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THE MOVIE: The Grand

Woody Harrelson • Cheryl Hines • Ray Romano • Chris Parnell

Woody Harrelson, Chris Parnell and Cheryl Hines THE CONCEPT:
Improvisational comedy set in the world of professional poker that follows six players who reach the final table at the world’s second most famous high stakes tournament.

U.S. RELEASE: March 21 2008, Limited • Rated: R


Zak Penn“The movie arose from my desire to do an improvised ensemble comedy. My friend Matt, who I play poker with, knew that I wanted to do something like that and he said, ‘What if you did something about the World Series of Poker, because if you look at the coverage [on TV], it’s really pretty interesting.’ It took me a day or two, and I said, ‘You’re right. That’s a great way to do this.’ So poker was almost the afterthought. It was ensemble improvised comedy, where should we set it? The stakes are built into the story. It’s very hard to do a plotty movie with this kind of improv; it’s really hard to keep all the subplots going, so poker was a good fit.”

CHRIS PARNELL (Harold Melvin):
Chris Parnell“There was a 27- to 30-page ‘scriptment’ that Zak sent us, which was the structure of the movie, the basic layout of it, and then when we would shoot something we would kind of have an idea of where we needed to get to and what needed to happen in the scene, but even that wasn’t always for sure.”

WOODY HARRELSON (One Eyed Jack Faro):
Woody Harrelson“After shooting I would go as myself and play poker, I didn’t stay in wardrobe or character. I was playing in little tournaments. You would think it would be one of those things where they’d be like, ‘We want to keep you in the game,’ but I found that they were really gunning for me. They wanted to be the guy that put me out.”

RAY ROMANO (Fred Marsh):
Ray Romano“Zak sent me the treatment for the movie and it was funny, I liked it, but the only role that was left was [Cheryl Hines’ character’s] husband. I was hoping I could play in the game. I was a fan of poker. I didn’t play that much, but I’d played in a couple of those celebrity tournaments. I watched the game all the time on TV. Since then, we started a home game, every couple of weeks. Cheryl plays, Jason Alexander, Brad Garrett and Teri Hatcher plays. Whenever Teri wins a big hand she stands up and hugs guys.”

“I read the outline, and when I knew it was an improvised comedy about poker, and I had to do it. I literally begged Zak to let me be a part of it. After we wrapped, because we shot in Vegas, we were staying at the Golden Nugget, we’d go and play poker until 2 am Dennis Farina liked to insult people, whether he had a good hand or not.”

PENN on not plotting out the final tournament:
“From the very first outline I said I didn’t know who was going to win, we were going to play it for real, whoever wins, wins. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be a fun way to do it?’ And the actors really responded to it. They thought it was a great idea. But I completely panicked once we got there. I said, ‘This is asinine. I can’t believe I’ve done this to myself. What if it’s boring?’ Then what I realized was that mathematically it was far more complicated to fix a poker tournament than I thought, and it was far more complicated to shoot each individual hand than it was to simply get a bunch of cameras and film the actors for four hours straight. Therefore we shot six alternate versions with all the actors. We could have shot it after the tournament was over, but I didn’t want to give away to anyone who wins or loses, so we had to shoot 12 different endings really.”

HARRELSON on why poker on TV is so popular:
“You get caught up in the excitement of it, you see what each person’s holding so you’re really looking at it from a vantage point of all the knowledge, so you’re going to see whether or not a person is going to be able to bluff; you get invested in it.”

“I watched it on TV for research for the movie; it seems like a lot of the top players enter into almost every hand, they just go for it, they play so aggressively.”

Written by Judy Sloane. Back to top

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Film Review, #695, May 2008 cover

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