As far as debates go, there are larger ones, but the question remains:
Is Jennifer Tilly an actress who likes to play poker? Or is she a poker player who dabbles in acting?
Tilly puts herself on the poker side of things, noting that after what turns out to be 79 film credits, 27 TV roles and a 1994 Academy Award nominee for her role in Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway,” she can now pick and choose what roles she wants.
“I’m in the enviable position where I don’t have to work if I don’t want to,” she says. “I used to be in a lot of movies that weren’t any good just so I could pay the plumbing bill.”
“I took a lot of lousy roles early in my career just to pay the plumbing bill,” she says this week, in town to play events at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood. “Now I don’t have to.”
As far as poker goes, her skills are well-documented: She has almost $1 million in tournament earnings and won the 2005 World Series of Poker Ladies Event. She’ll play in the main event at the Seminole Hard Rock, which costs $5,250 to enter.
“They have huge fields, so it’s difficult to run deep, but you just have to catch a wave (of momentum) for it to happen,” she says.
Tilly is known for wearing low-cut dresses when the TV cameras are taping, which they are this week for the Seminole tournaments: “Poker Night in America,” which airs on CBS Sports, also is filming some shows.
“I like to make myself look nice. It comes from being an aging starlet,” says Tilly, 57. “And I love playing poker on TV because you get to both play poker and be on TV.”
She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Olive Neal in the film Woody Allen “Bullets over Broadway” (1994). Her other film roles include “Made in America” (1993), “Liar Liar” (1997) and “Bride of Chucky” (1998).
She continues to have three or four acting projects a year, including her fourth role in the “Chucky” movies and voiceover work as neighbor Bonnie Swanson in “The Family Guy.”
But she also loves cash poker games, although a $250,000 buy-in taping for the online network Poker Central last summer made for some jitters.
“They always say, ‘Oh there’ll be rich businessmen playing,’ but those guys didn’t get rich by being stupid,” Tilly says. “They have to be good at that they do.”
In this particular game, top pros Phil Ivey, Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson, Antonio Esfandiari and her were playing.
“It was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m the guppy,’” she says, noting that while some players have backers, she plays with her own money. “Who would back me, especially at that table?”
This is the first time Tilly has been to the tournament without longtime boyfriend and poker pro Phil Laak.
“He’s in Brazil, rooting for Michael Phelps,” Tilly says. Phelps is an avid poker player, and Laak is among the swimmer’s friends.
Laak and Tilly try not to play at the same table.
“He hates to lose a hand to me, I hate to lose a hand to him, and if we don’t go against each other, people cry out that it’s collusion,” she says.
Laak, known as a unique thinker and talker, caught Tilly’s eye as she watched him play on TV. She watched him debate calling a raise, computing how much money was in the pot and what his odds were.
“I could almost hear the knobs turning in his brain,” she says. “Overall, I’m just fascinated with really smart people. I never dated the guy with six-pack abs.”
But back to the actress vs. poker question for Tilly. Well, poker organizers count her as one of the gang. A recent series pitted celebs vs. pros, with the following stipulation: Celebs got in free, pros had to pay $100,000.
Tilly says the pros were insistent she pay the fee.
Players can enter the main event, which guarantees $5 million in total prize money, at noon Saturday. Buy-in is $5,250.
A charity event is at 7 p.m. Friday, benefiting the Maximum Hope Foundation. Entry is $300.
Go to SHRPO.com.