on poker and acting

Last week, Otis asked me if I’d write a few words for the PokerStars newsletter about how acting and poker mix together, and if I’d discuss how acting has helped my poker game.

I tried to answer intelligently and keep it brief, but since it takes
me 200 words to say hello to someone, it shouldn’t be a big surprise
that I ended up sending Otis a little over 2800 words about acting,
poker, and Almost Famous. I was so long-winded, in fact, that Otis ended up using the power of the fully-operational PokerStars blog to handle the Alderaan-destroying mountain of words I sent.

If you’re interested in the poker stuff, or want to know how I’ve been able to combine my acting experience with my poker game, you can read the whole thing at the PokerStars blog.

For the rest of you, here’s a little bit about acting that you don’t have to be a poker geek to follow:

As an actor:
1) I have to be completely connected to the other
actors in the scene, so my character understands what the other
characters are doing, why they are doing it, and I (as the actor) can
allow my character to react naturally and realistically. rather than
2) I have to completely commit to everything that my
character does, and allow my character’s memories, beliefs, and prior
experiences (that I have made up) to truly _live_ in me, like they are
real, so that all the unconscious physical signals that come with
different emotions happen naturally, rather than as a result of

For an actor, getting caught "acting" is worse than a
poker player getting caught bluffing; it’s more like getting caught
cheating. So we actors work very hard to make sure it never happens.

[. . .]

One of my favorite examples of this is from Almost Famous. Kate
Hudson, as Penny Lane, asks Patrick Fugit, as William Miller, if he’ll
go with her to Morocco.

When she asks him, they’ve been running
around a park together, and it’s clear to the audience that they’re
falling in love. It’s really charming to watch, and unless you’re
deeply cynical, it’s tough to not smile with them, recalling the first
time you fell in love.

"I’ve made a decision, I’m gonna live in Morocco for one year. I need a new crowd. Do you wanna come?" She says.

"Yes!" He says.

"Are you sure?" She says.

He looks at her, like he was completely lost in her, and says, "Ask me again."

She flushes, and she says, more intently, "Do you want to come?"

"Yes! Yes!" He says, as some seventies power ballad starts to play.

to director Cameron Crowe, Patrick asked Kate to ask him again, because
he’d been staring at her, and just got lost in that moment, so he
missed his line. But he was still in the scene, so he asked her exactly
the way he would have if it had been real. Kate stayed focused on him,
stayed in the scene, and asked him again, so we have this incredibly
wonderful moment of two people falling in love that probably has many
of you running to Netflix to queue it up right now. If either one of
them hadn’t been completely focused on each other, that moment (which
would have been impossible to script) never would have happened. If
we’d caught them "acting," it would have ruined that moment, and the
whole movie would have suffered as a result.

Did I pique your interest? Heh. So go on, read the whole thing. You know you want to.

23 thoughts on “on poker and acting”

  1. Nice Wil :)
    I bet it sometimes is hard to keep a straight poker face.. when you get flopped an awesome hand , and you don’t want to reveal it hoping to sucker people into giving up their chips.
    Sigh.. poker rules :)
    Hope your finger is better.

  2. Last night, I chanced upon a NG epsiode JUST when Wil walked in to see the holo image of his father. I remembered you had talked about wishing you could have made more of that moment, so I paused to rewatch more analytically, even thought I was late out the door.
    Let me preface my comments by stating that I have been working hard with Dog Whisperer Cesar MIllan Techniques including communicating with dogs though projecting the energy of a pack leader right now, so am more sensitve to the following dynamics I saw then normal.
    First that there was nothing to react to – no dialog with the holoimage, no interaction.
    I saw, the eyes drop, a shart intake of breath, sadness seeming to well up in the eyes, a slight opening of the mouth as if to respond – like we do sometimes to the movies.
    The straighening of pride and tug of the shirt, following in dad’s steps – just for a moment, a shared moment’s awareness of doing something that “Dad would be pleased with.” and at the end,
    a step and reach to the dad that is no longer there as a tear that comes to my eyes remembering how many times I have done the same action, to reach for my dad, no longer there.
    Total energy communication.
    At least for me – it was all there, in the moment, sharing my life’s moments as a lonely sad child, with one other lonely sad child, up close – and very personal.

  3. It’s what I call “actor thinking” .. and the opposite of the amature dramatics style . *cue examples from UK version of Whose Line?*
    There’s trust in it too. At least how it was for me. I have to trust that I can go out there and put my heart (or my character’s, rather) on the line, really go out there in high pitch mode (I’m talking about opera here, so for you trekkies, picture Sub Rosa, that’s very operatic… if unpopular because of the melodrama)… and I have to trust the other actor or actors to sort of catch me, to meet me at the same place.
    It doesn’t always happen, and it can feel you with an aftertaste of rejection when it does.
    So anyway, for me a big part of it was trust.

