Sure it is an old story, but considering the lecher involved it still feels good.
Ordinarily it would be the kind of blithe anecdote you might hear a celebrity spill out to fill airtime on a late-night talk show. What makes this a bit more gripping is who was involved, and how it transpired, concerning a pair of celebrities actually getting the better of Hollywood’s biggest demon, Harvey Weinstein. These days any news of Harvey getting the horns is good news.
The movie “Rounders” is a personal favorite of mine, and comes highly recommended. It is an immersive kind of film, where you essentially fall into a world to which you never had previously been privy. These days poker is a wildly popular and stylish game, but in the late 1980s it still existed in a more reserved universe. This movie delved into the underground poker world, becoming itself a cult hit, and as a result helped launch the newfound popularity of the card game.
Drawn as I was with the new experience, to the great acting, and the world they had built in this film I was struck by the writing. It is the kind of script that is not flashy and full of histrionics but one that impressed me with its structure and care given to the characters. It gives the audience credit and as a result it does not pander. And so, with the 20th anniversary of the release of “Rounders”, I found a verbal history on the making of the film and became immersed.
It was in this collective retelling where a pertinent side story derived. In the film Matt Damon plays Mike, a law student who is a gifted card player with a dream of playing in the World Series Of Poker. His friend is Worm, played by Ed Norton, who is recently released from prison and also plays. While Mike tries refining his game and strategy Worm is a self-destructive type who prefers scamming and hustling the underground games.
The actors threw themselves into their roles and dedicated themselves to learning the poker realm. Along with the language of that world they also learned more than just basic techniques but also complex cardplay, and even sophisticated methods of partnered cheating. The film was being made by Miramax, and as the production was about to get underway Norton hit upon an idea:
I remember the Weinsteins hosted a poker game before the movie started. We had had someone show us a fairly complex system for signaling what your cards were by the way you positioned your hold chips on your cards. And so we got very good at it and we were just like, “Should we do it?”
Understand that during the shooting of “Rounders” both actors had not yet exploded into the major stars they are today. So the idea of them moving on one of the biggest studio heads in the business at their stage is even more brazen.
And we were like, “F*** it, it’s like Harvey and Bob’s game, let’s do it.” We played that night doing sort of Mike and Worm’s signaling system. And it worked enormously well. Matt was sort of getting the cards, so then I was like pumping up the bets, and seeing what he had, then folding out. And we went out when it was all over and chopped it up.
You just have to love it. Two actors hired by Miramax learn the intricacies of the game and then descend upon the private table of the Hollywood titan, and proceed to take him down with the skills he provided.
Sure, it is a small piece of vindication, but there is a good feeling from learning when the Devil got beat by his own minions. As an added bonus the hustle the actors pulled off had to embolden them in their roles, lending more gravity to their performances. It paid off, in more ways than just walking off with Harvey’s chips.