By Vin Narayanan
The Oscar ceremony Sunday prompted a fair amount of debate in the Casino City editorial offices over which celebrities would make good poker players. We excluded the likes of Jen Tilly, James Woods, Tobey Maguire, Shannon Elizabeth, Ben Affleck and others who have all established their bona fides, and instead focused on celebrities we’ve never seen play. The list below is a fun look at who would do well. Next week, we’ll take a look at celebrities we DON’T think will make good poker players.
10. Kevin Spacey
As one of the best character actors in Hollywood, Spacey clearly has the acting chops to be a good poker player. He won Oscars for his roles in American Beauty and The Usual Suspects. He knows more than a little bit about gambling thanks to his starring role in the upcoming 21. And his acting range — and authenticity — will make him difficult to read at the table. But its Spacey’s smarts that landed him on this list. He is a walking film history wikipedia. And if he could combine that brain with his acting skills at the table, he’d be hard to beat.
9. Demi Moore
Anyone that’s seen G.I. Jane knows Moore has the tenacity and toughness needed to survive at the poker table. And after seeing her in Striptease (and stripping for Letterman), there’s no doubt that she’s willing to take some crazy risks as well. And that’s a great combination on the felt.
8. Scarlett Johansson
Johansson is possibly the best character actress of her generation. She knows how to get so deep into a role that you completely forget it’s Scarlett Johansson on the screen. It’s unreal. And she has that old Hollywood feel that fits in nicely at the poker table.
7. Nicolas Cage
Nicolas Cage is a freak — and I mean that in a good way. Don’t believe me? Well, even Cage admits he’s a bit „different“. „I am not a demon. I am a lizard, a shark, a heat-seeking panther. I want to be Bob Denver on acid playing the accordion.“ Now tell me, would you want to play against that in a poker game. I didn’t think so.
6. Cameron Diaz
In addition to being a good actress, Diaz is tough and has a pretty impressive competitive streak. According to the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), Diaz has broken her nose four times — including once while trying to surf in Hawaii — and her wrist once. „I grew up with a lot of boys,“ Diaz says on IMDB. „I probably have a lot of testosterone for a woman.“
„I would kiss a frog even if there were no promise of a Prince Charming popping out of it,“ Diaz also said. „I love frogs. I’d lick him.“ Yep, she’d fit right in at most poker tables.
5. Denzel Washington
Washington is the type of guy everyone wants at their home-game. He appears to be an fun, affable sports fan — he actively roots for the Knick and the Yankees — that can easily pull off all the moves needed to be a successful poker player. When he needs to be tough and mean at the table, he can tap into his Frank Lucas character from American Gangster. When he wants to be smooth, channel his Inside Man and Devil in a Blue Dress roles. And when he goes all in at the end to knock you out of the game, he’ll summon a quiet, dignified, steely resolve that’s all Denzel. Yes, indeed. I think he would be a lot of fun to have at the table.
4. George Clooney
Everything Clooney touches turns into gold. And there’s no reason why poker shouldn’t be any different. His easy-going style and quick-witted charm would instantly make him a favorite at any poker table. His quirky charm and sense of humor will disarm fellow players and ensure people will never know if he’s bluffing or not. Combine that with a rare sort of persona that allows people to feel privileged losing money to Clooney and you get an unstoppable force on the felt.
3. Natalie Portman
Don’t underestimate this young actress. Sure, she looked like she couldn’t act her way out of paper bag in those awful Star Wars prequels. But there isn’t an actress out there that could have saved that role. Instead, look at her Oscar-nominated turn in Closer and note just how brilliant and nuanced she can be. Combine that with her Harvard degree in psychology and a love for math — she told Scholastic Math Magazine that „it is the less obviously practical parts of math that are most fun for me — like considering the principles of infinity“ — and you get a person who can easily grasp the finer points of poker and dominate.
2. Sir Anthony Hopkins
Can anyone reading this imagine Phil Hellmuth or Sam Farha trying run over Hannibal Lecter on the felt? I sure couldn’t. And that’s why he’s No. 2 on the list.
1. Danica McKellar
McKellar, who starred as Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years and later played a speech writer on The West Wing has the perfect background for succeeding in poker. You see, McKellar doesn’t just like math the way Natalie Portman does. McKellar has a degree in mathematics from UCLA. And, as an undergraduate, she co-authored a proof that appeared in a British mathematical physics journal and presented the findings at a statistical mechanics conference at Rutgers University. The combination of math and acting is ideal for a poker player. It’s the reason Vanessa Rousso is brilliant. And if McKellar puts her mind to it, I have no doubt that she would find herself at the top of the poker world in a hurry.