Aaron Sorkin and his 'frozen stick' moment

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin makes his directorial debut with Molly's Game, which stars Jessica Chastain (both above).
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin makes his directorial debut with Molly's Game, which stars Jessica Chastain (both above).PHOTO: MICHAEL GIBSON/STXFILMS

WASHINGTON • Molly's Game opens - and closes - with the image of a tiny, frozen twig.

It is a pine branch, one of several typically scattered on snow-covered slopes to help with depth perception as skiers navigate the expanses of blinding white.

In the case of the new film - based on the 2014 memoir by Molly Bloom, a former world-class skier whose athletic career ended after she wiped out when her boot clasp snagged on just such a branch - it is also a big, fat metaphor.

For screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who makes his directorial debut with the film, that branch represents the vicissitudes of fortune, those small, random life events that suddenly redirect one's path and which can be seen only in retrospect.

For Bloom, played by Jessica Chastain, abandoning skiing led her to move from Colorado to Los Angeles, where she ended up organising and running a regular high-stakes poker game patronised by Hollywood names such as actors Ben Affleck and Tobey Maguire.

The game, which she ultimately relocated to New York and gained a clientele of Wall Street financiers, was eventually raking in upwards of US$50,000 a night for her, until it was shut down by the Feds and she was sentenced to probation for running an illegal gambling ring.

Everyone has such "frozen stick" moments, Sorkin said last month. "There's usually more than one that they trip over and that send them on a trajectory. That's why I like the metaphor so much."

So what was his frozen stick moment? The 56-year-old actor turned playwright turned screenwriter turned film-maker demurs.

"I hope that when people go to see Molly's Game, they're not thinking about me and the stick that I tripped over," he says. "I hope they're just watching the movie."

Getting him to open up about himself is going to take some doing.

It is no great secret that he has an abiding fondness for legal matters and for brainy, rat-a-tat dialogue.

His breakout play, A Few Good Men, is, like the 1992 Oscar-nominated film version starring Tom Cruise, a courtroom drama. Molly's Game, like The Social Network (2010), involves legal challenges.

In December next year, Sorkin's new stage adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee's novel about a black man unjustly accused of rape - will debut on Broadway.

According to Sorkin, growing up as the son of a lawyer is what reinforced a lifelong love of lively debate. "At the family dinner table, I loved the sound of smart people arguing," says Sorkin, whose two sibling are attorneys.

He says with a straight face that he would love it if presidential debates were conducted more like trials. "I've always had this fantasy of what would happen if, instead of a debate, a candidate would take the witness stand, would have to be under oath, would be subject to direct cross-examination and would be compelled by a judge to answer certain questions."

Dream on, he is told.

The heroes who most appeal to him all have one thing in common: a kind of old-world "integrity" that his late father possessed.

"He always lived his life with one foot in another century and the other foot in a century that perhaps never existed," Sorkin says.

Bloom, he argues, is a hero because she refused to give up some of her clients' names to prosecutors or to "dish about" the famous clients in her book.

As he reminisces about his father, who died last Christmas, he finally decides to revisit that unanswered question.

"You asked about my 'frozen stick' moment. I suppose it would have to be my first Broadway show being Man Of La Mancha, which I saw at five years old. I remember falling in love with Don Quixote... You know, when I mentioned my dream about presidential debates, you said, 'Dream on'? Well, I do."


• Molly's Game opens in Singapore on Jan 4.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2017, with the headline 'Aaron Sorkin and his 'frozen stick' moment'. Print Edition | Subscribe