In Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game, Jessica Chastain portrays the titular woman infamous for building an underground poker empire. Molly Bloom went from an almost-Olympic skier to running an exclusive high-stakes poker game with A-list celebrities, the ultra rich, and the Russian mob at the age of 26. Once arrested and investigated by the FBI, Bloom’s story was sensationalized across the media. In Sorkin’s biopic, Chastain’s Molly struggles to find a lawyer who’s willing to believe her side of the story over the gossip tabloids, and eventually she finds a partner in Idris Elba’s Charlie Jaffey.

Elba plays one of the more fictitious characters in a film largely based on Bloom’s true story. While Bloom did have an attorney in real life, Elba told me over the phone last month that Sorkin used his character as part of the emotional backbone of the film. Molly’s relationship with her tough-as-nails father (Kevin Costner) echoes Charlie’s with his young daughter, and it’s part of what convinces him to fight for her.

During the interview Elba told me about working with Sorkin for the first time, serving as both screenwriter and director, and called it the “ultimate Aaron Sorkin experience.” I also asked Elba about the future of his The Dark Tower gunslinger and how his film will play into the TV series, which may be a complete reboot.

How familiar were you with Molly Bloom before you signed on to the project?

I knew nothing of Molly Bloom. It was all sort of new to me when I read the script. I looked her up and I was like, “Oh wow, this is interesting.” She’s very interesting and has quite a remarkable story.

After doing research, did you have any preconceived notions about her that the movie challenged or changed your mind about?

Definitely. I think most people will go into this movie thinking, “OK this is about some hotshot chick that made a lot of money from poker.” That’s what I went into it – when I watched this movie, I was so proud of who she was as a person. Who she was as a person, given the circumstance of what she went through, who she ended up being, was great. I saw her at the premiere in Toronto. She was overwhelmed by the movie. I found her so humble and relaxed and just unaffected by it all.


Did you meet with or work with her at all during the production of the film or not until the premiere?

No, I didn’t get to meet her during production. She wasn’t allowed to come to Canada where we were shooting, unfortunately, she’s a felon. But I did get to see her at the premiere.

When your character, Jaffey, first meets Molly, he immediately judges her based on her appearance and the tabloid gossip, but eventually comes around to defending her. What did you think led him to change his mind and get to know who she really was?

I think when you meet Charley, [he] is a lawyer that used to go after criminals, doesn’t do it anymore. And he certainly judges her. But it was an interesting twist for him, that his daughter knew who Molly Bloom was and read a lot about her and was like, “Hey man, she’s pretty dope.” He has a relationship with his daughter that I think is a bit similar to the relationship that Molly had with her father. That might have been the turning point. That was one of the turning points that really got Jaffey engaged and gave Molly a shot. It’s really one of my favorites – I saw the film, and it’s one of my favorites I’ve had in a movie because you can see it felt authentic.

This movie is really about a woman who gains agency and success in a space dominated by men, yet unlike the other men in the film, Jaffey isn’t intimidated by Molly. What was your approach to playing a character who is very masculine and bold, but doesn’t feel threatened by a powerful woman?

Yeah, he has a real moral high ground in the film. Aaron and I, our vision was I knew this was Aaron’s voice here. Aaron told me that my character was slightly fictitious. Some of it, you know she did have an attorney, but he wasn’t like me. But Aaron and I wanted to make this character sort of unwavering. Because of the device of coming back to Charley Jaffey’s office whenever the movie takes a turn, those scenes became the spine of the film. So we wanted to make him engaging, we wanted to make him slightly unpredictable. We wanted to make it human. Molly needed a human being in her life. She wasn’t playing a victim and she knew she needed to be told the truth. That was a really one of the distinctive components that I’ve really loved playing in Charley Jaffey. It was just such a joy to do that. But the greatest thing for me was the words, I got to trust the words. I didn’t have to make it up.


And this was your first time working with Aaron Sorkin, right?

Yeah, it is my first time.

What was that like, to work not only with his dialogue, but to also work with him as a first-time director?

I call it the Ultimate Aaron Sorkin experience. [Laughs] It was a double whammy. He was a really relaxed director, actually. I thought he’d be way more pedantic. He wasn’t. He was very open, he kind of allowed me to exercise my emotional engine with Charlie. He knew what he wanted, and that’s always a great thing when you’re working with a first-time director. So the experience was great. I got to know him a little bit and he got to know me.

Last question – Stephen King recently said the The Dark Tower TV series would be a reboot. I’m curious if you know whether your Gunslinger will be involved in the series and how it will fit in with the movie?

You know what? I didn’t know Steven said that. I don’t know, actually, where it lies. I must figure this out, I don’t know where it lies. I’m unfortunately the last to know at this point.

Molly’s Game opens in theaters on Christmas.