees with Sorkin, "Jessica is one of the great actors
working in movies today, and we were lucky she felt the
same way about the movie as we did about her." Adds Gordon, "We felt that she
had the right kind of
moral sensibility, glamour, and strength to pull off this layered,
Chastain says seeing Aaron Sorkin's name on the screenplay was a big draw for
her. "He's one of our
greatest writers, if not the greatest writer in the American film industry," she
says, adding, "I loved
Molly's humor, I loved her intelligence, I loved the underdog story-a woman
becoming successful in an
industry that is filled with men. And I liked the real Molly Bloom."
"Jessica came super-prepared; she works like a surgeon," says Executive Producer
Gout. "She created her
own version of Molly and as I watch her on set and call the real Molly on the
phone, it's like there's a
short circuit in my head! It's wonderful."
Of playing opposite Chastain, Elba says "Jessica is a force, but also just an
amazing partner in any scene
that you're in with her, and obviously on this film our characters spend a lot
of time in dialogue and sort
of bumping up against each other verbally, so working with someone like Jessica
who is so generous and
really shows up was a truly fantastic experience."
IDRIS ELBA as Charlie Jaffey
Sorkin was equally certain about who should play Charlie Jaffey. "Idris is
sensational, and again, when
you're playing strong, smart and funny, it helps that you are those things and
don't have to reach for
them. He also has a great face at rest when he's listening to Molly; you don't
know what he's about to say
when she's done." The relationship between Molly and Charlie is central, and
"You get the sense that
they are both used to being the smartest person in the room. Suddenly they're in
the same room. The back
and forth between them is fun." Adds Pascal, "If you think of whose hands you
would want your life to
be in, it would be Idris Elba. He combines masculinity and vulnerability in a
way very few actors can."
Jackson believes, "Charlie was an advocate and comfort for Molly during a
difficult time. Idris provided a
warmth to his performance and was always dignified in his support for her and
Idris embodies that."
Elba says he liked embodying a lawyer who didn't take anything his client says
at face value. "Charlie is
this very polished sort of seen-it-all hotshot lawyer, but I think he's really
intrigued by Molly because
there is so much more complexity to her than how she initially presents. He
thinks he has her figured out
the minute she walks in the door and then she really challenges him with her
intellect and the strength of
her character and personality and I think that really draws him in."
On playing opposite Elba, Chastain says, "It was wonderful to work with him.
He's such an incredible
actor-I loved his work for so long and I could not believe what we did [with the
Gordon adds that Elba could have been considered the unexpected choice based on
the original script.
"Effective casting is colorblind. Idris is such an amazing actor and the idea of
seeing him and Jessica
work together was exciting and wonderful, so I thought, 'Let's do this, and
subvert whatever assumptions
that may have existed on who this character should look like.'"
KEVIN COSTNER as Molly's Father
The duality of the role of Molly's father is a challenge because he drives Molly
hard early in the film then
becomes more sympathetic as the story develops. Sorkin praises Kevin Costner as
a great actor who
brings "strength and humor, complexity and a lot of love to a part that involves
dancing on a razor's
edge." Adds Pascal, "We were so lucky Kevin connected with the material. He made
big moments out of
every one of his scenes. The scene at the end with he and Jessica on the bench
was the key scene for
making the movie work, and he is fantastic." Jackson recalls, "Molly has
expressed that Kevin Costner
reminds her of her dad but separately Kevin is just an amazing, world class,
iconic actor. He brings a
certain level of gravitas and seniority to this role and pulls it off
Costner saw his character as "a loving father and a taskmaster who pushed his
children to excellence and
probably didn't know the damage or the pressure that he was laying on Molly."
Costner praises the
layered script of MOLLY'S GAME: "Aaron captures the desperation of people who
seem to have it all. I
hope I've given him what he needs because I understand and believe in what he's
saying about this
complicated character." Costner notes that the story isn't about Molly's father
and that we don't know the
personal history behind his "need to push his children, but I think we all want
our children to succeed
wildly. And some of us do a better job of parenting our children than others.