  4. So true, Wil!
    My favorite scene of catching an actor “acting” is with Jodie Foster in Panic Room. The scene is late in the movie. Her character, Meg Altman, must send the police away to protect her daughter. So she “pretends” to be drunk and fighting with her ex.
    Sitting there in a dark theatre, watching Meg “acting” I could see the little girl whose movies I followed. I started gushing like fan–“Look, it’s Jodie Foster!”

  5. *gasp*! I adore that bit from Almost Famous as well — the wonderful scene, combined with knowing the behind-the-scenes setup that Cameron Crowe reveals on the commentary. Thank you for invoking one of my favorite cinematic moments of all time!

  6. On acting and poker…
    I was watching TNG today on Spike and one of the episodes, the first I think, was
    The Best of Both Worlds, Part I. I thought the scene where you’re playing poker with the other officers and Lt. Commander Shelby was great. not only did you act it well, it was very prophetic of how you’d end up spending your free time as an adult off the show. Playing poker that is, not being bluffed out by Frakes.
    I’d like to add that as geeky as it sounds that I named the episode and one of the guest stars, I had to use the episode guide at Startrek.com to do so.

  7. Oy, this is exactly the learning curve I’ve been climbing up right now.
    After years as a musician, then singer, I’ve been starting to build a professional theater career here in Boston. In my last major run of A Christmas Carol (I’ll add the shameless self-plug- it was at the New Rep and was well received, painting the slightly darker side of the tale), the director called me out many times on “acting”.
    It was great to be surrounded by so many other actors who really existed in that craft, but also showed me how much I had to learn.
    So I guess the rambling point is that the points you raised about acting in this post are the *exact* reason I’m heading to the Central School of Speech and Drama next year.
    Who’d a thunk such simple honesty was so complicated?

  8. probably has many of you running to Netflix to queue it up right now

    Rent “Almost Famous”? Are you crazy? I own it. The bootleg cut, no less. That movie is awesome.

  9. I loved the article, Wil. But one thing about that Almost Famous bit: I know Crowe says in the commentary that that was an improv because the actor was lost in the moment, but I auditioned for that part on that very scene and I could have *sworn* that that line was in there.
    I cant prove it since I’ve long since lost my audition script, but when I watched that movie in the theater for the first time, I distinctly remember mouthing the lines along with the characters for that scene because they were all coming back to me from my audition.
    I don’t want to burst any bubbles, and I hope I’m wrong, but still, your point about doing more than just acting, but actually believing, stands.
    I’m going to take your advice and try to bring that into my poker play as well!

  10. Acting – isn’t. And what gets weird there is when you’re in a role when your character is in love with someone. If you and the other actor have chemistry you have a full-blown love affair with that person – until the curtain drops. (ok, sometimes its hard to shake the feeling, but no hanky pany allowed.)
    Its a bizarre thing to move so easily in and out of those feelings, and, at times, has really made me question the nature of love in general.
    ::shrug:: of course, I’m just an amatuer, and I always fall for my leading man. Just ask my husband. 😉

  11. I read the entire post at the PokerStars blog, and it’s one of my favorite pieces by you, ever. I’m glad Otis posted the whole thing because every one of those 2,800 words was worth publishing. Great stuff, sir.

  12. jewels6gems,
    I haven’t seen Panic Room, but the way you describe it the character is pretending to be drunk for the police. So did you catch the actor acting, or did you catch the character acting?

  13. Wil, yer killin’ me. Acting, pfah. Just BE the character, and then everything is easy. Well, except keeping a straight face, sometimes. Because we’re getting PAID for this.
    I do improv drama/comedy. There is no script, only motivation and intent. Oh, and the audience. There’s them, too.

  14. So Wil, are you gonna blog about Net Neutrality and the Markey Ammendment? I think you have a great audience and you should harness the hell out of us. But not in a Pervy Way. My blog has a little bit that I wrote today. And Alyssa Milano wrote about it too!

  15. Wil, That scene in “Almost Famous” is one of my favorites of all time, too. I think it’s important to note that it doesn’t happen after they’ve been in the park together. They’re at the top of the ramp after the Black Sabbath concert. William has only met Penny hours before, but he knows he’s being swept into something life changing and huge. You can hear his mom calling him from the parking lot with the “family whistle,” (which happens to blend perfectly with Nancy Wilson’s awesome score, which is the tune you remember swelling in the background). William keeps looking back over his shoulder, knowing his mother and the world of his childhood are waiting for him, but he doesn’t want this moment with Penny to end. I think the entire message of that movie is communicated in that scene. Such a great scene…

  16. I can only imagine what that required naturalness you mention is like to really effuse. What about directing? You’ve thought of that, haven’t you? And with writing, the foundation of a cinematic story, I for one would like to see what you could do, whether it’s writing your own film and generating your own parts, or writing and directing. Even adapting your most loved books or short stories. Your wisdoms reminded me of this, and this is for all you actors and directors:

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