Zak Penn’s hysterical mockumentary The Grand (which debuts April 27) starts with the simplest premise: celebrity-poker improv. Penn gathered a bunch of famous funny people—Woody Harrelson, Judy Greer, Richard Kind, Michael McKean, Jason Alexander, and others—and had them play a real poker tournament as fictional characters. And though he outlined basic character traits, it was up to the actors to improvise the vicious trash-talking and Best in Show–ish backstage psychodrama. Not surprisingly, Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Cheryl Hines is one of the most cruelly hilarious players, undermining her loser brother (David Cross) and pathetic househusband (Ray Romano). She spoke with Logan Hill.
You’re a certified celebrity-poker champ. You once kicked Alex Trebek’s butt.
Yeah. At my first tournament, about four years ago, I got four twos. Now I have a poker problem. I do win every so often, so that’s what keeps me going.
You love to trash-talk. How calculated is it?
I do have a tendency to talk a lot at the poker table, which throws people off because they spend a lot of time trying to read me. But I talk a lot when I have a good hand and when I have a bad hand, too. Sometimes it annoys people so much they can’t wait to get out of the tournament. And that can only be good for me.
Was Jose Canseco upset when you beat him?
Jose Canseco may have been one that was really not pleased … But the poker pros are the ones that really may not enjoy me as much, the ones who’d rather sit in silence calculating odds.
Off set, who was the most hopeless player?
He won’t mind me saying, but Chris Parnell had not really played poker before this movie.
But his character is an expert.
Yes, so he was very stressed during the whole movie.
And who was the best player?
Well, it’s hard to say. I may have won a tournament … I’m not going to lie.
How much did you walk away with on side bets?
That’s not bad for an indie film. What was the hardest scene to keep a straight face in?
When Werner Herzog goes crazy and starts to attack Chris Parnell, and Chris jumps up on the chair and starts squawking like a bird. Is that still in there?
What’s a line that will help an amateur poker player win?
Whenever somebody folds, say, “Good laydown.” It encourages them to fold on a later hand because it makes them feel like you had the best hand even if you were bluffing. It’s an odd form of flattery that seems to work at the poker table.
You’re a natural underminer.
Manipulating people is what’s so fun about poker. I love that you can just look into someone’s eyes and lie—and it’s perfectly acceptable.
I guess acting and poker are two of the only times it is.
Yes, but when you’re playing poker, you can drink beer while you do it.