And some of us think that
results are really the measure of a meaningful relationship even though their
desires aren't ours, and their
needs aren't ours."
Sorkin respects Costner's brilliant acting, but also he credits Costner's
generosity with his knowledge as a
director. Sorkin recounts a particular shot that Costner gently made a
suggestion to improve. Sorkin
thought, "That's fantastic. We'll do that. And I began describing it as Kevin's
shot when I was talking
with the DP. Kevin later said that I didn't need to credit him; that's just how
Sorkin jokes that he was nervous to work with everyone involved in the
production, even "the craft
service people," because he was sure "they've figured out that I don't know what
I'm doing. But directing
a guy who has won an Academy Award for directing Dances With Wolves is
daunting. And he
undaunted it completely. I'll never forget him for that."
THE SUPPORTING PLAYERS
As for supporting cast, Sorkin knows he won the deal. "In the wrong hands, these
characters could just be
one-dimensional jerks, but they become multi-dimensional in the hands of actors
like Jeremy Strong,
Michael Cera, Bill Camp and Brian d'Arcy James. And boy, I think I spiked the
phone the day we got
Chris O'Dowd to play Douglas Downey." Adds Pascal, "I don't think you could ask
for a better
supporting cast. It was a magnificent script so I'm not surprised people wanted
to do the movie and
everyone wanted to work with Aaron." Jackson agrees, "Given Aaron and his
filmography, the people
that he wanted to do the movie with him we never had to go to anyone else
besides his first choices."
Gordon said, "The film is only good as the actors you cast, and we were very
fortunate to have
actors of this caliber working in supporting roles. The level of performances
you get from these actors
make the movie that much more exciting and moving to watch."
Sorkin had wanted to work with Michael Cera since Juno and wasn't disappointed
by what he
calls "the opposite of sinister" quality that Cera brought to the part of Player
X. "He's so sweet and apple cheeked
and such a nice guy that you never believe that he can be a destroyer of lives."
As a movie star,
Player X is the magnet for attracting other players to the game. They want to
play with someone famous,
and Player X likes what are called fish-people who aren't good but have a lot of
money to gamble. He
had made a lot of money acting, but it was always Player X's goal to win more
money at poker than he
earned making movies. Cera does play poker and got into some bigger games in
preparation for this part.
Supporting character Dean Keith meets Molly when she moves to L.A. and is
working in a club
serving cocktails. She takes a job as his assistant-he is a strip-club owner and
runs a poker game in the
gritty basement of the Cobra Lounge-and he has her text a list of high-profile
names to invite them to
his $10,000 buy-in poker night. Sorkin knew Jeremy Strong from his work in Zero
Dark Thirty and The
Big Short and says he would cast him in anything now. "There's no such thing as
a role that he's wrong
for," pointing to the ease with which he plays a poker expert. The first time
Strong was on set shuffling
his poker chips, Sorkin explains, "he assumed that Strong had spent plenty of
time at a table. He hadn't;
Strong had prepared thoroughly so he could make it look easy."
CREATING MOLLY'S WORLD
Because he was a first-time feature film director, Sorkin knew that putting
together the right crew would
be key to his success. "Movies are made by a couple of hundred people," he says,
"and if you're a firsttime
director, nothing is more important than those people being the best couple of
hundred people that
you can get your hands on." Sorkin credits his collaborators on MOLLY'S GAME as
"nothing less than
co-authors of the film."
As a writer, Sorkin admits his work "has been wall-to-wall language," so he
relished the opportunity to
explore the visual challenge of MOLLY'S GAME. "What do you look at when Molly in
telling us exactly what she's thinking and feeling? What do you point the camera
at when she's already
describing what we're looking at?"
