You don’t need to be a poker fanatic like myself to enjoy the new documentary All In: The Poker Movie, which opens at New York’s Cinema Village today and is available on video on demand on April 24. But if you are a cards fiend, you’ll appreciate the all-star interviewees featured in director Douglas Tirola’s film, from poker greats such as Phil Hellmuth and Amarillo Slim to other players and icons like Matt Damon, Ira Glass, Kenny Rogers, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Ingrid Weber, who worked as a manager at the Rounders-inspiring Mayfair Club and who — full disclosure — has also dealt one or two (thousand) hands to yours truly.
While Tirola’s movie looks at the roots and development of the game in the 19th and 20th centuries, its real focus is the poker boom of the last decade. That explosion was in large part inspired by Chris Moneymaker, a restaurant accountant who stunned everyone by winning the 2003 World Series of Poker after honing his card skills online.
The day after a New York preview screening of All-In, Tirola and the amiably acerbic Moneymaker — who is featured in the film — talked about the documentary, the game, and why this writer apparently has “easy money” written all over him.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This movie has a long production history. In fact, I believe you started working on it around the time poker was being invented…
DOUGLAS TIROLA: [Laughs]
Why did you want to make a documentary about poker in the first place?
DT: I love poker. I was taught by my grandparents to play. I liked the game and I liked the aura around the game. I liked the movie versions: The Cincinnati Kid, the scene in The Sting, the scene in House of Games. But the origin for making this movie really came about when we were traveling on another film around 2008 and on JetBlue they were playing Chris’ run in the World Series. And that led me to find out how much poker was on TV.
At that time it was really at its peak: Travel Channel, Bravo, E!. Seeing how it was really permeating the culture, I decided I wanted to make a movie about poker. I decided to tell the Malcolm Gladwell “tipping point” story. How did poker have this renaissance? How did it go from being something that was associated with kids that can’t get a date on Friday night to something you associate with Matt Damon and George Clooney?
A lot of that renaissance has to do with you, Chris. What kind of thoughts did you have when you were approached about appearing in the film?
CHRIS MONEYMAKER: I didn’t have any thoughts about it. Some guy called me and wanted to do a documentary. I’m like, “Yeah, whatever.” I mean, movie’s never gonna be made anyway. This is six years ago. He comes out to the house. I set up a nice little home game for him. I bust first so I have the pleasure of talking with him. He leaves and I don’t hear from him for years. Then finally I get a phone call: “Hey, this movie might get made. You wanna be part of it?”
When did you first see the film?
CM: Last night. I liked it a lot. I was critical of myself. I don’t like the way I ever appear on TV.
You look much trimmer now than you do in the movie. Might there be a Chris Moneymaker weight-loss video coming down the pipe to go with your Poker for Dummies DVD?
CM: You put me on the TV, I’d probably look the same. You saying I’m fat?
No! But in the movie, you do use the word “degenerate” to describe your early gambling career.
CM: Yeah, I was. It’s a fact. But Doug did a fantastic job of telling my story. I had no idea what to expect. I honestly thought this movie started in 2003 and went to current day. I didn’t know it went back to 1800s or whatever. I actually learned a lot, which is cool.
When I mentioned to one of my non-poker-playing colleagues that I was interviewing Chris Moneymaker, she asked, “What’s his real name?” But that is in fact your real name, right?
CM: That is my real name. It was German originally. It was Nurmacher. They made silver and gold coins and when they went to England, they just translated it to Moneymaker.
Douglas, as All In makes clear, the story of poker is a vast and sprawling one. Was it hard to keep the movie down to a reasonable length?
DT: It was extremely hard to cut it down. I approached it as if poker was almost like a character, a human being, and this is the biopic. So there’s a history and it’s also that pop-culture history, seeing all the places poker shows up and reminding people that it’s always been there, even if you weren’t thinking about it. So I knew we had to have Kenny Rogers in the movie — not that he has anything to do with the technical part of the game, but from the ’70s until the mid-’80s, “The Gambler” is part of the history of poker. People forget, there were five movies-of-the-week based on that song. Dogs playing poker — everybody knows that image whether they like poker or not. So I felt that needed to be in the movie.
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