Molly Bloom knows what it’s like to be notorious character; now, for the first time, she gets to simply be a famous one. Molly’s Game, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, dramatizes the true story of Bloom’s rise and fall as the “poker princess” who hosted an underground, semi-legal gambling den for celebrities and billionaires. The scheme made her independently wealthy, but left her with a drug addiction and a disgust with the powerful men whose money got her there. After she got out, the FBI seized her millions and threatened to jail her unless she released confidential information about her famous clients; determined to hold on to integrity, if nothing else, she refused. (In the film, Idris Elba plays the attorney who stands by her side as the tabloids pile on.)
Coming on the heels of the Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement, Molly’s Game has added resonance. Here is the story of a woman who saw the underbelly of elite male Hollywood, and faced jail time for refusing to expose its vulnerabilities to a gossip-hungry public. “You’ve seen what’s on those hard drives — families, lives, careers will be ruined,” Chastain, as Bloom, says in the film. Similarly, when Bloom wrote a memoir to help her climb out of debt, she only named the men who had been publicly identified in the federal indictment (including Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, and Tobey Maguire). But speaking to Yahoo Entertainment, Bloom was very clear on where she drew the line. “I wouldn’t have protected Harvey Weinstein,” she said. “As [Sorkin wrote] in the film, if I knew people that were child molesters or harming women or killing people, I would have voluntarily gone into that prosecutor’s office — but I didn’t.”
In a conversation with Yahoo Entertainment, Bloom spoke candidly about seeing the dark side of money and power, as well as the lessons she learned from her ordeal and the inspiring experience of watching Sorkin’s film come to life.
Watch a trailer for ‘Molly’s Game’
Yahoo Entertainment: Being in this secret poker world with celebrities and producers, you’ve seen a side of Hollywood that most people will never see. What’s it like being on this side now, doing these very public red carpets and interviews?
Molly Bloom: It’s super weird. I’m really kind of a behind-the-scenes person. [laughs] I lived underground, in a sense, for a long time, so the full exposure is definitely strange. But it feels really liberating to just be out there and openly discussing all these things that I really buried, or kept a secret from a lot of people. So that part of it’s great, just being able to own it.
And then being on this side of it, being part of this movie-making process — there’s definitely a different feel to it, because these are passionate artists that want to create great, inspiring work to send out into the world. And that couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to underground poker. [laughs] So yeah, I’ve been really inspired by the conviction and the goodness of the people that have been involved in this project, from Aaron to Idris to Jessica, [producers] Amy Pascal and Mark Gordon — all these people have fought so hard to tell this story. Because as you can imagine, most people didn’t want to touch it. There were so many different stars orbiting this thing. So while there was a lot of interest to tell the story, it was hard to get it through. And these people really fought so hard for it, and Aaron was so insistent on retaining the humanity of the story. So it’s been a really incredible process to see Hollywood from above ground.
So you’re an Aaron Sorkin heroine now.
I mean, no pressure there, right? [laughs]
When Aaron was writing the screenplay and having conversations with you about the story, was there anything that surprised you about the questions he asked or what he was interested in?
I was constantly surprised, and sometimes annoyed, by the questions he was asking. Because I was like, why do you care what the pitch of the slope is? [Editor’s note: Part of the film involves Bloom’s youthful career as a competitive skier.] Or why are you asking me about the DIN setting in my bindings? Aren’t we supposed to be writing a movie here? But in retrospect, the story he tells is so richly layered, and every question led to this incredible sort of storyline.
Was there anything he pursued that didn’t end up in the movie, where you were like, ‘Why did I talk to you about my dry cleaning for two hours?’
[laughs] Probably. I looked in my file on the computer and there were 740 emails between us, just of him asking me questions — and those are just the ones I saved. So I’m sure that there was something. But his questions were so different than anyone else’s that I had been working with. Most people want to know about the celebrities, the money. Aaron wanted to know about that, but he more wanted to know about the relationship between my father and myself, or he really focused a lot on my skiing career, and my brothers. It was clear he was writing a different story.
Did the scenes with Molly and her father (played by Kevin Costner) feel like they came directly out of your conversations?
