TORONTO – Aaron Sorkin and Jessica Chastain enjoyed a full-circle moment in launching their made-in-Toronto awards contender “Molly’s Game.”
The film began production in November 2016 and writer-director Sorkin and title star Chastain were back in the city in September for the drama’s world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The premiere was particularly poignant by virtue of having the real-life figure at the centre of the film in attendance: Molly Bloom herself.
“Molly’s Game” is based on Bloom’s memoir of the same name, which chronicles the U.S. skier’s unlikely ascension from personal assistant and poker hostess to the leader of her own exclusive, high-stakes game.
The house of cards eventually comes tumbling down for the “Princess of Poker,” who became the target of an FBI probe. In 2013, Bloom pleaded guilty to charges that she helped run underground games for Wall Street financiers and celebrities in guest rooms at The Plaza Hotel.
Sorkin said a Canadian lawyer helped Bloom get a 48-hour pass from the government to visit Toronto during the festival.
“She was offered the opportunity to see it in a private screening room,” said the Academy Award-winning Sorkin. “But she said the first time she saw the movie she wanted to experience it in a way that a movie audience would.”
Two-time Oscar nominee Chastain is once again generating awards buzz — she’s nominated for the best actress award at the upcoming Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards. Meanwhile, Sorkin is also up for screenplay honours at both awards shows.
“Molly’s Game” opens Christmas Day in cities across Canada including Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Ottawa Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria and Winnipeg.
Sorkin and Chastain spoke with The Canadian Press about their roles in the project and why they found both Bloom and her unlikely story so compelling.
CP: Aaron, this is your directorial debut. What was it specifically about this project that made you want to choose it to be the first?
Sorkin: Listen, when I write something, I want the best director possible to direct it, and in the past I’ve never even considered that might be me.
In this case, after I’d written the script, which I did not write with the intention of directing it, I was concerned that the emotional elements of the story … might get overwhelmed by all the shiny objects in the movie: the huge amounts of money, the fast cars, and the glamour, and the sexuality and the decadence and the Hollywood-ness of it.
There was one night where we were all sitting there with a piece of a paper with a list of directors on it and we’re going through each name, all the pros and cons of all these great directors, and the producers said: “Well, we think you should direct it.” This time around I didn’t say no. I grabbed at the chance and I’m glad that I did.
CP: Jessica, it’s really fascinating to see Molly’s education into high-stakes poker. I was wondering what your education was for this and how you connected with Molly.
Chastain: I got to meet Molly and talk to her and hang on with her and ask her any question. She was so open to me about her experience. And then also it was important for me to meet people who also knew Molly during that time.
I actually infiltrated a New York poker (game) at one point and watched a lot of money being lost; and then realized I might be the bad omen, so I had to exit the room quickly (laughing). That was my experience with poker. Molly doesn’t play poker. She knows a lot about poker, but she’s not a gambler, so of course I needed to learn what all the terms were, what the actual structure of the game is, and that helped me play the part as well.
CP: It’s also interesting to see how emotionally invested the players get in the game, but Molly always seems to have a cool level head. But people just can’t believe this woman is doing this on her own — they’re always second-guessing and questioning her.
Chastain: She had to play by their rules to be invited into that industry, in a way, this industry that’s traditionally dominated by men.
Molly has to change the way she looks when her boss tells her he doesn’t like the way she looks. She has to give up so much of who she is. And I see it also it’s a cautionary tale, and I think that’s how Molly sees it. And women today, we need to move against that, and it’s inspiring to see this story for that reason.
Sorkin: Also, the world that she’s coming from is a straight-up meritocracy. She is a world-class athlete. She’s an Olympic-level skier…. She comes (within) about 200 yards from making the U.S. Olympic team. That has nothing to do with: “Does the man has the power, who has the power?” That has everything to do with: “How fast can you make it from the top of the mountain to the bottom of the mountain?”
She was both an athletic prodigy and an academic prodigy … two worlds where your worth can be objectively measured. And suddenly, she goes into a world where it matters what shoes and dress you’re wearing and: “Can you lose that superior air, that kind of bitchy air?” Molly is very funny and she is smarter. She’s a very smart woman. She is smarter than these men.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed.
— With files from The Associated Press.