On the Button: A poker Q&A with Mars Callahan

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Mars Callahan is an actor, director, writer and producer from California. He’s probably most known for his work on the classic hustler film, Poolhall Junkies. As a teen actor, he appeared on the hit shows Growing Pains, Facts of Life and Wonder Years. In 2011, he cashed in 94th place in the World Series of Poker Main Event for $64,531 and his upcoming projects include a sequel to Poolhall called Poker Junkies. Mike Owens caught up with Callahan to talk Junkies, poker and his main-event run.

When did you develop an interest in poker? I first started playing poker in a weekly game at my friend George’s house. Quarter, 50-cent dollar, dealer’s choice versions of seven-card stud. Nobody had really ever even heard of hold’em at that time. Lot of famous people came through that game, before, during and after their heights of popularity.

Do you get recognized at the tables right away? Sometimes, but usually it takes a second and then the reactions are pretty funny.

Can you talk a little bit about your deep run in the 2011 main event? It’s a really funny story. I was donking around on Day 1 and then in the last hand right before the dinner break this kid who was trying to pretend to be my friend all day tried to angle shoot on me. I’m in the big blind, he’s in the small blind and everyone else had folded. He makes a motion like he’s going to fold leaving me with a walk and I flash my hand showing him I have a big hand. Anyway, he doesn’t actually muck and instead he raises me. I call and say. “What are you doing?” The flop comes improving my hand and this ass fires out in front of me again. I call again and say, “What the f— are you doing? I just showed you my hand, are your f—ing kidding me?” The turn comes an overcard and he fires out again. I call and the river is an ace, another overcard. He shoves and I have to muck wanting to kill him. He shows a stone-cold bluff four-high and I go on super tilt to the dinner break. I was so pissed that I played so fearless and so aggressive that I absolutely steamrolled the table and ended the day chipleader at my table and that fueled my deep run.

What did you do to prepare for your role as Johnny Doyle in Poolhall Junkies? My preparation for Poolhall Junkies was my whole life. I lived the life of a pool player for many years and so when it came time to play the part the only thing I had to do was not to try and do anything that wasn’t natural. Just to let it flow and let the game come to me. Pretty easy to say and pretty tough to do when you have to carry the film and hold your own alongside Christopher Walken, Rod Steiger and Chazz Palminteri. But they were all very supportive and they all helped me tremendously.

Do you consider yourself a hustler? No. Because I used to use the old double-reverse psychology on them. I told everybody that I played that I was going to beat them so badly that they’d never be able to show their face in the poolroom ever again and this made them want to beat me so bad that it would take them out of their comfort zone and when they lost they could never say I hustled them because I just finished telling them I was going to beat them when we started.

What was it like working with Christopher Walken? Highlight of my career. Dream come true. Can’t wait to work with him again.

Can you tell us about your upcoming film Poker Junkies? It will be better than Poolhall Junkies and that’s all I can say right now. We’re keeping these cards very close to the vest.

Who are you most looking forward to working with on a film? Clint Eastwood. No question.

What’s the best poker scene in a movie? It hasn’t been made yet. But it will be in Poker Junkies; I guarantee it.

Are you working on any other projects right now? I’m also working on Poker Junkies the television series. Think Entourage but set in Vegas and in the poker world.

If you could invite any person living or dead to your home game, who would you choose and why? I have two. Steve McQueen for all the obvious reasons and Stu Ungar for all the even more obvious ones.