Hollywood Goes Crazy for Poker

Doyle Brunson, Jennifer Harman & Drew Barrymore
Doyle Brunson, Jennifer Harman & Drew Barrymore at the Main Event Press Conference

With the rise in poker's popularity, Hollywood has definitely taken notice. So don't be surprised to see a surge in poker movies on the horizon. There are already four slated for release within the next year. In order to capture the authenticity of poker, a certain smart director has enlisted the help of some of poker's top players to serve as consultants and in some cases as actors. In Part 2 of this year's Main Event Press Conference, director Curtis Hansen and actress Drew Barrymore were joined by Doyle Brunson and Jennifer Harman to talk about their new poker movie "Lucky You" out in theatres this fall.

Director Curtis Hansen (an excerpt from his opening speech):

When we first got on board this project and came to Las Vegas in 2002 to do research, we became very aware that we were witnessing a change in the poker world that was caused by three events. One was the introduction of the hole card camera, which made television poker so much more popular. The other would be the explosion of Internet poker, and the third thing was the fact that the tournament in 2003 was won by a player who was virtually unknown. All of us think that we can sit down at a poker table and play well. That's what we've always loved about the game - it's competition in the purest sense.

Doyle Brunson

Unlike so much in life where who you are and what you look like are important, at a poker table it doesn't matter what your name is, what you look like, what your age is, what your ethnicity is, what your sex is. Everybody is equal. We wanted to tell a story about a man (Eric Bana) and a woman (Drew Barrymore) and a man (Eric Bana) and his father (Robert Duvall) set against the world of poker, because the skills that every poker player tries to develop, namely the ability to hide your emotions, to bluff, to lie, to be aggressive, to play without sympathy, without regard for whether your opponent can afford to lose or not - all those skills - would be hateful away from the poker table. And the skills we all try to develop to have successful human relationships are the opposite. So this is a story about those relations.

Actress Drew Barrymore addresses the crowd:

Poker is a game I watch on TV obsessively and play a lot with my friends on weekends. So I'm going to make the most of it and ask every poker player while I'm here for some tips so that I can kick my friends' butts.

Curtis Hansen:

This movie takes place in the world of professional poker playing in Las Vegas. The first thing we did was look for a guide into that world. And the first call we made was to a character who is legendary in the world of poker - Doyle Brunson. The call to Doyle was a simple one. I was requesting that he open the window on his world to me, and he was so generous that he allowed us to literally sit behind his chair at the big game at the Bellagio and watch him play. We got to know Doyle, and he got to be the poker consultant on the movie.

Doyle Brunson & Jennifer Harman

Doyle Brunson:

We had a lot of fun with it. I got to know Eric Bana and Robert Duvall very well. Robert Duvall has always been my favourite actor since as long as I can remember, since "Lonesome Dove."

Curtis Hansen:

While watching Doyle at the big game, we also watched the other players and one of them who we noticed immediately, because she was the only woman, was Jennifer Harman. And Jennifer actually plays a fictional character in the movie and the actress Jean Smart plays a character that was inspired by the real Jennifer Harman, if that's not too confusing.

Jennifer Harman

I just want to say that doing the movie was a lot of fun. I've never acted in a movie before, and watching everything that was involved is actually quite interesting. I think that I would love to get involved more behind the scenes and on the scenes. It was just a really fun experience, and I think Curtis and Carol Fenelon (producer) did an amazing job in portraying poker the way that it is played today.

Jennifer Harman


Jennifer and Doyle, you guys are like rockstars now. Can you describe what this new celebrity status is like, and then Drew, having been in the limelight all your life what can you say about it as well?

Doyle Brunson:

Speaking for myself, I don't consider myself a celebrity, I'm certainly not an entertainer. I'm a poker player. I'm just really grateful to be one of the survivors from the old days and being able to witness this evolution in poker.

Jennifer Harman:

I just feel that poker players were in a secluded world and nobody really knew about us. And now it's a little different, and like Doyle, I don't feel like a celebrity, I just feel like a poker player and that's what I do. It's kind of exciting to have this happen with poker and to actually feel that I can help people play poker and do what they love, because that's what I really love.

Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore:

My character in the film is someone who is not of the poker world, so I try to live in that mentality and so she's sort of in shock, in a really good way, about this high-stakes world that she's entering. I think these guys [Doyle & Jennifer] are famous to people because of their skill and I think that's what's so cool, and if there's a "rockstar" mentality that goes with it then that's really cool too. But when someone is recognized for their ability, that is the greatest thing, that's the one thing I could ever hope to be recognized for. I think it's all about the skills in show business and in poker.

How did you capture the essence of poker and the World Series in the movie?

Curtis Hansen:

As a movie lover I've always been bothered when sports movies have actors in them who look like they don't know how to throw a baseball or shoot a basketball or whatever. So the authenticity was the first thing, and that started with Doyle as the poker consultant, all in the effort to have the poker look and feel real. The balancing act is to try and create a version of that world that feels authentic to the people who really know the world and at the same time make a movie that is meaningful and entertaining to people who don't care at all about the poker world but are there to see the heart of the movie, which is the relationships between Drew and Eric and Robert Duvall. But the opportunity to go into a world, in this case Las Vegas, is one of the things that I love most about doing what I do. So we shot all of the movie here on location. We shot on Freemont Street and Binion's. We recreated Benny's bullpen upstairs exactly how it was in 2003. We shot downstairs in the Horseshoe to try and create a version of that world for people who never get to see it or never will see it again.

Drew Barrymore

Do you think that women have the natural testosterone to stand up to the aggressiveness that men ...

Drew Barrymore (interrupting):

Yes! (Laughter) For me, I'm a girl and something that I really love about poker is that it's for everybody and that what Curtis said is so true that you can come from anywhere, and be any person, or have any background, or gender, and come in and play this game. I love that. I love something that is inclusive, and I think people say that poker players are rockstars because there is such a heightened fascination of this world, and I find it sexy and interesting and that's how it's gotten so popular. I watch poker on TV all the time, and you wouldn't think that I'm the demographic but it just goes to show you that poker is for everybody. And I love that a woman can come in and play with the big boys, I think that's super sexy. I like the way boys do it. I think that whenever men and women can play together, it's a very cool thing.

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