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210 Minutes With Jennifer Tilly

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Tilly has had a hard time balancing her people-pleasing nature as an actress and “someone who came from a dysfunctional family” with the need in poker to be ruthless. “In poker, when you’re doing well, everybody else is pissed off at you. Nobody loves you when you’re a great poker player,” she says. “Sometimes in tournaments I think, Oooh, my nickname should be the “Dream Crusher.” I’ll see the young kid who’s taking his college tuition to enter the tournament, and then I knock him out. I feel horrible. You have to get really hardhearted. Sometimes I’ll go easy on some really old guy, and then he just really sticks it to me a half-hour later. He’s really ungracious about it, and I think, Oooh, I should have never let him live. I should have snuffed him out when I had the chance.”

Tilly would love to do another play, and hopes to be considered for the role of Olive again in the upcoming musical version of Bullets Over Broadway. After all, she’s 53 and playing a model sex bomb in Don’t Dress now. “They’re always like, ‘Oooh, we think maybe Jennifer’s a little old to play that character,’ ” she says. “I’m like, ‘Eh, the stage, the audience is, like, 50 feet away.’ Julie Andrews played, what is that, Victor Victoria. That character’s in her twenties, when she was, like, 60.” (Andrews was actually 46.) Tilly looks at her cards and suddenly her concentration shifts. “I will check,” she says loudly to the table, then whispers to me, “I’m going to play a hand. Get prepared for fireworks!” She slips into her Tiffany voice: “I need more red wine. More red wine.” And then shifts a pile of chips forward. “I’m all in.”

It happens so fast that the only thing I know is that the new guy in the corner has very few chips anymore and Tilly has a ton. Awed comments circle the table. “Wow, Jennifer, you are a vicious killer,” says Laak and runs over to give her a kiss. She’s ahead $8,000 after that, and by the time I leave after 1 a.m., she still has $18,000, despite taking a big loss on the last hand I witness.

Though her producers probably won’t be happy about this, Tilly admits she’s thrilled that the play will end in time for her to go down to Las Vegas and play the main event at the World Series of Poker. “I’m like, ‘Oh, I really hope we don’t get extended.’ I know for a fact that as soon as I finish this play, I’m going to go out to Vegas and be as happy as can be.” She loves acting, but “I really would love to go down in history as a great poker player, too, and I feel that’s possible. But you have to put the time into it. I mean, poker was consuming me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Everybody has to have an obsession.”


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