When Aaron Sorkin hit Philadelphia recently to talk about his new movie Molly's Game, revelations related the Harvey Weinstein scandal were at their peak.
Sorkin said he was shocked by nearly every one of them, even though his new movie — the true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), who at age 26 ran a poker game in Los Angeles for Hollywood big shots — is a fact-based story about the way movie industry power players can mistreat women.
"It seems like daily or even hourly we hear a new horror story, and everyone is saying it's Hollywood's worst-kept secret. Everyone's saying everyone knew. Well, I didn't. I didn't know, and I said so to Molly," said Sorkin, who spent hundreds of hours "debriefing" Bloom on her time in Hollywood.
"And what Molly told me was, 'I sure did,' " he said.
Bloom listened during the all-night poker sessions to boastful and often obscene conversations.
"She heard a lot of what some people might call locker-room conversation. And it was Molly who said the way people talk is related to the way they behave, and clearly she was right," Sorkin said.
Molly's Game is the story of how Bloom came to be targeted by some of the A-listers, despite her repeated signals that she was all business.
"It was a pattern. These guys would develop a crush on her. They would fall in love. Married men would send her e-mails — 'Come to Cabo,' 'I'll leave my wife.' When they felt like it wasn't being returned, or that she was paying too much attention to another guy, then it all changed, and their attitude would be: 'I'm going to end her.' Molly had to dodge a lot of that."
But she couldn't dodge all of it. Bloom was exiled from the game by one of the players (Michael Cera, in a role reportedly based on Tobey Maguire). She rebuilt the (illegal) business in Manhattan, with a different cast of gamblers, including some linked to organized crime and a Ponzi scheme, eventually leading to her downfall. In the film, she's pursued aggressively by prosecutors seeking information about bigger fish — Idris Elba plays the attorney who defends her. In the end, she pleaded guilty to a minor charge and was sentenced to community service.
Yet Bloom, a former Olympic-trials skier (her brother is former Eagle Jeremy Bloom) felled by injury before hitting Hollywood, comes off in the movie as a fighter, a survivor — even, in Sorkin's eyes, a role model.
"Molly went from being a complete stranger to someone I'm doing business with to a very close friend. There have been times along the way, including right now, as a matter of fact, when I've looked to her for advice about my own daughter, who is a teenager. Something will come up, something about teenage girls and teenage boys, and I'll ask her, 'Molly, what's going on?' And she's been fantastic."
Father-daughter angles are key to the film, which starts with Bloom's tough-love dad (Kevin Costner) pushing her hard to excel at skiing. It causes a rift — one that Bloom reconsiders when she sees Elba's character pushing his own daughter to succeed academically.
"If you really want to do some damage to your self-esteem," Sorkin said, "spend three months standing in between Idris Elba and Kevin Costner."
And if you really want to raise your movie's awards season profile, snag Jessica Chastain for the lead.
"This was not an easy shoot, and for Jessica there were no easy days. Looking at the schedule, I thought, 'She'll snap at least once a week.' That's to be expected. But it just never happened. She straps the movie to her back in the first scene and runs a full-out sprint and doesn't put the movie down until the end credits role."
As for Bloom, she has just graduated from college, Sorkin said, and is headed to law school.