Jennifer Tilly should be classified as one of the most successful celebrity poker players in history. The Academy Award nominated actress is also a WSOP bracelet winner, winning the 2005 Ladies Championship.
Since that time, Tilly has balanced her Hollywood career and a poker career that has seen her win close to $1 million and participate in events around the world.
Recently, PokerUpdate.com Editor-in-Chief Shira Stieglitz spoke with Tilly about both careers, including her recent nomination to the Women in Poker Hall of Fame. We also learned about several acting projects on the horizon as well as how often we can expect her at the tables in 2016.
PokerUpdate: You are a regular on Poker Night in America – what do you like most about the series that keeps you coming back to it?
Jennifer Tilly: I love doing Poker Night in America because of the personalities. It reminds of the freewheeling home games I play where there’s a lot of banter and anything goes! People are doing shots, straddling and playing 7-2, and it’s usually a pretty loose fun game. Also I like that there’s a good mix between locals and pros. The pros in the game are the best in the business, and usually the locals are high rollers that like to gamble so it creates a good chemistry. It’s also great to go around to the different casinos in the country. I think when the audience sees the local Degen mixing it up with pros they see on TV, and it is in a casino they frequent, it makes them feel like it truly is Poker Night in America and not so much a studio produced show. Also Todd and the gang do a great job of editing it, so you get a combination of interesting poker and great banter. I love that Joe Stapleton has been added to the show. Finally the Twitch Live Stream is mesmerizing. I can learn a lot about my game by seeing every hand in real time. And now there is an option where you can turn the commentary off on the live stream, and just listen to the conversation and be a fly on the wall!
PokerUpdate: Regarding the World Series of Poker, the Ladies World Championship will be played prior to the start of the WSOP Main Event. Is this change, in your opinion, good or bad and will it impact how many women register to play in the Main Event?
Jennifer Tilly: I think this is a great change, that will encourage more women to participate in the Main Event. A lot of women, like most poker players, can’t afford to take a whole summer off and have to pick what week to come out. I think the one/two punch of playing the Ladies Event and following it up with the Main Event will be very appealing.
PokerUpdate: Do you feel that the major tournaments, like the WSOP, WPT, and EPT are doing enough to attract women to the table? Are there any changes you would like to see implemented?
Jennifer Tilly: I don’t feel it is the responsibility of the major tournaments to attract women to the game. Women who want to play these events will. That said, I think it is very heartwarming how the WSOP has gone out of their way to preserve the tradition of the Ladies Tournament, and make it a fun environment for the women who come out once a year to participate.
PokerUpdate: Your name has routinely popped up this year as an eligible poker player for the Women in Poker Hall of Fame. What do you think your chances are of receiving a nomination? Are there other women you think are deserving of a spot?
Jennifer Tilly: I am very honored to be considered for the Women’s Hall of Fame this year. It is a very important organization, and the women previously inducted have all contributed greatly to promoting the game of poker. The women nominated in my category are all women I look up to, and pioneers in their field. It’s a great feeling to be on a list with all these amazing ladies!
PokerUpdate: What are your current poker goals? Are you chasing titles or are you just having fun playing the game?
Jennifer Tilly: Phil [Laak] and I have been chilling a little this year. We had a rough few years because of Sam (my ex husband was sick) so we sort of took a break. But I think we both are attacking the game with renewed vigor. We are going to be in Vegas for the whole World Series of poker, and we plan to travel a lot more for the tournaments in the fall.
I have goals I make for myself (like little signposts along the way), moving up on the Hendon Mob lists, getting my stats up and playing on certain TV poker shows. Like last year I really wanted to play in the Super High Roller cash game, because I thought it was important. I was scared because I’d never played that high in my life, and when I saw the lineup – Phil Ivey, Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson, I was really intimidated. But I really enjoyed the challenge of playing with the best in the business! I think it’s important to make plans and have things you want to do. Otherwise you just drift. I don’t want to be someone who occasionally plays poker for fun. I want to be really good at it. I want to make my mark.
PokerUpdate: Speaking of acting, look at your IMDB page shows that you are currently working on a new film – Renaissance Girl. What can you tell us about this film?
Jennifer Tilly: My acting career has really come alive in the last year as well. I just finished a musical version of Cinderella for Warner Brothers/Disney, (I played the evil stepmother of course!) and I did a web pilot with Ty Burrell for ABC. Just before the WSOP I am filming a movie with Alan Rudolph, and in the fall I am shooting another pilot with Chaz Palminteri, and we are also going to film the new Chucky movie!
PokerUpdate: Your resume is full of many impressive television shows, including Family Guy, Modern Family, and CSI. To date, what has been your favorite role to play? Is there a role you regretted taking?
Jennifer Tilly: I would say my favorite two films are Bullets Over Broadway, and Bound, mainly because I really liked my performance in them. But also I love those two films. I think they come the closest to any films I’ve done to fully realizing the vision I had when I read the script. But of course Woody Allen and the Wachowskis are great directors! I also like that Olive and Violet (the characters I played) are diametrically opposed. Olive is a big loudmouth that is not very bright, and Violet is almost totally submerged and as smart as they come. Other films I’ve done that I kind of love, are Let It Ride, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Liar, Liar, and of course, Bride of Chucky!
PokerUpdate: When it comes to television or movie roles, what are some things you look for before you say “yes” to portraying a certain character?
Jennifer Tilly: When I read a script, especially now, I think is this character interesting enough to me that it’s worth taking a week, a month, or half a year out of my life to play? I’ve always seen myself as a character actor. I’ve never played the “pretty girl.” Those are the parts that are usually underwritten. And if you make a career of being merely pretty, it will be short lived.
PokerUpdate: One of our writers is a huge Modern Family fan and really wants to know if Darlene will be returning to the show in the future, or is she sticking around in “Costa Rica?
Jennifer Tilly: I loved doing Modern Family. That is the greatest cast and crew in television. I also love that the show reunited me with Chaz Palminteri, my costar from “Bullets over Broadway. The producers did “Out of Practice,” that I costarred with along with Ty Burrell. When they called and offered me the part of Darlene, I was thrilled. They said it would a recurring role, but so far Darlene doesn’t come around much. Although they told me their audience loves my character. So hopefully I will return from Costa Rica. (But maybe she is making too much money playing on PokerStars there to come back!)
PokerUpdate: Lastly, we are curious to know if you think at this point you are better known for your acting or your time in the poker world. Do you care which one comes to mind when people think of you?
Jennifer Tilly: There are two words people say to me when I am recognized: Chuckyyyy!!!!! or Poker. I think at this point I am more known for poker than my extensive filmography. The thing about poker is everybody loves it. Everybody wishes they were playing poker. Not everybody wants to be chased by Chucky. So I guess poker is probably what I’m most known for at this point. So I guess I’d better get really good at it. I would like to live up to the hype. I would like to have a legacy.
Editor’s Note: You already do Jennifer! 🙂
Dreamed I had pocket queens, flopped a set & rivered the nut flush. I think it's going to be a good day.— Jennifer Tilly (@Jtillathekilla2) May 2, 2016