Molly Bloom: ‘Money, greed and power... yeah, all of those things, sure isn’t that the American dream?’
Molly Bloom was a talented skier destined for the Olympics before becoming a poker player and being arrested by the FBI. As a new film of her life story is released, she tells Anne Marie Scanlon about her roller coaster journey
Molly Bloom tells me “kindness is my favourite word”. Judging from her story as portrayed in Molly’s Game (based on her memoir of the same name) it seems as if she hasn’t experienced a lot of it to date. Molly Bloom is her real name — there’s a very funny scene in the movie when Molly (Jessica Chastain) explains to Chris O’Dowd’s drunken Irish American character that she is not Irish, he’s confusing her with the character from Ulysses.
While the ‘game’ (poker) is pervasive throughout the film, that’s not what it’s about — it’s really Molly’s story. Bloom, the eldest of three over-achieving siblings, pushed hard by their father (Kevin Costner), was destined for great things — the Olympics and Harvard Law School, when a fluke accident on the ski slopes derailed all her plans. The young woman decided to defer Harvard for a year, moved to LA, and took a job with a hot shot Hollywood type. He runs a weekly poker game (always all male) that includes famous actors, Hollywood insiders, the powerful and the very rich — the ‘buy-in’ is $10,000.
Bloom tells me that she never had any interest in poker or gambling. “I was interested in playing the room. I was interested in how they functioned and how I could build a business out of it.”
Bloom did everything right, consulted a lawyer, paid her taxes and was making millions. Then of course, in the Hollywood tradition, it all went very bad. Molly found herself on the wrong side of both the Mob and the FBI.
Leaving aside that the plot is true and everything the audience sees actually happened, Molly’s Game is a fantastic film in its own right. Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay and makes his directorial debut. The cast is first-rate with Idris Elba as Charlie Jaffey, Molly’s lawyer; Michael Cera as the Machiavellian Player X; and Jessica Chastain being pretty much flawless as Molly, who she portrays as driven, steely, and reserved sometimes to the point of coldness. The real life Bloom is somewhat different; she’s measured in her speech, she pauses a lot, searching for the best answer, but she’s unflinchingly honest about herself and exudes a vulnerability that her movie alter ego only touches on at times.
Despite the film revealing her drug and alcohol addiction, her difficult relationship with her father and her crossing the line into illegality, Bloom tells me that she ignored Sorkin’s advice to see the film privately before going to the premiere in Toronto. “I’m sitting in this theatre with 2,000 people going ‘what the hell was I thinking? This was such a terrible idea’. I couldn’t breathe, I was so emotional and tense but, halfway into the opening scene, I just relaxed and I’m watching this movie, like I’m watching any movie. I’m so entertained, it’s taking me outside of myself despite all the massive personal baggage I’m bringing. I think that’s a huge testament to the film. It blew me away. Jessica nailed it, she’s extraordinary.”
Bloom is now sober for the second time. She tells me that being indicted by the US Federal Government derailed her first recovery. Movie Molly doesn’t appear to have any social or romantic life but Bloom tells me she did have boyfriends and went out but “really it was all about the game”. Was that an addiction? Bloom agrees it was. Was it an addiction to power? “Money, greed, power, yeah, all of those things,” she replies. Isn’t that the American Dream? “It sure is and I feel lucky that I know the shortcomings of that. I know no matter how much money I made, no matter how much power I had there was an existential emptiness and it wasn’t really until I (embraced) the 12 Step Program (of AA) that I started finally filling that hole.”
Both film Molly and real-life Bloom share an old-fashioned decency that you don’t come across much these days. Bloom was offered millions to name names and dish the dirt on those who attended her weekly poker game but she refused. There were already some names in the public domain and those are referenced in the book. Sorkin decided to use amalgam characters in the movie.
My advice — don’t Google until you’ve seen the film as knowing the names of these people will only distract you and spoil the ending. The film is much like Bloom herself, funny, clever and quick-witted. I bring up the laugh-out-loud scene where a Jersey goombah, straight out of The Sopranos, orders an Appletini in order to fit in at a chichi bar. “That really happened,” she remembers, laughing. When I reply “of course it did, you couldn’t make that up”, she lets out a guffaw. What happened next wasn’t a bit funny. I ask Bloom who treated her worse — the FBI or the Mob and she replies ‘the Mob’ without a moment’s hesitation.
Bloom’s treatment at the hands of the FBI was heavy-handed and, to my mind, unfair. She was indicted with 33 others, including alleged Russian mafia figures for, among other things, money laundering. I wonder if the Federal Government was harder on her than her co-defendants because she’s a woman. Bloom replies that she can’t answer that because she doesn’t know how each of the others experienced the event.
We start chatting about women in Hollywood and #MeToo. “The truth is, the year that I was a cocktail waitress and working for the game, there were some uncomfortable moments — nothing like these women that have come out bravely and discussed in detail, nothing like that, that’s a horror show,” Bloom tells me before going on to add, “the way that I was perceived and treated changed dramatically.
“When I was a cocktail waitress I got hit on and I was treated like an object a lot. When I became the operator, manager and financier of this game I didn’t get treated like that any more. I became the bank, I was someone who collected money from them, or paid them, or extended credit to them so it was a whole different dynamic.” I remark that the total reversal in the way she was treated by powerful men, being respected, must have been extremely seductive in itself, never mind the money she made. “I loved (it),” Bloom replies honestly. “I was sick of feeling powerless.” The indictment left Bloom with nothing, facing the ultimate loss of power — jail. With Molly’s Game, she has, once again, taken back control.
Molly’s Game is in cinemas from January 1. Molly’s Game, published in paperback by William Collins, £4
Belfast Telegraph Digital