Jerry, Marcus, Lonnie, and Renzo are four degenerate gamblers on Luck who’ve won the Pick Six, bought a racehorse, and now live in adjoining rooms at a motel, forming an odd sort of family. But even though they’ve hit the big score, Jerry (played by Jason Gedrick) seems to be on the verge of losing it: On last night’s episode [spoiler alert], he blew his share of the winnings at the poker table and required rescue from his friends. Gedrick called up Vulture to chat about gambling addicts, his poker tell, and betting with show creator David Milch.
Jerry’s an expert handicapper and a poker player to boot. What’s your experience with gambling?
My real understanding of Jerry comes from actually going to poker halls and watching those dramatic swings of fortune: Some people have these huge, huge stacks of chips, and they just dwindle away. I would watch how difficult it was for them to separate those chips from their self-worth, so they keep coming back, in the hopes of becoming a winner again. It’s all about your self-perception in the big scheme of life, which is why it’s never enough, even when they do win. I’ve watched people get a big score, and their first thought is, “If I had bet more, I would have won more.” The bottom line is that it’s not even about the money, it’s about the chase.
Which explains why Jerry keeps allowing this other poker player, Leo Chan, to goad him, even if it’s a dangerous situation.
He’s definitely got some intuition about how to push my buttons. You’re not supposed to get rattled in poker; you’re supposed to remain poker-faced! [Laughs.] But it becomes a very primal confrontation, because he’s offending or insulting or threatening my masculinity on some level, and he’s keyed in on the fact that my self-evaluation is pretty low. It’s a good bet for him to rile me, because then he’s got me working on a level where I’m not thinking rationally, and he can take it all, whereas the horses don’t need anything from Jerry. He just sees them as these majestic animals who are born to run, born to race, and he sees the beauty of their stride, their gait. It’s his degenerate nirvana, where he can shut out the rest of the world. For some people, it’s golf; for Jerry, it’s the track. That’s when he’s most lucid, when he’s watching the horses.
The way you’re describing Jerry is how some people describe David Milch.
He’s definitely a real-life Jerry to some extent. When we went to the track together on a couple of occasions, boy! Before the race, he’s a mastermind going over the forms, the racing forms, and he’s calculating how he wants to bet on multiple races. One minute you’re sitting there not knowing what he’s talking about — it’s like Chinese algebra — and then he goes off and makes his bets. Watching him bet is like jazz or rap: There’s a rhythm to it, but it’s kind of wild. And then he comes back ten minutes later and gives us each a ticket — an $800 ticket, because he had placed bets for each of us and we had all won. Even just watching him watch the race, his excitement, he said some things that I put in the show when I’m urging a horse on to victory. There’s this moment, this current of poetry that goes through everybody — the horse, the jockey, the bettors — and it’s almost like a sexual experience. You’ve got the foreplay, the lead-up, the midrace, this climax, and there’s a ton of shouting and elation — at least, when it’s good, it’s elating. [Laughs.] Everybody’s got something at stake, and it’s an amazing moment.
Speaking of Chinese algebra: Some people have said Luck is difficult to follow. But if you stick with it, will watching Luck will make you better at gambling? What are the odds?
It’s a long shot, 46 to one. You’re not going to get better at the horses solely from watching the show! [Laughs.] You’ll get introduced to it, and to creative ways of making bets, and you’ll learn to spend more attention on the trainers, the buyers, the previous races, the bloodline of the horse. You’ll learn that you really, really have to invest the time and effort. This is just getting your feet wet. I mean, I can understand it more clearly now, the terminology. Not to the point where I’d stake large sums of money on multiple races. I might make a small wager, like a two-dollar bet on a double, which means betting on two concurrent races. I’ve done that, and won like sixteen dollars; that’s not bad!
But you don’t need to know the jargon. It’s like House: I don’t know what he’s talking about when he’s siphoning this, or doing some cardio-thoracic that, but I know he’s trying to save someone’s life. It’s really more about the people. You know what made Tony Soprano so interesting? One of my favorite moments of The Sopranos was when he was so overwhelmed by his entire world, and he’s sitting in his boxers in front of the TV, just flipping channels, vegging out, because he had to decompress in some way.
If you’re playing poker, do you have a tell?
Now, why would I tell a tell? [Laughs.] Okay, I’ll tell you: The fourth toe on my left foot twitches a little bit. So now you know you need to focus on my Vans if you’re playing with me.