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Jennifer Tilly: “I Want People to Remember Me as a Good Poker Player”

It’s hard to think of a celebrity that loves poker more than Jennifer Tilly.

Since catching the poker bug in the mid-2000s after winning the WSOP Ladies Event she’s entered countless tournaments, appeared on numerous poker TV shows and generally lived the poker lifestyle.

Unlike other famous actors who do everything they can to separate themselves from the poker world, Tilly seems to relishes her role in the community and is proud to call herself a poker player.

Tilly: A Proud Poker Player

Tilly is finally getting recognized for her contributions to poker this year. First she was nominated for the Women’s Hall of Fame and just a few weeks ago she was nominated for a PokerListings Spirit of Poker award.

PokerListings caught up with Tilly at the WSOP to talk about her aspirations in poker, Sam Simon’s health and female poker players.

PokerListings: So, you’ve been nominated for the PokerListings Living Legend Award...

Jennifer Tilly

Jennifer Tilly: I saw that. I think that’s fantastic. I love that JRB got the [Most Inspiring Player] nomination because so many people aspire to his lifestyle and I think he represents the freerolling spirit of poker.

I love his blog and his twitter where he is like “bankroll zero” and everybody cheers. I just think it’s really fantastic to be nominated for Legends of Poker and I’m sure people will take ire at that. I think it’s a really cool thing.

I see Dan Heimiller just won a tournament, that will probably hurt my chances and I love it for him.

He’s nominated because he’s been such a really good example for poker players. He’s a lovely man and conducts himself with grace. He’s been around forever and just quietly excelling. I just feel really privileged to be in with this group of people.

And I like that there’s a thing called [Rising Star] and it’s these sort of young guns who perhaps are not known to the general public. I think it’s really good for poker, having a sort of unorthodox contest like that. I think it’s fantastic.

This is my year to get nominations; I’m nominated for the Women’s Poker Hall of Fame too. The thing that’s great about Women’s Poker Hall of Fame or Legends of Poker, it’s not like who’s the greatest woman poker player or who’s a legend, there’s different kinds of legends.

There’s “Bride of Chucky” who won a Ladies’ Event the first time she came to the World Series of Poker, that’s just a different kind of legend. I think it’s super cool and I’m happy about it.

PL: Why do you think people should vote for you?

Jennifer Tilly
Also embodies the joy of being a poker player.

JT: I think they should vote for me because, well I think it would get everybody talking. I think everybody would vote for me because I’m kind of a crossover poker person and I get a lot of press outside the poker world.

I think it would bring a lot of positive attention to the game of poker. And then it’s also going to be a thing where people would say ‘if she can do it, anybody can do it’.

For example, JRB, he embodies the spirit of poker and the joy of being a poker player. The crazy variance and roller-coaster ride. I think in terms of Legends of Poker, like a Chris Moneymaker is somebody that people knew from before who as not being particularly, you know, not particularly, I mean to say in people’s minds, bright or gifted.

And yet I win the Ladies Tournament and carve out a career for myself in poker. So I think that is something to be celebrated.

I’m trying not to sound really full of myself.

PL: Do you feel like you had a role in the increase of women poker players?

Vanessa Selbst
Vanessa Selbst: empowering female poker players everywhere.

JT: I think in a way. When I first met Phil (Laak), I really wanted to go to the casinos and play so I had an ulterior motive for going out with him. I didn’t want to go by myself because it was so intimidating, you go into the casinos and it’s all men.

I think it’s like in the world, where you see someone and feel ‘well if they can do it, I can do it’. Similar to the way Vanessa Selbst or Kathy Liebert or Jennifer Harman, I think it creates that feeling that ‘look, they’re doing it, it’s not that bad.’

I enjoy playing open tournaments but there’s a lot of women that would prefer to play in ladies tournaments. I think when people see somebody like me playing a lot of tournaments; women think ‘if she can do it, how hard can it be.’

I think in a similar regard to when Gina Gershon and I made the movie “Bound”. After that I noticed there were so many more independent films that had sort of a lesbian subplot. I’m not saying I was a pioneer but things permeate.

In the last ten years, you see women playing in open events and going deep or making the final table. Vicky Coren is a great example, she’s fantastic and nominated for one of the categories. She’s so gifted and won two EPTs and writes for the Guardian in London. I think it encourages people.

I don’t think anybody would say, ‘Ooh, Bride of Chucky made me feel like I could do it. Like I could play poker.’ But I think when you’re reading about women playing poker, excelling at poker, it makes you want to do it.

PL: What are your goals in poker?

Jennifer Tilly
Hungry for another title.

JT: I would love to win another open, I’ve won two open tournaments but I’d love to win a big one. I won a $5k and I won a charity tournament, it was a stacked field but it was a charity tournament. And I would love to win another bracelet at the World Series of Poker in an open event.

I’d love to win this one ($5,000 6-max) the 6-max is a game I really like and I’ve cashed in it before.

When you play the 6-max you feel like you’re not just getting lucky because you’re sitting around with those internet kids and leveling right along with them. So this would be a good one to win.

I’m almost at a million dollars in tournament winnings. I would love to, by the end of the year, have surpassed the million dollars and move up the women’s all-time money list.

Every time I cash, I run to the Hendon Mob to see if I moved past somebody yet. It’s good to set small goals for yourself and some big goals for yourself.

Just say ‘I want to win a bracelet’, that’s a big goal and ‘I want to get to this point in my tournament earnings or move up a couple spots on the all-time women’s list’ are the small goals and perhaps more achievable.

I want people to remember me as a good poker player, not just an anomaly or a weird footnote to my career. ‘She made these movies but she also won a bracelet.’ I want people to recognize me as a poker player.

PL: How is Sam Simon doing?

Sam Simon
Tilly: "Sam Simon deserves a bracelet"

JT: Sam is a tremendous inspiration. He’s a wonderful person but more than a year and a half ago the doctor gave him three to six months to live. He is a fighter. There’s a video online that chronicles everything he did in the last year.

He traveled to St. Johns, New Brunswick in the dead of winter to protest the seal hunt, he traveled to Taiji to protest the dolphin slaughter, buying up these road-side zoos and releasing the bears and chimpanzees and the elephants into sanctuaries.

He’s been donating all his money to animal charities and he has a food kitchen which feeds all these families.

But I think his drive and his desire to make a difference in the world is keeping him alive. Also, I think the love of all his friends and his family and the people surrounding him. I know the poker world has been incredibly supportive.

He loves poker and one of the really sad things in his life is that he really loves playing the Main Event but he isn’t well enough to sit for that long. But last year, Mori invited him to come out last year to do the NBC Heads-up event.

He came out, travelled Las Vegas with his nurse. Jeff Madsen coached him; it was really a fantastic weekend. He advanced so that was really a highlight for him.

We all hope he gets better and wins a bracelet because he deserves to.

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