WIZO campaign in full bloom

Jessica Chastain (right) took on the role of Molly Bloom (left) in the Oscar-nominated film Molly’s Game. Photo: Getty/Mike Coppola

FORMER Olympic hopeful Molly Bloom never thought she would one day be ­mingling with millionaires and hosting Hollywood A-list stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Toby Maguire and Ben Affleck at exclusive high-stakes poker tournaments.

Then again, having Aaron Sorkin direct a film based on her own life story seemed a far cry from reality too.

In the opening scene of Molly’s Game, based on Bloom’s memoir of the same name, the young skier’s shocking fall on her qualifying Olympic run brings her sporting career to a grinding halt and sends her life spiralling downwards.

“I was devastated,” she tells The AJN. “I had trained my whole life and made it all the way to the Olympic qualifier. I skied over a stick and my ski came off 20 feet in the air, I fell and injured myself so badly that doctors told me I was in danger of paralysing myself if I continued,” remembers Bloom, who, before her fall, was ranked third in North America for women’s moguls.

“I felt completely lost and unsure [of] what to do with my life, all the while, my brother [Jeremy Bloom, a former Olympic skier and professional NFL player] was having massive success and that certainly drove me to leave Colorado and go to LA,” she says.

In search of some sunshine and a good time, Bloom worked various casual jobs in LA, before waitressing at high-stakes poker tournaments, and then going on to host games for some of the biggest and the best in Hollywood.

At the end of her first night, she counted – note by note – $3000 in tips.

“I saw how much power and influence the game of poker had on them, and I saw an opportunity for networking and creating a business around the demand,” Bloom comments.

At first, everything was above board. “For seven-and-a-half years, I did it legally, I operated on tips,” she says.

Molly Bloom,
“the poker princess” as the tabloids dubbed her. Photo: John Russo

But what initially started as a legal enterprise turned sinister when Bloom moved her poker games to New York and went all-in.

“In the last six months to cover my substantial risk I was assuming by guaranteeing millions of dollars, I chose to take a rake, which is a percentage of the pot. I believe my drug and alcohol use towards the end contributed to this choice,” Bloom explains.

Eventually, when federal agencies were made aware of Bloom’s scheme, the government seized her money and a hefty tax lien was imposed.

Two years later, Bloom, along with 33 others, was caught up in an FBI investigation of a $100 million money laundering and illegal gambling ­operation.

She was tried in court, fined $200,000 and sentenced to one year probation including community service.

Idris Elba as Charlie Jaffey, Molly Bloom’s high-profile lawyer, with Jessica Chastain as Bloom. Photo: STXfilms

In an attempt to make amends for her misdirected actions, and repay those to whom she was indebted, Bloom documented her stranger than fiction story in her memoir, Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker. “I believed the way out of the financial, spiritual and reputational harm I had caused was to own it and tell it. Getting honest and accountable was one of the most liberating things I have ever done,” she reflects.

Owned it she has, and Bloom’s chequered past is not something she shies away from, but rather views as powerful life lessons that have altered her ­mindset, and reminded her of the core values she holds important.

“I used to think if I were rich, famous, important, and/or successful that I would be happy, fulfilled and I would live a great life. I have seen that to be untrue both in my personal experience and in those around me,” Bloom remarks.

“Everything normalises, we as humans adapt and quickly. Making millions of dollars, buying whatever I wanted, and sailing around on yachts became normal quickly and then I was left with how I truly feel inside, and what kind of choices I have made, and the quality of connections I have. It became empty and soul-sucking really quickly and I experienced most – if not all – of the people in that position as empty and unhappy as well.”

Having been raised with a Jewish father and Catholic mother, Bloom says that the importance placed on community, service, compassion and principled living was ingrained in her from a young age.

“I believe that’s why, when I deviated from this way of living, I was able to find my way back,” she says.

The legal battles behind her, Bloom became intent on adapting her memoir into a movie. With her ambitious nature still intact, she hotly pursued one of Hollywood’s hottest – none other than Sorkin – to turn this dream into a reality.

In his directorial debut, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (pictured with actress Jessica Chastain) sets up a gambling scene for the film’s shooting.
Photo: STXfilms

Captivated by her intriguing narrative and strength of character, Sorkin worked his magic for his first time as director, and for his umpteenth time as screenwriter.

He was awarded Best Screenwriter at the AARP’s Movies for Grownups in February this year, and one month later, the film was nominated for best adapted screenplay at the Academy Awards.

Post-book release and film premiere, Bloom now focuses her energies on women’s ­empowerment and entrepreneurship, and her upcoming headline event as the keynote speaker for WIZO’s campaign seems most fitting.

“I love the organisation and what they stand for, particularly their commitment to empowering women, and being of service,” says Bloom, who was also asked to speak at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Generation Summit in California last year.

This year, funds from WIZO’s gala dinner will go towards supporting the organisation’s multipurpose day care centres in Israel that support disadvantaged children and their families.

SOPHIE DEUTSCH

WIZO’s gala is at The Venue in Alexandria from 6.30pm on Thursday, August 9.
Tickets from $40 available at http://wizonsw.org.au/molly
For further details, contact the WIZO office on (02) 9387 3666.