Molly's Game stars Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom, the 26-year-old organizer behind one of the world's most exclusive, high-stakes underground poker tournaments. Movies are known for glamming up real-life stories; when working with A-list celebrities, it's hard to dim their star-power to match ordinary mortals (that's what reality TV is for). But even though Chastain is one of Hollywood's top leading ladies, photos of the real Molly Bloom show the casting is truly true-to-life.
A former competitive skier who studied political science, Bloom had a taste for fast action and adventure, which led to a business that nearly landed her 10 years in prison for racketeering. Instead, she argued against the illegality of her back-room games, got off with a year's probation, and wrote a best-selling memoir of her experiences. As the movie depicts, Bloom started off as a cocktail waitress at L.A.'s Viper Room, and was quickly brought on as caterer and manager for club owner Darin Feinstein's high-stakes basement poker game. She was so successful that the game grew too big for the club and eventually moved to a series of four-star hotels. With business still booming and word of the game growing, Bloom opened her own event and catering business, Molly Bloom Inc.
While Bloom had excellent business sense and the nerve to deal with millions of dollars changing hands in moments, that's not what made headlines in 2013 when her game was busted during an FBI sting. Tabloids dubbed her the "Poker Princess", unnecessarily focusing on her looks and outfits. In an interview with Deadline Hollywood, Chastain spoke about Bloom's reluctance to sell her story rights, perhaps due to the potential backlash she'd receive. Bloom once received a proposal for a weekly Entourage-style show focused on Hollywood gossip, and another that described her as holding a "super sexy" weekly poker game. It wasn't until the man behind The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin, came forward and convinced Bloom he didn't care about anything but her story, that Molly's Game began moving towards the screen.
In the same interview, Chastain said that she initially fell for the media's portrayal of Bloom, too. But when she met her, she saw a kindred woman working in a man's world, struggling to be taken seriously. "Society values women for their sexual desirability," Chastain said, "and [Bloom] changed everything about herself to try to become successful in an industry dominated by rich and powerful men."
Chastain hasn't been shy about speaking up about issues of sexism, racism, or even some of those rich and powerful men, but she recognizes the difficulty of working within an existing framework, and what happens to those who push against it. In an interview with Time, Chastain put it more bluntly: "Molly learned early on that if she presented herself in a certain way, rich and powerful men would pay more attention to what she had to say."
Both women chose to work with Sorkin specifically because they thought he would do justice not only to Bloom's personal story, but in the difficult, and often impossible, balance of women working in a world built for men. In the same interview, Chastain detailed why she thought Sorkin was be the best person for this story. "Let’s be honest — for [Sorkin's] directorial debut he could have told any story he wanted. But he decided to write about this woman and her fight against the patriarchy."
Bloom has made it clear in several interviews that she is extremely pleased with both Sorkin and Chastain's portrayal of her life. It may have been a gamble to get her story told on-screen, but it looks like Bloom knew the right people to bet on.