She’s made a career of playing ditzy, girlishly voiced characters like the gangster moll in Bullets Over Broadway and the bride of a killer doll in the Chucky films. But off screen, Jennifer Tilly is a card shark who’s outsmarted some of the best players in Las Vegas! “I was obsessed with becoming a grand master of poker, and had a pivot moment when I won my [2005 World Series of Poker] gold bracelet where I thought, ‘I love acting, but do I really want to act for the rest of my life?’” Jennifer, 61, exclusively reveals to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “So now I’m doing both! I think life is all about balance.”
The Oscar-nominated actress finds harmony at home with her partner of 16 years, poker champ Phil Laak, 47. “He’s a great guy,” she says. As she stars in two upcoming indie films and reprises her most popular role on the upcoming Syfy series Chucky, we met up with Jennifer at the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Red Dress Collection show in February to hear her amazing journey.
Scroll below to read our exclusive Q&A with Jennifer!
What was it like to land an Oscar nomination for Bullets Over Broadway?
Well, nobody thought I was going to get nominated. [Harvey Weinstein] was pushing Dianne Wiest in the supporting actress category, so I had to buy ads and do my own campaign! So it felt like this testament to my sheer perseverance.
How would you rate these costars: John Cusack, Jeff Bridges and Chucky?
I don’t want him to kill me, but Chucky is the most annoying. I think of him as a person, because his puppeteers are always working. In between takes, he’s walking around, sticking his finger in food at craft services or grabbing me. Jeff Bridges is amazing. I believe in the trickledown theory on set: If the guys at the top are a–holes, everybody kicks the person below them, but Jeff is terrific to everybody. I love John Cusack — he was great to work with because he would give as good as he got.
You have a distinctive voice. Would you say it was more a help or a hindrance?
When I started, I was doing this breathy Marilyn Monroe, little girl thing, but it was sort of a trick voice. It was a weird crutch, like I couldn’t act without it. And when I did [1994’s] The Getaway, the director cleared the set and said, “I want you to talk in your normal voice.” And I said, “I literally cannot.” He’s like, “Of course you can — that voice you were talking in before you started acting.” And I said, “All the attributes I plug into the characters, this is the voice that comes out, I can’t force it.” But now I have more of a husky, wispy voice, a lot lower. It’s a good voice for cartoons. I play Bonnie on Family Guy, and a  series based on Monsters, Inc., [Disney+’s] Monsters at Work, so I’m doing a lot of that voice now.
Not everyone realizes that Meg Tilly is your younger sister, do they?
She was on her way to becoming a prima ballerina, but she hurt her back and couldn’t dance. I had a BFA in theater, and she’s like, “I’ll become an actress.” I felt a bit superior, like, “I’ve trained all my life!” Then three months later she was starring in [1982’s Tex] with Matt Dillon, and it took me a couple more years to get my feet off the ground. But I feel very fortunate that both of us became successful. We were both nominated for Oscars and love acting.
Meg’s spoken about the physical and sexual abuse she says she suffered from male relatives and acquaintances. Have you consoled her about it?
Well, we all suffered it. We just put our big-girl pants on and tried to get through. I think she’s sort of worked through her issues. But I’d say [Meg, Becky and I] are really lucky that we had sisters. We support each other, talk about things that happened, and we’re all there for each other. It made us very close.
Have you talked about the abuse like Meg, or is it something that you will do?
It’s all kind of in the past, but we were all there. Everybody knew what was going on.
You were married to the late co-creator of The Simpsons, Sam Simon, from 1984 to ’91. What did you learn from it?
I loved him very much. I think we married too young. And you have to grow together. It’s like having a car: You have to put gas and oil in and tune it up, so I’m always taking the temperature of my relationship with Phil and saying, “Where are we? How can I help? How can we improve?” When Sam got terminal cancer about five years ago, Phil and I were there all the time. He really loved Phil, and I would take him to get chemo. I took two years off to be with him, because I felt the most important thing was to pay him back for the things that he’d done for me. I’m sad that it didn’t work out, but Phil’s a great guy.
How did you and Phil meet?
At a poker tournament! I went out with him because I thought it’d be good to know a great player to take around to casinos. Phil was very good about teaching me how to really up my game.
Any regrets about not having kids?
I never wanted children. Once I dreamt I was on my way to the Oscars and babies were grabbing me: “Mommy, don’t go!” I was like, “I’m late!” I felt you could have a career or babies, not both. But now sometimes I go, “I forgot to have a baby,” because I think they’re cute. Phil says, “We can always adopt.” But I’d be 80 years old when it’s 20.
What’s up next for you?
I’ve finished two films: High Holidays with Cloris Leachman, and another with Sally Kirkland that’s a satirical story about her career. And we’re doing a Chucky TV series. I’m going to be playing Tiffany until I’m 90!
Do you have any mottos?
Every day Phil and I say we’re so lucky we’re healthy. So it’s probably to be grateful, appreciate things you have, live in the moment and make an effort to be with people you love.
For more on Jennifer, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!