In episode four of the first season of 'Luck,' Marcus fakes being near death, as a way to get Lonnie and Renzo to retrieve Jerry from the private poker game with Leo Chan.
Your character is the one person we really see in the throes of a gambling addiction on the show.
Especially in this episode.
How did you get inside what drives Jerry to this dark place?
I had a broad-strokes conversation with David Milch about who Jerry was and what he's capable and incapable of. The gambling and degree to which someone self-destructs or implodes or starts the decline into that addiction is really just a symptom of one's self worth. When we got into shooting the gambling, that was my own personal research. I never really gambled - certainly not playing poker. I'd casually bet on a football game or joined a pool. But I really wanted to capture desperation. The hope that people walk into poker halls with and the despair they leave with was something I researched by actually visiting these poker halls.
With Jerry and the other Degenerates, it's almost as if the money isn't what they're after, it's something else.
With gamblers it's never enough. You keep thinking on a conscious level that the prize is whatever the pot is. In poker, you may have a certain goal for the day. But the truth is, as soon as you win, more often than not the first thing that comes to mind is: If I'd bet more, I would have won more. What you're really chasing is a moment of vitality, of worth. Some may connect that to some kind of self-love or value. But the chase is not about the money, it's saying "I'm worth living my life." And for some who are gambling addicts, "I'm worthy of not taking myself out."
As we come out on top, it's hard to accept the victory. For people that are degenerates, if you've spent so much time feeling a certain way, it's actually uncomfortable to feel like a winner. The familiarity of losing is, in an inverse way, comforting. At least you know where you stand.
When Lonnie and Renzo come into Chan's private poker game how hard is it for Jerry to leave that table, given he's losing?
Once you get on one of those chasing jags - in poker they call it going on tilt - you start making careless mistakes and taking much bigger risks, you stop considering the other variables. It becomes a twisted kind of kismet where you think: you're either fated to turn this thing around now, or fated to lose now. That's where magical thinking comes into play. So much has to go right to win big, so you start thinking in terms of fate: I'm destined to win today, or I'm destined to be a loser for life. That chase, when you're in the middle of it, it's a chemical experience. Your adrenaline is flowing. Physically, you get a much more intense chemical experience when you lose than when you win. It may not be as joyful, but what flows through your veins is a much more intense experience and there's an unconscious addiction to that as well. So when you're caught up in that, and you've got your ego caught up in that, you make the biggest mistake in poker of making it personal: One guy is talking trash to you so you get vindictive and want to retaliate with the next hand or the hand after that. It becomes very primal. You're defending not just yourself but your life. It's a lot about mortality. That's the one thing I'm learning: There's so much about life and death. Losing a hand or tapping out, you die. And winning a hand, you've got more vitality. So when Lonnie and Renzo enter, Jerry's in the midst of a very primal, defensive and ego-driven spell.
So what gets him to walk away?
The great thing about Jerry that David Milch has afforded him is humanity. As deeply and intently as Jerry is chasing the dragon, once it's clear to him that there is really something wrong with one of his pack members - whether it's a family through the attrition of some sort of common degenerate-ness, or a rationalization that these are the real salt-of-the-earth people-- when he hears there is something wrong, he's able to break out of that spell. It may be a smidgen of humanity that's in this guy, but it's a very potent smidgen. And when that nerve is touched, it's not a matter of choice. It's what Jerry has to do, in spite of his own personal demons and needs.