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Double Down: JENNIFER TILLY: Highlights from Issue 35: Gambling

Highlights from Issue 35: Gambling

Jennifer Tilly in her Los Angeles home / April 2008 / Photograph by ZEN SEKIZAWA

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

The following interview appears in the Gambling Issue. For more on this issue, click here


DOUBLE DOWN
: JENNIFER TILLY

By Annie Nocenti

Jennifer Tilly leads a double life. She is, in equal measure, a renowned actress and a well-known high-stakes tournament poker player. She was nominated for an Oscar for her satirical portrayal of Olive Neal, a gun moll of voracious appetites, in Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway, and won a gold bracelet in the women’s event at the World Series of Poker in 2005, having learned to play the game only eight months before. Each of these accomplishments is astounding on its own: In both cases you have to outperform hundreds, or thousands, of other highly talented individuals.

It is at least equally impressive to have garnered a cult following in not one but two disparate camps: Tilly is revered by the horror film crowd for her hilariously entertaining work in Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky, and beloved by the art crowd for her sly, stunning turn in Bound. Her versatility as an actress is displayed across genres, from mainstream comedy (Liar Liar) to indie confessional (Relax ... It’s Just Sex), and she has worked with several esteemed film directors (Oliver Stone, Peter Bogdanovich, Neil Jordan). She has won numerous acting awards both in theater (Theater World Award for Most Promising Newcomer) and film (Gemini Award for Best Actress).

These days, she can more often be found in one of the dozens of major poker tournaments held around the world each year. When she began dating poker pro Phil Laak, aka the Unabomber, she was christened with the apt moniker Unabombshell. She writes a column about poker life with a bemused honesty for Bluff magazine. Tilly is known for her bubbly, sassy nature. But if you meet her at a poker table, watch that sass — it may just cost your bankroll.

Stop Smiling
: Did you grow up in a gambling family?

Jennifer Tilly: I’ve always been very competitive. Our family were hippies, so we didn’t have television. We had books. Every Friday night was card night. But we never played poker. We played hearts and spades. Our mom, because she was a hippie and a pacifist, felt competition was bad. Her mantra was, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” So much so, that I remember letting the little insecure kid win because it would make them feel better. If somebody was running out of chips, you’d give them some more chips. When I came to Hollywood, I had a boyfriend who was an actor, and he had a Monday night poker night and I was not allowed to come.

SS: Because you’re a girl.

JT: I didn’t realize it. I thought it was because I couldn’t play poker, so I talked him into teaching me. Then I found out I still couldn’t come because I was a girl. It was boys’ night out. So I started my own game. I became obsessed. Then whenever I was on a film set, I would teach all the actors how to play. I would bring my little traveling chips. Nobody knew how to play except for the Teamsters. I would play with them sometimes. They were mean. They wanted my per diem.

SS: Do you think men play differently than women?

JT
: Women have a lot more delicacy. My boyfriend [Phil Laak] is always using the term delicate aggression. That is a skill women have really honed. What women have going for them is a real intuitive sense. Men, sometimes, in real life are like bulls in the china shop. A woman can look at somebody and know if they’re lying — like with their boyfriend. They can tell — more so than men. Men are more like, “I know you’re bluffing so I’m going to raise.” Women are like, “I think you’re bluffing so I’m going to re-raise.”

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