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'Molly's Game' Like A 'Compressed' Version Of The World Series Of Poker, Actor Says

Card Player Chats With Molly's Game Actor Brian d’Arcy James


Brian d'Arcy James in Molly's GameOscar-winning screen writer Aaron Sorkin early this year was quoted in Rolling Stone saying that the World Series of Poker on TV is the “worst spectator sport ever.” The interview came on the heels of the release of his directorial debut Molly’s Game, a film based on the real-life underground poker games run by Molly “the Poker Princess” Bloom.

However, veteran actor Brian d’Arcy James, a member of the film’s supporting casting, says that the movie can be thought of in terms of distilling the drama of the WSOP on ESPN into a 140-minute-long feature film. James said Molly’s Game was able to “compress” how poker is consumed in a live format and give audiences a different type of poker-related content.

Card Player had the chance to speak to James, who played Brad in the movie, about how the project tackled the complexities of the game and the sensational world of underground poker that Bloom lived in. Before being shut down by the feds, her games included the likes of Matt Damon, Tobey Maguire, Ben Affleck, Alex Rodriguez and Leonardo DiCaprio. Molly’s Game became available on digital late last month and on Blu-Ray, DVD and On Demand on Tuesday.

Brian Pempus: When you were thinking about coming on board with the project, had you had any previous experience with the game of poker?

Brian d’Arcy James: My familiarity was very small. I played a couple of times, and there is something about me, I am just allergic to poker and cards in general. I just have never had a desire to sit down and want to understand it. I just don’t have a mind that works that way. I can’t compute the way you need to in order to understand where you are headed. So, no, in this case it worked out very well for me because that was my character’s M.O. as well. There wasn’t a lot of homework for me to do.

BP: Sorkin said in interviews that Molly’s Game was not a poker movie. Was that ever discussed while filming and was that your impression of the film as well?

BDJ: No, that was never discussed in terms of what we were trying to achieve. That was something that I heard him talk about [post-production], and I totally see what he was saying. That was the movie that he was making. Poker was the backdrop for the story of this remarkable character of Molly Bloom. Poker was the canvas that he wanted to use to tell the story.

BP: That makes sense. The poker community, which for years has waited on a Rounders sequel, seems to have really enjoyed the movie. I know you aren’t a big poker player, but is it cool to see the movie enjoyed by poker fans?

BDJ: Absolutely, that means a great deal to me. Even though I don’t know too much about poker, if I was playing…you know, fill in the blank, as an actor you want to depict something with authenticity. You want anyone with an inkling of that world to say you got it right. In this case, the poker community is going to look at this and ask if this is a true depiction of poker and what games are like. If it’s getting a thumbs up, that means a great deal to me. To help someone like me, and the movie, Aaron was wise to incorporate poker consultants and experts to play with us, who would basically say things like, “you’d never move your chips that way.” Tiny, tiny details that I would never know. But for someone who spends a good amount of time at a poker table, they would see it as natural and true. That’s what you want to do when you tell a story. You want to get it right. It makes me really happy to hear poker fans are enjoying it.

BP: Was it interesting to be in a movie based off a memoir where some of the poker players from the memoir are your colleagues in the film industry?

BDJ: You know, I read the book, so I knew the cast of characters that Molly Bloom experienced. But then it’s a different thing when you read a script, because in this case Aaron had said many times he didn’t want to write a story about Hollywood gossip. He wanted to use that as a backdrop. I suppose there was a certain freedom I felt in not having any fidelity to, in a way, what person X, Y, Z was like or who they were in terms of reality. It was really a story that Aaron had created. It was the composites that he brought to life. It was interesting for me as the reader of the book to hear about the people involved, but it’s a different thing to tell a particular story with that as information that is in the back of your head rather than the front.

BP: Prior to reading her memoir, were you familiar with the poker scene in Hollywood?

BDJ: Yes, I had heard of underground poker games, but my interest level was pretty limited. For me, the revelation was the culture of it. I find that very interesting, how seriously people take it and the amount of money being passed around the table, what a win and a loss can mean. Not to mention the politics of how these games come to be, such as who is in charge, where they are, who is invited and so on. That was a whole world that I knew nothing about, so I found that to be riveting. I think that does serve as a really interesting backdrop to the Molly Bloom story.

BP: Sorkin said in an interview that he found the World Series of Poker on ESPN to be boring. He called it the “worst spectator sport ever.” Did you get a sense that he was trying to stay away from how the game is portrayed on TV?

BDJ: I think what he is referring to is the idea of story that is dramatic as opposed to something happening in real time. It’s one thing to watch something in real time and see it as dramatic if you have an understanding of the game, but not necessarily so if I’m watching TV and I’m not a poker fan. It doesn’t hold my interest as a dramatic experience. When you are making a movie and want to entertain, you have to find a way to view that game with certain dramatic flavor. I’m guessing he was talking about how do I take something that has peaks and valleys in terms of a dramatic thing, and compress it and make it highly entertaining and highly compelling.

BP: Is there any chance of a sequel?

BDJ: Oh, god, I have no idea (laughs). Now that you mention it, I would like to see chapter two of Molly Bloom, see what she’s doing and the aftermath of that world she was a part of. The waters that she was navigating were highly compelling.