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James Woods has been playing poker for longer than most of today's pros have been alive, and he's been doing it with a long list of Hollywood A-list celebrities. The Oscar-nominated actor tells PokerListings.com about playing cards as a struggling actor to see if he'd have enough money to eat, as well as how Walking Dead actor Scott Wilson once blew an entire movie cheque in one weekend in Las Vegas. Woods also tells stories about his home games with Ben Affleck, Tobey Maguire and many more. Woods explains how he loves poker but doesn't feel the need to play for high stakes. Instead he's going after a WSOP bracelet and playing poker for the thrill of the game.
James: It's funny people ask me how long I've been playing poker and I say, "Longer than these guys have been alive plus 40." I just came from a card playing family. Everybody in my family loves to play cards and games. Everybody in my family is pretty smart and well-read and that kind of thing. So we just like those kinds of games always and as a kid I'd be playing Canasta and Gin Rummy and all that stuff. And I played poker all my life and when I was a young actor, a lot of the actors, we'd play Gin a lot more than poker to see who would eat sometimes. You'd be playing to eat. I remember Scott Wilson, you know who was in Walking Dead, well he isn't now he's been killed, but of course he was In Cold Blood. Told me a great story once he said, just before he did In Cold Blood, he was pumping gas at a gas station. He was hired by the director to do this phenomenal movie that everyone wanted, Richard Brooks had hired him. And he said he went to Vegas, he made $40,000, and you have to remember this was in the '60s. $40,000 to a guy pumping gas is like $40 million. Said, I did the movie, they gave me my paycheck on a Friday, went right to Vegas, came back on Monday and I was pumping gas again.
Interviewer: Have you ever had experiences like that in your earlier years?
James: Well, I never had $40,000 when I was in my 20s, I can tell you that. You know, I was a theater actor so I never made any money until I was in my 30s. Which is why, I don't have a swell head about being successful because I wasn't successful until later in life and I had a pretty good chance of growing up by then a little bit,.a little bit.
You know I play, in my business in the film business, a lot of people. Some of them are very, very good players. I mean look, Kevin Pollak, you know, what was it like, he went out 101st or whatever it was a couple years ago with a really bad beat, queens against queens and lost to a flush and so on. And he's a wonderful tournament player. You know, Nick Cassavetes, Tobey Maguire is a terrific player. You know, Norm MacDonald. I mean a lot of these guys are good players and they're good home game players. And we play home games where you want to have fun and I always tell people, I say listen, if you're at the home game and you start getting it up where people are going to be losing the big, big, big, big pot, it's not going to be fun anymore. I mean, it's fun to win within our range, but I see some of these games go crazy.
I mean, I had a game that was 25-50 pot limit cap limit game, it sounds weird but it was a game that's been around for years in Hollywood. I inherited it from Vince Van Patten and I mean, I played with Vince and Mike Sexton. Andy Duke played at our games sometimes. A couple times Kathy Liebert dropped in. Dan Harrington played, you know. A lot of really great poker players. And a lot of people you wouldn't know who are also terrific poker players are a lot of good, a lot of celebrities play. You know Ben Affleck and so on, Tobey would play in it. And the irony is, you'd be surprised some of the amateurs can really hold their own. But then, my late mother was ill, and I kind of stopped acting for a while and went back, took care of her. You know just played poker on the East Coast. And by the time I got back that game had now gotten up to people winning $100,000 pots and so on. I said, you know guys, you run out of players when people have $100,000 pots. You just do, you know. I don't think it's fun when you can lose a house in a night. I mean, for some people I guess it is but not for me.
I'll tell you one of the great things about poker. And you mentioned golf and it's interesting, I think golf is like that way too. I've always said you can tell you can tell the content of a person's character on the golf course 'cuz there are people who are honorable people who play their game. And there are other people you can just tell. Their attitude so on. Same with poker. I mean, poker reveals a lot to you not only about other people but especially about yourself. There have been so many poker tournaments that I should've won where I shot myself in the foot. And I tell you, if I could give advice to anybody, I'd say, just sit down with a good friend every single week and say, this is the problem with my game.
Because I was talking to Barry Greenstein the other day. And we were talking about running bad. And he said, "Yeah, running bad, playing bad." And I said, I couldn't agree with you more. Every time I bitch about running bad it's because I'm playing bad. I'm just playing bad. You know, everyone calls me because I'm James Woods. They call me 'cuz I'm splashing chips around. Spewing chips. Playing stupid hands. Thinking I was clever. And of course, people are going to look you up.
There's something odd about being asked to give romantic advice if you're I. Because I've certainly had my ups and downs in that department, but I guess if I were giving advice to the younger guys, I mean 'cuz poker players can be a little socially awkward, I suppose. But I was always socially awkward, I mean I'm not a very good looking guy. I was an actor but I I think one of the reasons I might've been fortunate enough to enjoy the company of some really wonderful women in my life is a tribute to my late mother. She was a remarkable person. And I loved her with all my heart. My dad always said you must respect women totally. And he was wonderful to my mom and vice versa. They had a wonderful marriage. I've just always loved the women. And if you love women and you're good to them, they'll really by and large be good back.
And you can complain that your wife or your girlfriend is acting a certain way, butusually, women act crazy if you make them act crazy. I've been guilty of that, I have to say so. In all honesty, if you wanna have a great time with a woman and really make sure it turns out great, then just treat her like a queen and good things should happen. And if they don't, then maybe your judgment was wrong. But usually you're the one messing it up. Women will do anything to make a guy sort of be a better man if you just let them.