BY ADAM CAILLER
MOLLY Bloom’s life story will be screened in cinemas across the world from Monday.
The 39-year-old is the subject of Molly’s Game, which sees actress Jessica Chastain portray the Colorado-native’s rise to infamy by organising some of the most exclusive, high-stakes underground poker games in the world, with stakes running into the millions.
But there is one part of Molly’s life which is not shown on the big screen . . . her Judaism.
She told me: “I’m proud to be Jewish. My brother Jeremy and I were the only Jewish kids in our school.
“My mum, Charlene, very early on in our education went to the headteacher and said that we should be learning all about the Jewish holidays, not just Christmas.
“That was a little bit challenging at first, as it was a small town where the other kids would make fun of us — but that taught us so much about being who you are and protecting that.”
While not halachically Jewish, as only her father Larry is of the faith, Molly was raised Jewish by both parents.
She continued: “It was an amazing thing that my mum did and she ended up educating an entire school about Judaism and Jewish holidays.
“She was an amazing example for us.
“As hard driving towards ambition that my dad was, my mum was equally so towards living a virtuous life and doing the right thing.
“And, although I strayed from that — many times — I feel like somewhere deep inside, because of my Jewish upbringing, I came back to that.”
When Molly talked about straying from the path, she laughed, almost sounding a little embarrassed. And you can understand why when you read into her story.
Formerly a teenage skiing sensation — ranked third in North America for women’s skiers — she was heading for the Olympics and then to Harvard Law School before a freak accident forced her to give up.
This led her down a very different path.
Molly began working as a cocktail waitress in Los Angeles, which brought her to the world of private poker. These took place in luxury hotel suites and mansions. The games featured Hollywood stars, elite sportsmen and members of Wall Street’s financial hierarchy.
The story, which is “all out there for everyone to see”, shows her in her early thirties making $4 million a year.
But then it all went wrong for Molly as she became caught up with the Mafia and then Russian organised crime and her self-built business empire collapsed spectacularly.
She was caught by the FBI and pleaded guilty to her part in running an illegal betting operation.
In May, 2014, she was sentenced to 12 months’ probation, fined $1,000, ordered to perform 200 hours of community service and told to repay $125,000 in profits.
Her story is the epitome of how to stray from the pathway that her parents had taught her.
But it was her Judaism which brought her back.
She said: “Throughout all of this I had always felt this existential emptiness. It hit me that my ideas of how to be fulfilled were wrong.
“What brought me back to any kind of spiritual path was a 12-step programme that taught me about a higher power and how to believe in something bigger than yourself.
“It showed me how to be of service to the world, which is something we explore in both spiritual and religious/Jewish practices.
“It was that seeking to be fulfilled that I was never able to accomplish from anything I was doing, that brought me back to any kind of spiritual and Jewish life.”
Molly went on: “I feel it’s important to establish that the difficulties of the last six or seven years were of my own making.
“I just never imagined I would be here, particularly after pleading guilty to a federal sentence, not knowing what consequences, long-term, that was going to hold for me, having such exorbitant debt and no money.”
The film is based on Molly’s 2014 book Molly’s Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World.
Normally, a producer/director would pitch turning a book into a film. But for Molly, it was the other way round.
She explained: “I didn’t have any money and my story was out there in an unsavoury way in the press.
“I just felt like the best chance to come back from this was to write a book, own the intellectual property and pitch it to Hollywood.
“But this was not just a solution to a problem — my heart got involved.
“Aaron Sorkin (screenwriter) had always been my first choice and I was going around to managers and agents asking why we couldn’t meet him.
“They said ‘because you just can’t and he won’t be interested’.
“But finally I met this person who loved the story and knew Aaron and sent it to him.
“I heard back immediately that Aaron would meet me . . . and he said he was interested.
Molly would receive daily emails from Aaron, who is also Jewish, asking her for more details about the story.
It took six weeks for Aaron to make up his mind and agree to do the film.
Molly continued: “From that point, it took on a life of its own.
“There was a danger of whoever was going to write this just focusing on the flashy elements of the story and not focusing on anything real.
“I could tell, just by Aaron’s questions, that he wanted to write the real story with things like my relationship with my dad and my early sports career.
“It’s more about what happens when you go out into the world wanting a significant life, tripping on a stick, getting lost and how you walk through the fire.”
Molly had no input into the final cut of the film, which is why she needed a writer she could trust.
She said: “I was basically selling the rights to my life — there wasn’t much left of it, but it was still my life.
“I’ve done a lot of work on surrender, and I realised that you don’t really have any control in life.
“That’s where my faith came into play.”
She added: “Having seen the film, I think it’s extraordinary.
“The first time I saw it, I was kicking myself for seeing it with 2,000 other people.
“But five minutes into it I was just watching something that was so entertaining and it took me outside of myself — it was a very healing and connecting experience.”
But how true is the film to the reality of what happened?
“It’s very true, apart from two things — my SATS score was inflated and she’s much smarter than I am”, she laughed.
“I wasn’t consulted over who played me, but, to be fair, I went crazy (in a good way) when I found out.
“They were pretty confident that they didn’t need to check with me — I was such a fan of Jessica Chastain.”
The film also stars Idris Elba as Molly’s lawyer Charlie Jaffey.
But what is next for Molly.
She said: “I’ve kind of left it all in the field. I think, given that I have experience of creating special environments, I want to do something around connecting female entrepreneurs in a co-working environment.
“It’s a good use of my skills, but in something that actually matters.
“I definitely want to settle down and have children, eventually”.