Professional actors are no stranger to poker. One of the earliest players in cash games and tournaments was Gabe Kaplan, a famous comedian and actor on Welcome Back, Kotter. Famous faces from television and film are no strangers to big events like the World Series of Poker, as more seem to appear each year. Names like Jason Alexander, Ray Romano, Brad Garrett, Hank Azaria, Don Cheadle, Matt Affleck, Matt Damon, and Toby Maguire. And one of the most popular players on the regular poker scene is Jennifer Tilly.
Acting and poker share a number of similarities, such as the ability to act (bluff), play a role, and read other players and feed off their energy. Both require a great deal of study and practice, as only experience improves performance and results over time. Actors and poker players need stamina, good memories, intuition, and focus. Many actors find themselves thrilled by the challenges presented in poker and interested in putting their own talents into action in a competitive environment at the tables.
Aaron Paul is one of the actors who has shown up in poker more than ever this year, as his longtime passion for the game turned into a place on a Global Poker League team. The award-winning star of Breaking Bad and other television shows, as well as being a producer, also appears at his local Commerce Casino in Los Angeles on occasion as well to improve his game.
John Boyega is a relative newcomer to the game, but the Star Wars: The Force Awakens actor and owner of a newly-founded production company has shown that he is quite interested in learning more about strategy.
Both players recently participated in the PokerStars Duels videos that were released this summer. They featured several athletes like Neymar Jr and Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as other celebrities, and Boyega and Paul each played in one heads-up match. The dark warehouse setting with a small audience highlighted the aspects of the game that draw players in and make poker exciting. And the winner of each game took home $10,000 for the charity of his or her choice.
Aaron Paul: Taken in by the Thrill
With Fatima Moreira de Melo in his corner, Paul took on Ronaldo in a heads-up game. It was a friendly game in which Paul tried to practice patience while soaking up information about his opponent. While he knows the basics of the game, he is consistently trying to improve his skills. While he did not win, he was gracious and grateful for the opportunity to play.
In a behind-the-scenes interview with PokerStars after the game, Paul described himself as an “average” player, “very average,” which he then qualified by saying, “No, I’m alright. I started playing when I moved to L.A. at probably 22 or 23, when it was just starting to become massive on television, and then I got addicted to it at the casinos. I played my first World Series this year, did terribly, but it was great. It was a dream come true.” He went on to explain that he wanted to play in the past but never had the funds or the time off in his schedule.
His issue with playing in the local L.A. card rooms is that when people start recognizing him, and that’s all that everyone wants to talk about. “All I want to do is listen to music and play cards and talk about anything else other than acting,” he said. But he does love his fans, so it is a conundrum for him. As far as the game of poker, though, he noted, “There’s nothing like the anxiety you get, your heart pounding when there’s a massive hand on the line, whether you’re bluffing your opponent or you have the full-on nuts, there’s nothing like it. The feeling is so exhilarating.”
John Boyega: xxx
When Boyega played Ronaldo, the match was so good that it was divided into two episodes. His interest is clear when he describes the desire to get into his opponent’s head in one-on-one competition. He admitted to recently learning the game but doing so quickly and relying on his good intuition to improve. Coach and Team PokerStars Pro Andre Akkari helped his student contain his excitement and focus on his desire to win. After Boyega won, Akkari praised his good decisions. “I beat Neymar. I beat him!” he said after the match. “I love poker!”
In his private PokerStars interview before the game, Boyega hoped that some of his acting skills would seep onto the table to help him win. As for his interest in the game, he noted, “I hope that, in a few years, the conversation would be, ‘What is John Boyega’s game, with his serious winning streak, and who is going to defeat Boyega?’ That’s where I want to go in the poker realm. I want to be the unsung hero.” He then added with a laugh, “One can dream.”