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Will Molly’s Game have other celebrities panicking?

There was big anticipation for Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut. Molly’s Game, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2017, is just one of several biographical dramas Sorkin has written for the big screen, including the Academy-Award winning film The Social Network, Moneyball and Steve Jobs.

Based on the memoir of the same name, Molly’s Game is the story of Molly Bloom and the rise (and eventual fall) of her decade-long underground poker empire. The film begins with world class skiier Molly — played by Zero Dark Thirty’s Jessica Chastain — getting injured at a qualifying event for the 2002 Winter Olympics. As her athletic career comes to an abrupt ending she decides to forgo her plan to attend law school and move to Los Angeles, where she begins working in a club and meets real estate manager Dean.

Dean asks Molly to help run his underground poker games. The real-life Bloom describes her first experience with the game: “I recognised in that instant that this is not an opportunity that a girl from a small town in Colorado gets. There were Wall Street titans. There were billionaires. There were A-list actors, the most famous people we see on television, politicians, and they’re all seated around this table playing this game that I didn’t know what it was, but it seemed to be super compelling to them.”

In the film, Molly quickly learns the rules of poker, how to run successful games, make big tips and attract new, high profile players. After being fired by a jealous Dean, Molly moves to New York to start her own poker game, bringing several players — including the most successful player, Player X — with her.

One of the more exciting scenes in the film involves Harlan Eustace (played by Emmy award-winning Bill Camp) a conservative player who suffers heavy losses in a game, after being encouraged by Player X to keep playing.

The film culminates in investigations by the FBI into her underground poker games, and Molly’s trial in New York for breaking federal laws during her game.


The real-life Molly Bloom

What makes Molly’s Game are particularly compelling story is that it is based on a true one. The real Molly Bloom ran some of the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game for a decade. Known as the “Poker Princess”, the buy-in for Bloom’s games began at $10,000; at the height of her career that amount reached $250,000.

“I saw someone lose $100 million in a night,” said Bloom in an interview. “And he paid the next day.”

Some of the excitement around the Molly Bloom story comes from the high-profile players who were known to attend her games, including celebrities, royalty, sports stars and business entrepreneurs.

The celebrity players mentioned in Molly’s book are Ben Affleck, Tobey McGuire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Macaulay Culkin, Nelly, Alex Rodriguez and Pete Sampras.


But who is Player X?

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There was much speculation over who exactly Player X was meant to represent in Sorkin’s film. Played by Michael Cera, comparisons to Molly Bloom’s memoir make it clear: Player X can be non-other than Spider-Man star Tobey Macguire.

Described in Bloom’s book as “the worst tipper, the best player, and the absolute worst loser”, the likeness to Macguire is more than just a reference by Sorkin’s writing (there’s a line in the film about Player X playing a superhero).

In the film, Player X is a villainous character who enjoys destroying the lives of other players at the poker game. For example, Molly discovers that Player X has been funding Harlan Eustace’s game — encouraging him to make impulsive decisions, then taking his money through bluffing his way to victory. It is Player X who makes the decision to end Molly’s game in Las Vegas — leaving for another and bringing her high-profile clientele with him, forcing her to move to New York and start over.

This mirror’s the story in Bloom’s memoir, where Macguire informs Bloom that the game will take someone else. While much of Macguire’s behaviour – as reported in Bloom’s book – does not make it into the film, it’s been widely acknowledged by critics that the actor is Sorkin’s inspiration for Player X.

The celebrity reveals

Many other celebrities are referenced in Molly Bloom’s memoir — she describes in detail both their appearance and playing style.

Of Leonardo DiCaprio, Bloom writes: “Not only was he devastatingly handsome, he was incredibly talented. He had a strange style at the table, though; it was almost as if he wasn’t trying to win or lose. He folded most hands and listened to music on huge headphones.”

Talking about Rick Saloman – professional poker player and former husband to Pamela Anderson, she writes: “Rick was hot. He was crass and dirty, but he was still hot in a caveman kind of way.”

Following Bloom’s move to New York, Alex Rodriguez began coming to Molly’s game — bringing his celebrity friends in tow. “When A-Rod appeared, tall, handsome, and very polite, the heads jerked up from the table,” she writes. “Men, no matter what age, ilk, or net worth, idolise a professional athlete. As they recognised him, they turned into excitable little boys.”

The reference to various celebrities – including Toby Macguire’s portrayal in Molly’s Game – might have had celebrities panicking about who would next be revealed playing at her game. But Bloom kept true to the underground nature of her business — only the celebrities who had already been outed by the media for attending her game were referenced.

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