The Thrill of it All: Actors and Card Games

Michael Greco


Fuelled by the growth of celebrity-packed tournaments in exotic locations, casino games like Poker have come out of the salon straight into popular culture. While it’s true that poker attracts players from all walks of life, actors in particular seem to be avid players of the game. For some, poker is a game that gives them the same dopamine rush that comes from performing, whereas others are attracted to its calculated and strategic nature.

Over the past two decades a number of stage and screen actors have declared themselves avid fans of the game, including EastEnders long-runner Michael Greco. Greco, aka The Godfather, was mentored in poker by top English player “Mad” Marty Wilson and has built a successful career on the tables that includes 4 money finishes at World Series of Poker tournaments. He has also played in televised tournaments, finishing within the top three on a number of occasions. From the start of his career Greco has credited his acting training (he graduated from Guildford School of Acting) in giving him the edge to convincingly pull off false tells and bluffs.

For some actors, a game of poker offers a chance to relax and socialise with cast and crew members during a busy performance period. Former director of The Globe and Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance is one such personality. Currently starring in the big screen in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Rylance has been quoted as saying the he likes “very much to have a game of poker on stage after a two-show day, with the crew and cast in the empty theatre. Those are great evenings”.

Unsurprisingly Hollywood has a long association with the “king of card games”, and today’s actors aren’t immune from the allure of poker. Everyone from Tobey Maguire to Ben Affleck have tried their hands, but a rare few have blossomed into high-profile high-earners. Tinseltown legend James Woods leads the pack as one of the most successful actor-turned-players.

The double Academy Award nominee has over 130 movies and television shows to his name including Casino, Once Upon a Time in America and Nixon. A long-time poker fan, Woods has been actively competing in tournaments since 2004. His career has included three wins and sixteen top 10 finishes in both the World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour events. Although starting his poker career, like many, in smaller cash games Woods prefers to concentrate solely on tournament events now, preferring the excitement of playing against the world’s best professionals: “I learn so much every time I play. In a tournament, blinds are going up, there is more pressure, it’s more exciting. I am still able to think well and honestly, I really like poker players. They are really decent people and I like being around them.”

Even though poker has a larger percentage of male players, the women of Hollywood more than represent during tournaments and events. Jennifer Tilly, another Academy Award-nominee, has one of the best poker pedigrees on the professional circuit. Nicknamed “J Tilla the Killa” has won a number of high-profile women’s events including the WSOP Ladies’ No-Limit Texas Hold ’em event in 2005 (her first WSOP bracelet) and a WPT Ladies Invitation Tournament. She has appeared in the GSN Poker Royale series as well as a number of other televised tournaments. Despite deciding to pull away from poker in