The one with the answers to those questions was cinematographer Charlotte Bruus
Girl on the Train). When Sorkin met with her, Christensen had read the script
and talked insightfully
about how things should work. "It was like she was reading my mind, but putting
it into literal film terms
that could be articulated to a camera operator," Sorkin explains. "I loved
everything she was saying, and I
don't see how I could have made the movie without Charlotte. We made it
Christensen understood Sorkin's vision for the film from the beginning. "Poker
is the setting, but we want
a portrait of Molly Bloom," Christensen says. "It's about her capacity and her
intellect and her ambition.
It's a big job to make a character real and alive, and I feel that passion in
The film was shot digitally, but Christensen worked with Panavision to find some
lenses that provided the necessary depth of field and softness to the background
when using a studio
space. "This movie set against the backdrop of the glamour, the size and the
loneliness of the Colorado
mountains, Hollywood and New York City," Sorkin says.
Sorkin says he was nervous about shooting the film mostly in studios in Toronto,
camerawork and production design team of David and Sandy Wasco helped allay his
"Team Wasco," as Sorkin refers to them, have created the look for projects as
diverse as Pulp Fiction and
La La Land, for which they won the 2016 Oscara. Wasco says of MOLLY'S GAME,
"It's a fantastic
script that presented everything I want when I'm designing a movie. I'm not a
poker player, but I was
fascinated by this person and gripped from page one to the end."
As Wasco describes it, "We quietly help tell Aaron's story. We help figure out
the physical environment
that the actors will work within, and we're giving them these tools to work
with, the props to do their job
and the space to support their roles."
Structuring the sets entailed a lot of pacing for dialogue. Wasco notes that, "A
lot of the set design is
dictated by how much time it takes Molly's voiceover to start and get her to a
certain place. So the
hallways were measured by the beats of Aaron's words. And because we have so
many pages of dialogue
that have to happen around poker tables, we had to make each angle of each room
visually interesting for
Susan Lyall's costumes were also key to keeping the film visually interesting
and informing where Molly
is in her story. For example, Molly went to her first L.A. poker game in a $30
JC Penney dress but
quickly recognized the importance of beautiful clothes in furthering her career.
Ultimately, she prided
herself on never being seen in the same thing twice. Sorkin credits Costume
Designer Lyall for guiding
him past his "lack of fashion sense" and giving him "the vocabulary to say what
I don't have the
vocabulary to say."
Lyall returns the compliment saying, "Working with America's greatest writer on
his first feature as a
director was really a privilege." She felt the story lent itself well to the
phases and changes in Molly's
look: "There is the present-day phase in the legal world in which Molly goes to
sentencing and all of her conversations with her attorney. There is her
childhood phase and her arrival to
Los Angeles that is the athletic, fresh-faced and innocent Colorado girl.
There's quite a jump in style
when we go to the Cobra Lounge, and then she takes over the Four Seasons game
which starts another
very clear phase. Finally, we land in New York with a leap in how much money
she's earning, and the
outfits become more expensive, sophisticated and couture."
At last count Molly had 90 costumes, so Lyall spent a lot of time with Chastain.
"I really can't recall
collaborating so closely with an actress ever, and in the moment Jessica has
pure instinct." For instance,
after Molly makes a life-changing $3,000 at the first Cobra Lounge game, Lyall
says "it was fun to work
it out with Jessica, who is, of course, very attuned to what she thinks the
character would do." Lyall also
worked closely with the hair and makeup departments because knowing how her hair
would be done and
how strong her makeup would be impacted her clothing.
Says Chastain, "I really loved working with Susan. Costume, hair, and makeup is
very important to me on
every movie I go on, especially [regarding] the arc of a character and where
they start in the film
compared to where they end in the film. And with Susan, I wanted to show this
that the way to find power in the environment she was in, she had to look a
certain way. That men valued
women for their sex rather than their brains and I wanted to show that
transformation for Molly."
Communication between departments is always crucial, but never more than
creating consistency in the
looks of MOLLY'S GAME. Lyall says, "The Wascos were generous with keeping me in
the loop, and
sometimes I could inform them what Jessica will be wearing in such and such a
scene. And then Charlotte
was terrific at letting them know what colors were really strong and would be
useful in a particular
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