'Molly's Game' Team Talks Making Timely Tale of Female Empowerment

'Molly's Game' cast at NY premiere - H Getty 2017
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The Aaron Sorkin-written and -directed film stars Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner and Michael Cera, who reveals how he tapped into his role as Hollywood-star-composite Player X.

In Molly's Game, Jessica Chastain plays Molly Bloom, a tough Olympic-class skier who ran an ultra-exclusive high-stakes poker game in L.A. and New York where the players were almost entirely men. While the sleekly dressed Bloom gets a few compliments from the men at her table, including a drunken profession of love, she doesn't experience anything close to the sexual harassment or assault allegations that have dominated the headlines in recent weeks. Still, Bloom's story is a timely tale of female empowerment.

"In this moment in time when there's kind of a call of arms for women to say, 'Enough is enough,' I think it's a very relevant movie," executive producer Leopoldo Gout, who met Bloom while she was still running her New York game, told The Hollywood Reporter at the Molly's Game New York premiere earlier this month.

Bloom herself agrees that the film is timely amid the recent wave of sexual misconduct claims, but added that she didn't encounter that sort of inappropriate behavior while she was running her games. 

"There's definitely conversations about patriarchy, there's conversations about people abusing power," Bloom told THR of the film. "I did not run into anything like these horrific [sexual misconduct] stories that we are hearing about. My role in this game was very different. I was the banker, and I controlled the lists. I think when I made that transition from being a cocktail waitress in this game to running the list to bankrolling the games, I think my position was just personally very different. My heart goes out to [the women speaking out about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault]. Things are changing."

Still the film features a number of men who try to bully and humiliate Bloom, including Jeremy Strong's Dean Keith, who introduces Bloom to the world of elite underground poker. While Strong's character is based on a real person, the actor "stayed away from" learning too much about his real-life counterpart.

"My instincts sort of fired enough based on what I read, and I knew I wanted to create a certain kind of L.A. entrepreneur, hustler that you would meet if you went to the Hyde nightclub on Sunset and Crescent Heights." Strong told THR. "In Molly's book, she wrote a lot about how he was always annihilating everything in his path, how he would devour things, tear into things, how he sort of relished in a cruelty. All of that stuff was important to me to bring alive. And then also I tried as best I could to gain an understanding of poker and understand kind of the idiom of that world and behavior of that world. I spent a lot of time in Las Vegas and hired some coaches and all of that stuff."

Bloom's games featured a number of A-list actors, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck, but the film doesn't depict those star players, with writer-director Aaron Sorkin instead crafting a character known simply as "Player X," played by Michael Cera, who serves as a composite of celeb gamblers.

In developing that character, Cera said he relied mostly on the screenplay.

"It was very much on the page. As you can imagine, it was very compelling, a very well-written script. And actually the script, I thought, did a really good job of educating the layman about the rules of poker in a way that wouldn't make people go to sleep and keep the plot going forward. [Sorkin]'s amazingly good at that. So I learned everything about Molly and the whole world when I read the script for the first time but as far as developing the character, it was all really alive in the script. You just show up and try to do what's close to what's there as possible," Cera told THR. "I played in a few poker games in anticipation of the movie, just to get the feeling of the world. But there wasn't too much information in them because most poker games, I think, are very friendly and very sociable and I never played in a game with stakes that were anywhere near that high, where there would be a lot of extreme pressure."

Bloom was intently involved in the research phase for the film, she says, and met and communicated with Chastain repeatedly.

"I worked pretty closely with Aaron and his team for around six months all day, every day and then homework assignments. But I stepped away when they started filming," Bloom said. "I thought, 'These are professionals, they don't need me.'"

Sorkin, meanwhile, says the film is Bloom's real-life story without much embellishment.

"Molly's actual story is fascinating enough without having to adjust it too much, so it's the real story," he said. "With any story, people don't speak in dialogue, people's lives aren't played out in scenes that form a narrative, so you have to put those puzzle pieces together yourself. But this is Molly's story."

While the film's producers include such high-profile names Amy Pascal and Mark Gordon, Chastain doesn't have a production credit on this film, though her Freckle Films banner has a number of films in the works. And the producer-actress learned about the value of clever location scouting and production design on Molly's Game.

"The movie was made in Toronto," Chastain explained. "It's a movie that takes place in Los Angeles and New York and I thought, 'There's no way, I don't understand how we're going to make this film with a small budget in Toronto.' Of course, when the majority of the film takes place inside poker rooms you can do that, so I think that's what I learned as a producer, that you don't necessarily have to film the real thing. If you have a very talented team of production designers around you, then they can help you create that."