"We live in a time when people sell each other out. The rest of us don't seem to mind that," according to celebrated screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.
So, after meeting for just one hour with Molly Bloom — the woman dubbed "Hollywood's Poker Princess" but who declined to dish in a memoir or in federal court about salacious details she knew about her famous players — the Oscar-winning screenwriter knew he had a cinematic hero sitting right in front of him.
"Molly — with no sense at all that 'I'm going to do something heroic right now' — it just came naturally to her not to do the wrong thing," he told reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, the day after the world premiere of his directorial debut Molly's Game.
"The more I talked to Molly, [the more I thought] 'This is a movie hero I want to write about. She doesn't know she is a movie hero.'"
Molly's Game is based on the real-life tale of Bloom, a once-promising American skier with Olympic aspirations who became host of an ultra-exclusive underground poker ring peopled by A-list celebs, business titans and other high-rollers. Her rise came to a crashing halt when, after an FBI investigation, she was arrested and indicted for her role in a gambling ring allegedly linked to the Russian mob.
As depicted in Sorkin's film, throughout her court case and despite publishing a memoir about her experiences, Bloom resisted pressure to reveal all the names, secrets and details about the notables who had crossed her path.
"It was meeting her, discovering the story that wasn't in the book, discovering the reasons she left certain things out of the book ... I knew I wanted to do [the movie]," Sorkin said.
Actress Jessica Chastain, who is earning raves for her portrayal of Bloom, admitted she "absolutely judged Molly" before meeting her.
"I googled Molly Bloom and I though 'Ok, I see what this is,'" said the actress.
However, "the more time I spent with her, the more I really started to understand the position that she had been forced to be in," Chastain continued. "I had a lot of empathy for her."
'Women that are complicated'
Ultimately, the role is exactly the kind of complex character Chastain said she's looking for these days.
"I'm interested in playing characters — women, authentic women, women that I know in my life — who make a lot of mistakes, who are noble sometimes, who are competitive sometimes, who can get quite messy sometimes," she said.
"Now, I'm really aware of what I'm putting out into the world. If I'm part of the society and part of the industry, I'm part of the problem, right? What am I doing to contribute in a positive way, to move the needle in a positive way? That, to me, means playing characters that are complicated. Playing women that are complicated."
Bloom — who pleaded guilty to operating an illegal gambling business in 2013, but was ultimately spared a prison sentence in favour of probation, a fine and community service — was granted a 48-hour pass to visit Canada for the movie's premiere at TIFF. It was the first time she or her family saw the movie, which was shot in Toronto and co-stars Idris Elba, Kevin Costner and Michael Cera.
"The decided that they wanted to experience it as moviegoers: 'What's this really like, to sit in a movie theatre and watch this?'" said Sorkin.
"After the movie they were as emotional and effusive as can be, both Molly and her father. For me, if that's all that had happened, it would have been sufficient."
Molly's Game opens in wide theatrical release on Nov. 22. TIFF continues through Sept. 17.