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Eric Bana was cast in the central role of audacious poker player Huck Cheever, and Curtis Hanson says that the actor came with an uncompromising approach to his work that made him perfect for the role. "Like Huck, Eric Bana is a blaster; he came at his part full out. During the rehearsal period, he not only worked on his scenes but immersed himself in learning the game of poker. He is a true chameleon. Unlike many actors who twist characters to fit their own personalities and characteristics, I think Eric looks at each part as an opportunity to truly become someone else.”

In becoming Huck Cheever, Bana says that he developed an insight into what drives his character. "I think Huck has competitive juices flying through his system so the world of poker really suits his personality and his lifestyle. He enjoys it; it gives him a sense of purpose, but he's so immersed in that world that, really, nothing else exists for him. I think other people believe he could be one of the great poker players if he could keep his head together, but I'm not sure he knows himself what his true potential is. In a way, he was born to be a poker player, but he needs to sort out other elements in his life if he is going to take his game to the next level.”

Huck's innate ability at the poker table and his seeming inability to reach his potential can both be traced back to one "element” in his life: his strained relationship with his father, L.C. Cheever, a maverick poker player in whose shadow Huck has always lived and played. "Huck is haunted by his father's reputation in the poker world,” Bana comments. "We see his behavior change when L.C. is around. He's a much more secure player when his father is not around and becomes a little hotheaded when L.C. is present. It definitely has an effect on him.”

In what the filmmakers agree was something of a casting coup, Academy Award winner Robert Duvall stars in the role of L.C. Cheever. "We wanted L.C. to be an almost iconic figure, so the choice of Robert Duvall to bring him to life was an easy one,” states Hanson. "He brought all of his creative power to the role, beautifully establishing the essence of the man—fiercely competitive, tough and intimidating, both as a father and as a player.”

Duvall is only half joking when he says that he didn't know the difference between a flush and a straight when he was approached to play the role of a great poker champion. "I really didn't know if I could do this part because there was so much to learn. But it was a very sophisticated script—very smart and very accurate—and Curtis is a talented director, so I thought it would be interesting. I wish I could have gotten the script six months earlier, though, because I almost had to decode it, but I did my research and now I understand the game…somewhat.”

Duvall, however, needed no help understanding the dynamic between L.C. and Huck, saying, "A lot of animosity has built up between them, especially on Huck's part because of certain things that have happened in the past. But L.C. hasn't given up on them at all; throughout the movie he tries to reach out to Huck.”

Denise Di Novi notes, "The father-son relationship was always important to the story, but once Robert Duvall was cast, it became even more meaningful because he's such a brilliant actor and added so much dimension to it. To me, that aspect of the story is something every adult can relate to, because it's about how you can't really move on with your life and have a successful relationship until you deal with the baggage that you carry from your parents, which we all must do.”

Seeming to bear out that theory, Huck's romantic entanglements have been limited to brief flirtations and casual affairs with no promise, or even hope, of any long-term commitments. However, all that seems about to change with the arriva

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