The Real Molly Bloom
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Yesterday, we spoke with screenwriter and director Aaron Sorkin about his new film "Molly's Game." The film tells the story of Molly Bloom, a driven young competitive skier vying for a spot at the Olympics whose athletic career ends in a dramatic wipeout. She decides to work as a cocktail waitress while waiting to start her next high-pressure career as a lawyer. But instead, she stumbles into the world of exclusive underground high-stakes celebrity poker games. And then she gets into the sights of the Russian mafia and U.S. prosecutors. All that's in the first few minutes of the film, by the way.
But at its core, the film is about a woman trying to make her way in a man's world, where men make all the rules. That is so much of the moment right now, we thought we should ask the real Molly Bloom to tell us her story in her own words. And she's with us now from our studios in New York City. Molly Bloom, thanks so much for speaking with us.
MOLLY BLOOM: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: For people who don't know your story yet, the Poker Princess, just give us a sense of who you were in your early 20s when all this started.
BLOOM: You know, you mentioned that I was on the U.S. Ski Team. I had a pretty horrific crash on my Olympic qualifying run. I was a very serious student and had just taken the LSATs and was in the process of applying to some top-tier law schools. And after I quit the U.S. Ski Team, there was a fair amount of, you know, grief that follows that. And I just wanted to take a year off. And I had a friend that lived in Los Angeles, said I could crash on his couch. And so I just kind of did the first really spontaneous thing I'd done in my young adult life.
And my parents cut me off, and so I needed to get several jobs. And one of them was working for a guy who had a nightly poker game. And he said, part of your responsibilities from here on out is you're going to help me with this poker game. And I walked into this room, and I looked around the table at the nine or 10 seats. And I saw some of the most famous people in today's world. I saw some of the richest and some of the most powerful. And I was a fly on the wall. And I'm privy to all this inside information about all these different industries.
I say in the book, you know, poker was this Trojan horse, this access into all these subsets of society. And at the end of the night, people were tipping me. And I made more money that night than I had made the whole month. From there, I studied the game for a year and brought drinks and handled buy-ins and everything and learned everything I could possibly, you know, Google about poker and about the language and what was happening.
And after a year, I took over the game. And I started my own games. And then I became the owner-manager, and I had a fair amount of power and influence because I was controlling this list, that everybody wanted to be a part of this game. And then ultimately, I also became - I started bankrolling the game and extending credit. And so, you know, that's a little bit about where I was.
MARTIN: What was the appeal? I mean, was it being with all these famous people? Was it a sense of power? What was the appeal?
BLOOM: I would say the appeal was financial. The appeal was access. The appeal was power. You know, I grew up in a very high-achieving family. I have a brother who's a Harvard-educated cardiothoracic surgeon. My other brother is a two-time Olympian, fifth-round draft pick for the Philadelphia Eagles and an entrepreneur and philanthropist. And so I was looking for this thing that would make me feel validated, make me feel like someone, make me feel significant. And I sort of found it in this strange way in this world.
MARTIN: As Jessica Chastain plays you in the movie - I don't know how you feel about the movie, by the way.
BLOOM: I love the movie.
MARTIN: Do you like it?
BLOOM: I think it - I mean, I just - it's - I'm so humbled by Aaron writing it and Jess - and all these incredible actors. And just seeing this movie, I was so honored. I find it to be an extraordinary movie.
MARTIN: But, you know, as Jessica Chastain plays you as like you have kind of ice water in your veins. And, you know, Aaron Sorkin has been criticized in the past for having female characters who weren't fully fleshed out or for feeling as if - there are those who say, look, these are a man's idea of what women are like, OK. And I wonder, did you feel as tough as Jessica Chastain makes you out to be?
BLOOM: You know, it's interesting. I didn't get the sense watching Jessica that she has ice water in her veins. I get the sense that she has a lot of humanity, that she cares deeply about doing the right thing and about protecting people. I really didn't experience her as cold. I experienced her as ambitious. And I think that we get our lines crossed oftentimes when we see an ambitious woman and we just label them cold.
MARTIN: I'm interested in you actually because she's made up. I'm interested in you. Do you see yourself as having, like, ice water in your veins or did you - how do you see yourself?
BLOOM: I've always been very ambitious and very determined and very compassionate at the same time.
MARTIN: There are a lot of these stories right now about power, masculinity and abuse. You wrote your book years ago. The movie was in production - has been in production long before these current stories came out. But I wonder, you find yourself worried for these women in a way - does that make sense? - in a way that you might not have a year ago before we knew what some of the other things that were going on. Does that make sense? Do you understand what I'm saying?
BLOOM: Oh, I think there's a lot of that. I want to make a pretty clear distinction here because my experience was of a different sort. It was just being disenchanted and being very sick of oppressive men and having to play by their rules. You know, there wasn't this abuse, you know, that we're seeing, but there was just this unfair sort of unjust application of power that I just constantly felt like I was coming up against, from growing up with a hard-driving sort of type A father and coaches and bosses and then players and then government.
But I also never really saw myself as a victim there because, for me, it just felt, you know, like that was a powerless situation. I tried to circumvent it. I tried to find my way around it. But I think it's a brave new world that we're seeing, that we really can have a voice. And we don't have to do this alone necessarily. There's clear power and progress from coming together.
MARTIN: And when we were talking to Aaron Sorkin about the film and what attracted him to your story, he said it was your fundamental decency.
BLOOM: That's very nice of him.
MARTIN: Well, he said - quoting accurately - he said that, at first, he didn't want to do a gossip movie where people would be wondering like, who is this person? Who's that person? And then he realized that you had been prosecuted and now have a - what's the word I'm looking for here? A criminal.
BLOOM: I'm a - felony.
MARTIN: You're a felon.
BLOOM: I'm a felon, yeah (laughter).
MARTIN: You're a convicted felon...
BLOOM: I am, yes.
MARTIN: ...In part because you wouldn't name names. Why was that so important to you?
BLOOM: So this is sort of the way I looked at that. I made these choices. I profited greatly from these choices. And to turn around when I was in trouble and take people down with me felt wrong. And it felt like - when I looked at it, I believe that I have the ability to make more money. Because, you know, the Feds seized all my assets. And there was discussion that they would give the money back if I cooperated. I didn't do that. And then they took it a step farther and said there was discussion about clearing the record.
So looking at those two situations, I felt - I feel very confident that I could make money again, that I can be successful again. And I feel confident that, you know, not looking forward to it but that I could survive a couple of years of jail. The foregoing my integrity and, you know, stepping on other people and the sort of collateral damage to their families and everything, that felt like a life sentence.
MARTIN: That's Molly Bloom. She's the author of "Molly's Game." That's also the name of the new film by writer-director Aaron Sorkin which tells a fictionalized version of Molly's story. That film is out nationwide on January 5. Molly Bloom was nice enough to join us from our studios in New York. Molly, thanks so much for speaking with us.
BLOOM: Thanks, you too.
(SOUNDBITE OF CITY OF THE SUN'S "SUGAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.