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Molly Bloom, the Hollywood poker princess who was convicted in 2014 of running an illegal gambling operation, calls the years since “the good weird” part of her life.
“It took me three and a half years to go from being sentenced in federal court to going to the Oscars,” said Bloom (whose 2014 memoir, Molly’s Game, was adapted by Aaron Sorkin into a film starring Jessica Chastain last year) while delivering the keynote conversation Sunday at the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s sixth annual Deal With It: A Women’s Conference.
Having faced down what she called “the wreckage of my life” — millions of dollars in debt, a destroyed reputation and a criminal record — Bloom didn’t flinch when entertainment journalist Catt Sadler repeatedly pressed her about how she managed to muster strength in those dark days.
“I’d spent life so terrified of failure that when it happened, it was very liberating,” said Bloom, who, before running poker games for Hollywood’s high rollers, trained as an Olympic-caliber skier. “I still felt fear, but anticipating failure — that fear of failure that hadn’t happened — was much heavier.”
After her sentencing (a year of probation, a $200,000 fine and 200 hours of community service), Bloom took a personal inventory. The only “monetizable asset” she had left, she determined, was her story, which was published by HarperCollins. She then shopped her memoir around Hollywood: “Everyone wanted to take a meeting, but no one wanted to make the movie,” she said of her tale, which describes high-stakes games attended by the likes of Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck. “There were very, very powerful people who did not want this story told.”
Undaunted, Bloom kept asking for a meeting with Sorkin. “He’s not going to want to make your poker princess movie,” she was told. She persisted: “OK, but can I meet him anyway?”
Eventually she did. Sorkin told her, “Never have I met someone so down on their luck and so full of themselves.” The Oscar-winning screenwriter not only penned the Oscar-nominated screenplay adaptation, but he made Molly’s Game his directorial debut as well.
Now, Bloom said, she feels more centered than ever. She’s traded drugs and alcohol for a 12-step program and working out (“Endorphins are one of the only drugs I have left that I can use, and it’s a good one”) and derives support from her family, her sponsor (a “spiritual gangster” from the Bronx whom Bloom describes as half Tony Montana, half Mother Teresa) and her friends, winnowed down from the “87 to 90 percent of” hangers-on from her Hollywood heyday who went away after her arrest. “The rest are my ride-or-dies,” she said. “If you weren’t at my sentencing, don’t come to the Oscars.”
Now 40, Bloom has looked back at her younger self and made some “important edits.”
“I’ve always been ambitious, but I learned it needs to be something bigger than myself,” she said. “My old job, I was able to see what these guys wanted and give them transformational experiences. At the end of the day, that didn’t mean much. But I have this skill set. Now I want to create transformational experiences for women, whether it’s co-working spaces or a digital network involving blockchain.”
Bloom is always “listening and observing,” she told Sadler, who herself fielded a question from the audience about how she coped with the aftermath of drama (the former E! host became a symbol of the gender wage gap when she revealed last December that she left the network because she was making half of co-anchor Jason Kennedy’s salary).
“It was just a personal decision, because I wasn’t permitted to share my truth on TV,” Sadler said of the decision to go public on her blog about the reason for her exit. She added that she has been surprised and emboldened by the outpouring of support: “It was like a whole new world opened up. I have to keep the dialogue going, because I promised so many women I would, because I can.”
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