He wrote the scenes more artistically, but it wasn’t that big a departure from reality. I think my dad really wanted me to survive the world. He knew as a psychologist how difficult the world is, and I think he wanted me to be tough. And I think the way he went about it as a young man maybe wasn’t always the kindest, softest way. But I think it really came from love. I do.
The film illustrates the mid-boggling idea that famous men would come to your poker games to lose millions of dollars, and be grateful for the privilege. How did that experience affect the way that you see money now?
I think before I had money, I believed that money would solve my problems, that it would give me power and I wouldn’t have financial stress anymore, and it would completely change my life. And then when I had money, it changed a lot of things, but it didn’t change the way I felt inside at all. At the end of the day, it really afforded me things, and nothing else. And I stopped appreciating things. Nothing material was special anymore. I also used money like a drug; anytime I felt uncomfortable or sad or whatever, I’d spend money.
Then when I lost all my money, it caused a lot of stress, being broke and having bills. But that was when I decided that I needed to go inside and figure out why I made these choices, who I wanted to be, how I veered from that, and why — all those questions that I think, eventually, we need to ask ourselves. And I started doing the job of building self-esteem from the inside instead of believing it came from the outside, from money or success. It took getting a better relationship with myself for me to be able to appreciate and deal with financial crisis or financial gain.
Like every movie I’ve seen lately, I viewed this one through the lens of the Weinstein scandal and everything else that’s happening in Hollywood right now. In the case of Molly’s Game, it lends a different kind of resonance to the idea of “What’s on those hard drives?”
I wouldn’t have protected Harvey Weinstein, let me by very clear about that. That’s not a person I would have protected. As [Sorkin wrote] in the film, if I knew people that were child molesters or harming women or killing people, I would have voluntarily gone into that prosecutor’s office — but I didn’t.
It was a question in my mind — did she feel morally obligated to share anything?
My obligation in that context would be with the victim.
But at the same time, what’s your perspective on all this stuff, coming from a place where you knew celebrities’ secrets and you were privy to this alpha-male world that most women don’t get to see?
They’re not missing anything, I promise. So first thing is, I am continually moved by the courage and bravery we’re seeing. I am also moved and very encouraged by the response. For the first time in history, we are seeing a swift response and true consequences to this behavior. And it looks like a brave new world. And so that’s where I stand, on that particular question.
But what I saw was men abusing power. There was not any sexual harassment or sexual assault in my world. I didn’t run into that. But I certainly saw men abusing power. And you know, it’s annoying. It’s not appealing. And I think that things are changing.
In an excerpt from your book that appeared in Vanity Fair, there’s a disturbing story where a famous actor named Tobey [presumably Tobey Maguire, named in the indictment] holds a thousand-dollar tip in front of you and tells you to bark like a seal if you want it.
Right. So when I wrote that book, I had to make a lot of tough moral choices. I believed that writing my story was my best shot to be able to pay my mom and my attorneys back, and pull myself out of this massive crisis that I had put myself in. But I wanted to retain my integrity. And so the choice that I made, as you saw in the movie, was, “OK, listen, these names have been circulated all over the place as people who played in the game. But I don’t want to harm anyone’s life.” But that story about Tobey was important for me to tell, because I wanted to talk about how there are going to be people in positions of power that may ask you to do something that doesn’t feel right to you, and you don’t have to do it. And maybe the consequence is you lose the game or you lose your job, but you’ll get another job. That was an important story for me to tell.
You made an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’s show, and she said that she’d heard about these poker games and was intrigued, but didn’t dare go. Did any woman ever try to play?
No! I mean, I would have gladly let them in and they probably would have done really well. No, women never wanted to play.
And were you ever tempted to play?
No. And it wasn’t because I had discipline; it just wasn’t interesting to me. I had plenty of other issues with different addictions, but gambling just wasn’t part of it. And that’s probably why I was one of the only game runners whose game was sustainable, because I didn’t gamble.
Watching the movie made poker a lot more interesting for me than I thought it could be.
You and me both! Listen, when you’re watching the game and you know the people and you’re personally invested and your money’s on the table, like mine was, then you’re engaged in the game. And there were a couple hands a night that were really, really exciting. But not most of them.
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