Levien and Koppelman have been fascinated with poker and gambling since their youth
Levien and Koppelman have been fascinated with poker and gambling
since their youth. (As an eight-year-old, Koppelman was determined
to learn the game after losing his money at summer camp to his
fellow bunk-mates; Levien also acquired a taste for betting after
visiting the racetrack with his grandfather.) Now adults, the
two have been known to frequent the poker clubs of New York, and
have thus conducted extensive research for their script. However,
Levien and Koppelman have never chosen the path of becoming professional
card players, as their true passion is for writing. "We used
to always dream about doing something like this together,"
states Levien, referring to himself and his writing partner, "We
both wanted to be writers, so it wasn't hard for it all to come
together this way."
Though both the film's stars had mild amounts of past experience
with the game, learning the skill of high stakes poker, amidst
the world of the true "rounders" was a new challenge.
To prepare for their roles, Damon and Norton teamed up off camera,
and ventured into the back-room poker clubs of New York. With
Levien and Koppelman as mentors, Damon and Norton discovered that
beneath the surface of what appears to be yet another form of
gambling, lies a mind game played with utter skill. As both actors
will attest, a philosophy exists behind the game, an unsaid theory
to out-wit your competition in anyway possible in order to win
the money. "What's going on is never what you think,"
states Damon, "If somebody's nice to you, they're just trying
to take your money. If somebody's mean to you, they just want
your money. They're trying to get a reaction so that you go after
them with a hand when you should have folded. It's very psychological."
Norton further explains, "It's much more like chess, than
it is like gambling. It's a game of strategy and skill, and it
takes a very sharp mind. There's very little luck involved in
But, luck played no part in both actors performances as true card
sharks; rather it was sheer skill of learning the art of the game.
Throughout production, games were played between takes as well
as after hours. As Norton points out, "... I've gone at it
pretty intensely to try to learn the game and to get really familiar
with the feel and the gesture of the way these people play."
States Damon, "... On down time, we've played a lot of cards...
The only way to really get better at the game is to go out there
and play it with these people who are really good... and the only
problem is that you stand to lose a lot of money in the process...
it's been a learning experience."
Co-starring with Damon and Norton are veteran actors John Malkovich,
John Turturro and Martin Landau. For Malkovich, playing the part
of Teddy KGB meant preparing to embrace the game, even though
he admits he is not a natural, "I'm not a gambler. But the
games are always interesting, and the psychology is always interesting."
He continues, "Any time you get to do a film (or a play)
where you go into a kind of microcosmic world, like poker, whatever
it is, it's interesting and always informative." To practice
for his role, Malkovich ventured into the poker clubs of New York
to get an understanding of the real-life "rounders."
"The first night I was here [in New York], I was with Edward
Norton, but we weren't working. So, he took me around to some
of the [poker] clubs, and I was watching him lose a little money...
I think it was his per diem." Malkovich enjoyed the chanc
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