Jennifer Tilly – poker player and actress

Jennifer Tilly
Posted on: February 11, 2023 23:08 PST

Jennifer Tilly needs little introduction. She's a glamorous actress who has made it big in Hollywood, both on the big and small screens.

But she's also a talented poker player, with more than $1,000,000 in winnings to her name. 

So, without further ado, this is the story of Jennifer Tilly, poker player and superstar actress.

The early days – her mother's daughter

A native of Harbor City, Los Angeles, Jennifer Tilly has an interesting family history. Her father was of Chinese descent, and her mother had Finnish and Irish blood in her veins. Her mother divorced twice and raised Jennifer and her sister Meg (also an actress), mainly in British Columbia, Canada.

It was her mother – herself a schoolteacher and stage actress – who persuaded Jennifer to pursue her passion for acting at a young age. In high school, she performed in several theatrical productions and went on to obtain a bachelor's degree in theater from Stephen's College, Missouri.

Her early foray into the world of acting saw Jennifer Tilly land a recurring guest role on the brilliant Hill Street Blues, portraying the character Gina Srignoli. The show ran from 1981 to 1987, and Tilly's role as a mobster's unfaithful widow caught the attention of Hollywood casting directors, which led to her big break. 

She was cast as Candi Pearson in the fourth season of Cheers and the eleventh season of Fraiser before landing her debut film role as a waitress in The Fabulous Baker Boys. The rest, as they say, is history.

From Liar Liar to Chucky 

Tilly has appeared in a huge number of acting roles since 1984, and her filmography is extremely impressive. By the early 1990s, she had established herself as a recognized Hollywood figure and had appeared in titles including Shadow of the Wolf and Made in America

Perhaps her earliest success story was her role as Olive Neal in Woody Allen's 1994 hit Bullets Over Broadway, earning her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She then went on to land various roles in comedy movies in the 1990s, notably alongside Jim Carey in the 1997 hit, Liar Liar. 

Although Tilly earned her stripes as a popular dramatic and comedic actress in her early years, it's her portrayal of serial killer Tiffany Valentine that many of her fans remember her for. She has featured prominently in Don Mancini's Child's Play and Chucky series, and she was nominated for the MTV Movie Award for Best "Scared-As-Shit" Performance in 2021. 

Away from the big screen, Tilly holds a recurring role in Family Guy, voicing Peter Griffin's neighbor, Bonnie. She also played a starring role in the sitcom Out of Practice alongside Henry Winkler, and when the show was canceled in 2006, she started focusing more on her other passion – poker. 

Jennifer Tilly's impressive poker career 

While Tilly got the acting bug from her mother, she took her passion for poker from her father, who was a gambler and poker player when Jennifer was growing up. In fact, she credits her father with introducing her to the World Series of Poker video game, which gave her the platform to learn the ropes, beginning with understanding the poker hand rankings.

By the early 2000s, Tilly was already a household name thanks to her acting career, and her first big play in the world of poker came in 2005, when she won her first and only World Series of Poker bracelet in the Ladies' No-Limit Texas hold'em event, earning $158,625 in prize money at the same time. 

The following year, she finished third in the Celebrity Poker Showdown on the Bravo network, and went on to compete in the GSN Poker Royale Series. Initially, it seemed as if Jennifer Tilly's poker career would be short-lived, as she surprised everyone by announcing her retirement in 2008.

However, it wasn't long until she had a change of heart. By the start of 2010, Tilly confirmed that she would be resuming her poker career, confirming to BLUFF Magazine that she was "back in the saddle" and she was back "from a one-year hiatus from playing poker."

She claims that her year out helped her reprioritize her professional commitments, and she has gone on to achieve great things in the game ever since. 

In 2014, she was nominated for PokerListing's Spirit of Poker Living Legend Award, and she has amassed in excess of $1,000,000 in poker earnings since the start of her career, putting her within the top 2,500 in the all-time money list.

Her biggest haul remains that World Series of Poker triumph in 2005, but she also won $124,455 in the July 2010 $5,000 + 180 No Limit Hold 'em game in the Bellagio Cup VI in Las Vegas, the second-biggest win of her career.

Tilly remains active on the poker circuit to this day and is still earning credits on the big and small screens, reprising her role as Tiffany Valentine in the 2021 Chucky release.

She's also active on Twitter, offering fun observations on entertainment and poker.

Relationship with Phil Laak 

Jennifer Tilly was initially married to Sam Simon, producer of The Simpsons, but the pair split in 1991. Following their divorce settlement, it was revealed that Tilly would receive 30% of the net proceeds from the estate that Simon receives from Fox. 

In 2004, Tilly announced that she had started a relationship with professional poker player Phil Laak. Laak also has one World Series of Poker bracelet, and he has 21 money finishes on the circuit. 

The pair aren't married, but they're certainly among poker's most glamorous couples and have gone on record to support one another's careers. Poker fans might know them as the Unabomber and the Unabombshell – nicknames they have been given in the industry. 

Recap: Jennifer Tilly, poker star

Jennifer Tilly's poker career has been as impressive as her acting career, having amassed more than $1,000,000 in tournament wins since 2005.

From Chucky to the World Series of Poker, Tilly's talents are endless, and there's undoubtedly more to come from this poker legend and well-known actress.

Feature image: WPT under Creative Commons