Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (”The West Wing,” “The Social Network”) directs for the first time on “Molly’s Game.” Sorkin also wrote the screenplay, based on the true story of Molly Bloom, who was in her 20’s when she ran, in her own words, “the most exclusive, high-stakes underground poker game in the world.” Jessica Chastain stars as Bloom, whose poker players included movie stars and Wall Streeters, and who lost it all when she was busted by the FBI and refused to turn over her records.
Molly was something of a director herself, wasn’t she, the way she orchestrated her cast of characters and setting?
There’s no doubt about it. One of the things that made her good at this was putting together a good game and that meant putting the right nine people together socially so that they’d enjoy being with each other. But as we show in the film it also includes the notion of “fish.” A fish is a player who’s got a lot of money and who is good but not too good. What they really want to do is play poker with a celebrity. The celebrity is there to beat the fish and the fish is there so he can tell people he played with a celebrity. They get to say “I played all night with Celebrity X and boy, is he good, and I’ve got enough money where I don’t mind that I lost $200,000 to him.” That would be on the low end and that means millions of dollars would change hands in a matter of couple of minutes. The celebrity on the other hand wants people to beat, wants a little bit of a challenge, doesn’t want to be given the money, wants to play poker and wants the thrill of playing poker but wants to win. Molly’s value was that she could vet these players, go through their past performances at different games and figure out if they’d be right for the game.
You’ve worked with some of today’s greatest directors. What did you learn from them that you brought to this film?
You’re right; I’ve gotten a chance to work with great directors. I love working with great directors and I’m not done wanting to work with great directors. I had a wonderful time directing this movie, I’m very proud of it and what we did together and so I’d like to direct again. If you stand next to Mike Nichols and David Fincher and Danny Boyle and Bennett Miller you’re bound to pick up something but ultimately it’s going to be on you and my style of directing is say yes when a talented person comes up with a good idea.
I had a lot of partners on the set beginning with Jessica Chastain who straps the movie to her back in the first scene, runs a full out sprint and doesn’t put the movie down until the end credits roll. Idris Elba gives a phenomenal performance as Molly’s lawyer and so does Kevin Costner as her father and so does the other supporting cast. On my side of the camera Charlotte Christiansen, our cinematographer, is not only a brilliant artist but very patient working with someone who in 25 years has managed to absorb none of the science of filmmaking. I couldn’t pick a long lens out of a police lineup, I know I like the way it looks in certain situations. Charlotte and our editors I consider to be co-authors of the film.
One of the things I learned working with Mike Nichols is that the more accomplished a director is, the more willing he is to talk about directing in the simplest terms possible. For instance if you talk to a sophomore at NYU film school they will take you through a mind-numbing maze of mise en scène and this and that. But the first ever rehearsal for “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the last movie Mike directed before he died, at our very first table read, 60 or 70 or 80 of us were around the table and Mike said, “Here’s how you do this movie. Start talking as soon as it’s your turn and don’t stop talking until your turn is over.” That was it. That was Mike Nichols directing a movie and he was right. It didn’t need any more than that. Now obviously on the day when we were shooting the scene he’d start to tune little things and add some physical touches but what he was saying is that this boat simply won’t float if you don’t drive to the end of the line and if you don’t, as we’d say, pick up your cues.
Jessica Chastain said that her favorite scene she’s ever filmed is the one with Kevin Costner (on the bench). She said it was like a full play in itself.
Kevin plays her father with whom Molly has had a strained relationship her whole life and it comes at Molly’s lowest point in the film toward the end of the movie. Her father, who we haven’t seen really since the beginning of the movie, shows up. It’s a very nice scene; it’s a very emotional scene. I think the thing that ends up surprising people about this scene is that you figure when Kevin comes along that it’s going to be a father comforting the daughter saying all the right things and this very strong woman finally letting go and crying on his shoulder when the opposite happens. He’s very tough on her throughout the scene, kind of funny but also very tough on her but then by the end of the scene he collapses and she’s almost surprised. It was a good scene on paper and it’s a great scene on film because of those two actors.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on December 18, 2017.