- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Aaron Sorkin has a bit of a history with the nation’s capital. The creator of “The West Wing” and writer who adapted his play “A Few Good Men” into an award-winning 1992 film extols Washington, D.C., as a terrific — though logistically difficult — place to make a film.

“I love Washington. It’s a great place to shoot because everywhere you turn is something fantastic to look at,” Mr. Sorkin told The Washington Times during a D.C. stop to promote his directorial debut, “Molly’s Game,” which opens in December.

While the D.C.-set “The West Wing,” which ran from 1999-2006, was shot mostly on soundstages in Los Angeles, Mr. Sorkin recalls fondly his time when “A Few Good Men,” adopted by Mr. Sorkin from his own play, filmed in several locations throughout the capital, including a scene of Tom Cruise at West Potomac Park near the Lincoln Memorial.

“Anywhere you’re standing in Washington, D.C., you are right in the landing pattern of either Dulles or [Reagan] National,” Mr. Sorkin said. “We could not get through a take without an [airplane overhead] and our sound engineer saying” the take had been ruined.

Somehow, Mr. Sorkin recalls, the right phone calls were placed to keep the air traffic from flying overhead for 90 minutes. But then, just as director Rob Reiner called action, “five Apache attack helicopters came up over the horizon, [just] like out of ‘Apocalypse Now,’ ” Mr. Sorkin said with an amiable chuckle.

“A Few Good Men” was his first credit as a screenwriter, the launchpad that saw Mr. Sorkin, over the next quarter-century, create TV series including “The West Wing” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” as well as penning the screenplays for “Steve Jobs,” “Moneyball” and the Facebook saga “The Social Network” — the latter of which won him an Oscar.

“Molly’s Game” might at first seem a bit outside his typical gravitation to politics, but it certainly adheres to Mr. Sorkin’s obsession with power and how it changes those who wield it.

The book of the same name was written by Molly Bloom, a former competitive skier who, after an accident on the slopes, moves from her Colorado home to Los Angeles to find her next chapter. In dark and seamy Hollywood backrooms, Ms. Bloom observed her boss’ participation in a high-stakes poker tournament, learning the intricacies of the game along the way.

The backroom game’s players entailed Tinseltown power players Ms. Bloom never names in her book. Eventually, the former champion skier decided to try her hand at hosting her own poker game.

Mr. Sorkin’s new film is based partially on Ms. Bloom’s book and partly on his subsequent conversations with its author.

“I wanted Molly to be telling the story and not the filmmakers,” Mr. Sorkin, now 56, said. “The story of her past, I wanted it to feel like the best ‘Ted Talk’ you’ve ever been to,” he said of the rat-a-tat narration by Jessica Chastain, who portrays Molly Bloom in the film.

But half of the film covers events that took place after the book’s publication, so Mr. Sorkin said it made sense, from a stylistic perspective, to ditch Miss Chastain’s voice-over in the material beyond Ms. Bloom’s autobiography.

“I really wanted to get Molly’s voice in this because she has a unique and very charming, very winning sense of humor,” Mr. Sorkin said of the voice-over, which is the first he has ever written as a screenwriter. “I wanted all the stuff that was charming to me when I was meeting Molly to be in the movie. So that’s why it’s a combination of a lot of dialogue and monologue.”

Mr. Sorkin’s scripts have always been heavy on dialogue and speech of a heightened, hyperreal timbre that, while it may not be spoken by many people in the real world, makes for incredible drama in a fictional setting. For this penchant, Mr. Sorkin credits earlier scribes of fast-talking characters such as Paddy Chayefsky (“Network”) and David Mamet with influencing his own style. He says writers should imitate the style of other authors they admire while trying to discover their own voice.

“I spent months ‘climbing the wells’ trying to figure out what Rob [Reiner] wanted” for the “A Few Good Men” adaptation, “and I was running out of time,” Mr. Sorkin said.

The writer finally threw caution to the wind, wrote it “the way I write” and handed it off to Mr. Reiner.

“Without even realizing it, I had just articulated what everybody should do,” Mr. Sorkin said. “When I’m writing, I don’t try to get a show of hands to see what everyone wants and then try to give it to them. I write what I like, I write what I think my friends would like, I write what I think my father would like, and then I keep my fingers crossed that enough other people will like it that I can keep doing it.”

Despite his many accolades and successes, Mr. Sorkin said even he sometimes feels dejected when he hears dialogue by other writers he wish he had himself written.

“I’ll leave [the movie theater] thinking, ‘that was good, I’m doing the wrong thing, I should be doing that,’” he said, adding that he tries to avoid going to the films whenever he is drafting a new screenplay for that very reason.

He also was keen to avoid making “Molly’s Game” too similar to “dirty sexy money” subgenre flicks like “Goodfellas,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Blow” — other cinematic tales of wealth achieved quickly, often via illegal means, and the terrible price it exacts.

“I knew there would be a natural gravitational pull with ‘Molly’s Game’ to make it” like those other films, Mr. Sorkin said. “It’s got all the ingredients: decadence, money, poker, sex. But what I knew after meeting Molly was discovering … that there was a much more emotional story about an honest-to-god movie heroine who refused to [name] some prominent bald-faced names even if it [left] her more than destitute.

“That that was the story I wanted to tell — not the story of the book but the story of the book’s character. And the book would be a character in the movie.”

STX, the studio behind “Molly’s Game,” approached Mr. Sorkin to direct his own screenplay for the first time. He jumped at what he said was a chance to “protect the emotional part of the story” that had driven him to write about Ms. Bloom in the first place.

“It did turn out that I had directed much of it while I was writing it,” he said of making the film in his mind during the writing process. “All that had to happen was to sit down with the experts and talk about how do we execute this.”

While some of the decisions the film’s Molly Bloom makes could be considered, at best, unethical, Mr. Sorkin maintains that the real-life Ms. Bloom remains a compelling, and attractive, presence.

“If you met her, you’d really like her,” he said. “You would say what [one character] says in this movie: ‘This woman belongs on a box of Wheaties.’”

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