Set on shuffle: Actor Pollak mixes movie, TV roles with poker, stand-up comedy

Brian Mackey

When most actors want to get back to their roots, they schedule a stint in a play.

But for Kevin Pollak, the actor best known for roles in movies such as “A Few Good Men” and “The Usual Suspects,” that sort of relief comes from a return to stand-up comedy.

“Stand-up was always so much more difficult and so much more rewarding, quite frankly, because of the instant gratification,” said Pollak, who performs at Donnie B.’s Funny Bone in Springfield this weekend.

“And also more importantly, living and dying by your own wits on a moment-to-moment basis in front of a group of strangers is not only a daunting task, but clearly the most rewarding in the performing arts, as far as I’m concerned.”

Pollak, who recently had a role on the late CBS-TV program “Shark,” said being a movie actor comes down to a 12-hour workday in which “you’re sitting on your butt for 11 of those 12 hours.”

“The work itself — when you’re actually in front of the camera — is sporadic throughout the course of the day in little five-, 10-minute increments. It’s unbelievably rewarding and exciting, and then you go back and sit in the trailer for two hours while they set up a shot. It’s really very bizarre in terms of a work-reward job.

“Whereas (with) stand-up, you’re the writer, the editor, the choreographer, the director, the performer — and you get all the blame and all the kudos. That responsibility and that challenge, just mathematically, is always going to be more fulfilling,” Pollak said.

Pollack said he hasn’t toured extensively since the release of “A Few Good Men” in 1992, in which Pollak plays a Navy lawyer with a cast that included Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon and Kiefer Sutherland.

“As an actor, that was a big turning point where I went from having to audition to getting offers. For any actor, that’s representative of a goal line of sorts,” Pollak said.

“And having crossed it, it was an understandably exciting time in my life, as a comedian who fantasized about being a legitimate actor, which had suddenly happened.”

In his free time, Pollak said, the poker variant Texas Hold ’Em has become “a goodly part of my life.”

He had been playing seven-card stud in casinos and home games for 15 years before a friend asked him to host “Celebrity Poker Showdown” in 2003 on the Bravo cable channel.

“In fact, for the record, I only did six episodes, which is hard for most people to believe, because initially, when Bravo did the short, six-episode series, they then re-ran it maybe 10,000 times,” Pollak said.

Through that gig, he learned the game of Texas Hold ’Em, which he said he still regularly plays at home games and elsewhere. (“There’s a couple of poker speakeasies that have popped up in Los Angeles that I may or may not frequent,” Pollak said.)

But despite his obvious love of the game, don’t expect to see Pollak in the World Series of Poker anytime soon.

He said he’s played in about seven tournaments and made the final table in three, but can’t stand playing for hours and hours and then being thrown out after one bad hand.

“I like the idea that I can make mistakes and continue playing,” Pollak said.

He said that being in show business has helped his card playing.

“You’re gambling with your own future, and you’re taking chances all the time. And certainly for an actor, you’d better learn how to bluff pretty early,” Pollak said.

It can be problematic, too, as people who recognize him often either come gunning for him or assume he’s bluffing all the time.

But Pollak is not complaining.

“It’s kind of a duty of my career, if I could be so bold,” Pollak said. “You’ve heard of, ‘It’s lonely at the top’? Well I’m here to tell you it’s fantastic in the middle.

“I can walk down the street, people don’t want a piece of my hair, but I can still get a nice table at a nice restaurant.”

Brian Mackey can be reached at (217) 747-9587 orbrien.mackey@sj-r.com.

KEVIN POLLAK

When: 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: Donnie B’s Funny Bone, 2937 West White Oaks Drive

* Tickets: $27 and $25, call (217) 391-5653. Must be at least 21 years old (ages 17-20 with parent or guardian).