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Matt Damon collects his winnings in "Rounders"

'Rounders' cast has high hopes for movie's success

Web posted on: Thursday, September 10, 1998 3:46:23 PM

From Correspondent Sherri Sylvester

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- From magazines to entertainment shows, "Rounders" is the hot topic at the end-of-summer box office.

The film that tells the price of friendship in New York's underground poker scene stars a blend of the hottest young actors in Hollywood. Matt Damon is still riding high on "Good Will Hunting"'s success and his experience starring in Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan"; Edward Norton has wowed critics with his incredible acting range, melting from murderer in "Primal Fear" to comedic suitor in "Everyone Says I Love You"; and Gretchen Mol wowed just about everyone with her revealing picture on the cover of this month's Vanity Fair and the magazine's assertion that she could be the next "it" girl.

CNN's Sherri Sylvester interviews Matt Damon on card sharks and the acting life
(full interview, 9 min.)

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But the success of the movie -- about a reformed gambler (Damon), now in law school, who must win a high-stakes poker game to pay off his friend's (Norton) debt -- could hinge on the hard work of all three stars, and their belief in the picture.

Becoming the role

In preparing for their roles, Damon and Norton became hooked on the card game and went so far as to live in the role of the poker player, which took them to the World Championship Poker Tournament in Las Vegas.

"People who make a living playing poker and in that world, it's not quite as sexy as it sounds," says Damon.

"There was this one guy who used to come into this one club all the time," recalls Norton, "and he had these glasses and one of them had a bullet hole through it like it was shattered, and he never got it fixed in the months that I went into this place."

Some famous poker faces can be seen at the card table

'Play the man'

To create believable poker scenes, complete with tense stares and plenty of bluffing, director John Dahl chose some industry heavyweights to play along with Norton and Damon: John Malkovich, John Turturro and Martin Landau.

Damon says he enjoyed the psychology of the poker face, and in his studies of poker players, he found an ace that he could keep.

"Play the man, not the cards," he says. "Some people even choose to play blind. They don't even look at their cards because it's about whatever everyone else is doing at the table and you can figure out what somebody's got based on how well you read them."

Theatrical preview for "Rounders"

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Clip: "Old School Games"

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But how do you translate "reading people" to the excitement of the big screen?

"Matt and I talked about that when we first started," says director Dahl. "He said, 'How do we convey the emotion in this story if i've got to be poker-faced?' I think really, if you think about being poker-faced, it's being a good actor."


Mol star rising

Mol, meantime, plays Damon's girlfriend and the one who tries to convince him to leave behind his card shark past for a future in the courtroom.

"The sort of similarities between being a poker player with a poker face and a lawyer and an actor -- all three of those things -- you really have to be able to stand up and sort of put on an act of sorts and you have to believe in it," says Mol.

For Mol, "Rounders" is just the start of a string of performances as a leading lady on the big screen. She will be seen next in Woody Allen's "Celebrity."

Damon, of course, has his pick of roles since hitting it big with childhood pal Ben Affleck in "Good Will Hunting," a movie that earned the actors a best screenplay Oscar.

And Norton is gaining steam and hoping his latest performance as the down-on-his-luck gambler leads to more acclaim, and more roles.

"Rounders" opens on Friday.

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