Jessica Chastain swears she’s terrible at poker. Still, don’t bet against her. For Molly’s Game, the two-time Oscar-nominee learned all the tricks, terms, and bluffs of ultra-high stakes gambling—we’re talking millions of dollars a hand. Not many people could afford to buy in, and game hostess Molly Bloom’s memoir of the same title named a few famous people who did.
The real-life Molly, a Type-A overachiever, shimmied into tight dresses, set out snacks, handled the cash, and made millions. But she lost it, and her reputation, in an instant in 2014 when the men she invited in flagged the attention of the FBI. Her battle for integrity alongside lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) is the type of fight-the-system brawl that Aaron Sorkin couldn’t resist picking for his directorial debut. But first, he had to convince Bloom to say yes—and as Chastain explains, she had to discover the ambitious, brilliant businesswoman who was so much more than a tabloid vixen.
Within Molly’s Game, your character talks about turning down invitations to turn her story into a film. Why did the real Molly finally say yes?
She had many offers. There was one that was this episodic thing that was super sexy and every week was a different poker game, and some Entourage-style poker series that was going to be very gossipy. She wasn’t interested in doing that. When Aaron met Molly, the first thing he said is, “Listen, if I take this on, for me it’s not about Hollywood gossip—I’m not interested in that story.” And she said, “I’m not interested in that either, which is why I didn’t sell it before.”
Three years ago when her book came out, the coverage called her the “Poker Princess”, and focused on her dresses, the hair. What was it like meeting the real woman?
I judged her. The media tried to convince me who Molly was and I fell for it hook, line and sinker. And then I met her and I was really surprised. She’s not this stereotype. There was a lot more going on. She’s a creation of society. Society values women for their sexual desirability, and she changed everything about herself to try to become successful in an industry dominated by rich and powerful men.
And these men tell her they love her—which in her scene with Chris O’Dowd just makes her sink.
That’s when she’s at the lowest of the low. She’s become a drug addict. She’s laughing at people’s jokes when she doesn’t think they’re funny. I think there’s an emptiness to how much of herself she’s given away. It’s a very funny scene. That’s what’s so great about Aaron Sorkin: He writes these scenes that are so funny, and then he slips in sadness, or a biting remark about what’s going on in the world. In the courtroom scene where Idris keeps switching places back and forth, he says, “You’ve gotta change your clothes. You look like the Cinemax version of yourself.” Twice in the film, men are telling Molly that she needs to change the way she looks. It’s so weird. Even though he’s doing it to protect her, why is there so much focus on her visually?
But the dresses she picks to please people look uncomfortable.
So uncomfortable. It’s a strange thing even for me to be wearing them because there’s a sense of power when you put them on. All of a sudden you walk back into the room and you’re like, “Oh wow. Everyone’s looking at me.” It’s the same thing I felt on The Help. I was like, “I feel powerful. People are giving me a lot of attention.” Which feels good in some way, but also, you’re super uncomfortable. You can’t really walk. Things I wanted to do with my physicality, if I lean over, I’m exposing too much of my body. You have to contain yourself. You become smaller.
What was the moment when you were reading the script and decided: I have to do this?
Immediately, it was just Aaron Sorkin. I wanted to work with him because he’s a political filmmaker. He believes all of his stories about justice prevailing against the odds. I’d be happy with a couple scenes in an Aaron Sorkin film. Then I read the story. This man has so much idealism that he decided for his directorial debut, “Let’s talk a little bit about patriarchy.” It was so moving to me because he’s a successful white man in Hollywood. He could have told any story he wanted and everyone would have paid attention. That’s fascinating.
Sorkin’s screenwriting style is legendary. What’s his directing style?
This same as his screenwriting style! When you see his energy, you’re like, “Wow, it’s just how he writes.” The pacing is quick and fun and funny. He also comes from theater—the first thing he ever wrote was a play—so we would get together in the morning, Idris and I, and rehearse our 10-page scene with Aaron and Charlotte [Bruus Christensen], our DP. Then the crew would come in with their coffees and their bagels and everyone would sit on the floor like we were in drama school. Idris and I would do our 10-minute scene, and at the end everyone would clap and be like, “Okay! Let’s film it!”
So much of what Molly is dealing with having to fix and protect men from the problems they made—to hold onto their secrets. Which makes me think of the last month and the choices women have had to make about telling the truth.
I don’t think anyone should keep a secret if someone’s a serial abuser and people are being hurt. That’s a completely different thing. She’s just not ratting on people who confided in her, text messages where they would say things that were inappropriate. Fathers talking about how they wished they’d never had kids. Think about how deep that goes. The one thing that really connects is what happens when an industry is dominated by one demographic and they hold the livelihood of another demographic. There’s always going to be abuses of power.
This is an unusual biopic in that it all just happened. The book names names. The movie doesn’t. But there are characters in here that you’ve met—that you’re going to be at awards shows with for a while.
For us, it was never about trying to take anyone down. It’s more about: Why is one group allowed to decide another’s livelihood? And it’s more than just poker, it’s more than just Hollywood. It’s Wall Street. It’s the administration. It’s so many things.
Still, it’s literally about a powerful boys club. Is there one for women?
Do you know in what industry women make more than men? Porn, modeling, anything where the woman is using her body because society values a woman’s desirability more than what she has to say or what’s on her mind. We live in a patriarchal society. In Molly’s Game, it’s her family, her industry, and the government. All men ruling the roost and deciding the rules. I don’t think we have an industry where women rule it.
The only thing I can think of is Etsy, but that’s a collection of individual women.
Yeah, but who owns Etsy and who’s on the board?
Is it fair to say you’re most drawn to playing women who are really, really good at their jobs?
I like to play women that I see in my everyday life. Then I go to the movies and for my entire life, I’m going, “Huh? Why are these women so not-interesting?” So I think it’s fair to say that I’m used to playing well-written female characters—and I’m hoping it’s something that will be contagious. That the more that writers and audience members see these women that I’m playing, it’ll inspire them to create more accurate representations.
You’ve pledged to work with one female director a year.
I just couldn’t believe that the statistic wasn’t getting better. I think it was like 7% or less of films directed in Hollywood were directed by women. Seven. And I said, “Well, that’s not going to cut it.” I think my percentage is 25%. Which still isn’t 50/50, but it’s better than 7%.
It seems like we’re in a moment when people are finally able to speak out and say things—and secrets—they’ve felt pressured to keep. Do you feel optimistic about where we’re headed?
I do. I’ve seen the industry change just since 2011, when my films first started coming out. Six years ago, they were like, “Movies about women don’t make money, so no female protagonists.” And also, “This guy’s creepy and this guy’s creepy, but he’s successful, so…” I felt as a woman in Hollywood, there was a sense of powerlessness. Now—I don’t know if it’s social media or what it is—but we’re more in control of our audiences. There’s a great myth that women are made to feel like they’re replaceable. And they’re not. So I think the more that we support each other, and amplify the voices of those that are coming forward with injustices, we can work together to create an industry of healing. I feel like that’s what’s happening. So I feel hopeful.