Whatever Happened To Jennifer Tilly?

This sexy actress is best known for her sultry portrayal of characters in films such as Bound (1996), Liar Liar (1997), and Bride of Chucky (1998), but it's been a while since Jennifer Tilly has made an appearance on the big screen. She may be out of sight, but she certainly hasn't left our minds. What happened to this talented star?

Turns out she's got a mean poker face, an even meaner poker nickname, and has been plenty busy pursuing other avenues in showbiz both in the States and abroad. (Monsterpalooza, anyone?) And if you really must know, Tilly has been taking stock and reevaluating her career and life goals. Mr. Scorsese, she's waiting for your call, FYI.

But what has she been up to lately? And what's on the horizon for this fascinating Hollywood star and horror movie icon? Yes, more Chucky movies, of course, but there's more. We've got the skinny on the one and only Jennifer Tilly.

She knows when to hold 'em

That's right, Ms. Tilly became a professional poker player, and a good one at that. Strangely enough, it was acting that got her interested in poker in the first place. Starring in the 1989 comedy Let It Ride alongside David Johansen and Richard Dreyfuss, Tilly was drawn to the gambling aspect of the film, continuing to play cards with friends long after filming wrapped. The actress didn't enter a tournament until years later when she was convinced by her boyfriend, professional poker player Phil Laak.

Tilly became the first celebrity to win a world series poker tournament in 2005. No one was more surprised by how well she played than the actress herself. She credits Laak for her skills, telling CardPlayer.com (via Today), "When you're living with Phil, you kinda learn by osmosis. Even in the middle of the night, he wakes up screaming out poker terms. Most guys scream out other girls' names." Laak, known as "The Unabomber" around the poker table, has also inspired his lady's nickname: "The Unabombshell." It's not exactly politically correct, but it is kind of adorable.

Hey, isn't that…?

If you've seen any of Tilly's movies, you likely remember her one-of-a-kind, high-pitched, raspy voice. Not only is she the signature sound behind Chucky's doll bride in Bride of Chucky (1998) and Seed of Chucky (2004), but Tilly is also behind some famous animated characters. Bonnie Swanson, the endlessly pregnant wife of Joe Swanson and neighbor to the Griffins on Family Guy, is one of her most recognized personalities.

Her voice has also made appearances on The Simpsons, The Cleveland Show, and in Stuart Little (1999). If you're a fan of Monsters Inc. (2001), you might recognize her voice as that of Celia Mae, the adorable, snake-haired secretary who seems to have a thing for one-eyed monster Mike Wazowski.

Interestingly, Tilly's unique vocal register has come in handy for more than just landing acting work. Speaking with PokerNews in 2012, the actress revealed that over the phone, she's often mistaken for a child, which she uses to her advantage to get rid of annoying telemarketers. "Is your mother home?" they ask. "No," Tilly replies in an exaggerated youthful tone, leaving them quick to hang up and move onto their next call. Genius.

Broadway came calling

Tilly first appeared in the theatre production of One Shoe Off in 1993, a performance that won her a Theatre World Award and likely helped her get a leg up in Hollywood. After several successful movies, she returned to the stage, and In 2001, the actress was part of the all-female cast of the Broadway revival of The Women alongside Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon (Mary Haines). Playing right into her niche, Tilly assumed the role of Crystal Allen, the sultry mistress of Haines' husband. The part included a fully nude scene, which didn't sit well with some critics. The New York Times called Tilly's performance "too blatantly crude to be a persuasive man trap."

Tilly received a better review for her work in Grasses of a Thousand Colors in 2013, where she played another mistress. "The defiantly ripe sensuality and sandpaper voice of Ms. Tilly have never been better used," said The New York Times

Let's hope we see more stage time from Tilly in the future.

Her sitcom sputtered

In 2005, Tilly joined the cast of Out of Practice,  a comedic sitcom produced by Joe Keenan, formerly of Fraiser. The actress played a receptionist who became the focus of her boss' attention after getting breast implants. The boss, played by none other than Henry Winkler (aka The Fonz), was part of a dysfunctional family who banded together after he split from his wife.

Despite the show's prime placement in the time slot between the wildly successful Two and a Half Men and CSI: Miami, the series never found its footing, and was canceled after just one season.

The sitcom's subpar performance may have disproportionately affected Tilly, who told The Augusta Chronicle that she took the role "to remind people that she is first and foremost an actress," and that she hadn't fully traded her SAG card for a pair of dark sunglasses and a spot at the poker table just yet. Her character was even intended to be something of a star vehicle for Tilly, who was re-cast in favor of lesser-known actress Cindy Ambuehl when the showrunners decided to make the role more significant. "I guess I replaced somebody else, which I feel bad about," Tilly told The Augusta Chronicle.

Her quiet indie flicks stayed quiet

After making a name for herself in blockbuster horror movies, Tilly shifted gears, appearing in several indie films that were not well received. Among them was Return to Babylon (2013), a black and white project that paid homage to the famous faces of the silent films of the '20s. The movie is a sequel to Birth of Babylon (2001), an award-winning but lesser known silent film that depicted the unsolved murder of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor. Unfortunately, part two garnered mixed reviews and even less press. Because the sequel took more than a decade to be released after filming due to financial complications, fans of the original may have lost interest. 

To make matters worse, rumors emerged about supernatural occurrences happening on set and in the finished film. In an interview with director and filmmaker Alex Monty Canawati, he detailed some of the strange things that went on: "Jennifer Tilly was quite vocal on the set that there were the presence of 'ghosts'...she kept reiterating that they were touching her and such." Additionally, film editors claimed to see strange images in the movie stills and noticed "morphing" in many of the actors' faces when the film was examined. These interesting tidbits still weren't enough to give the film, or Tilly's career, a boost with broader audiences.

The Chinese film industry wasn't a good fit

Tilly's father is reportedly of Chinese descent, and the actress originally shared her father's last name, Chan, but changed it to her mother's maiden name after her parents divorced. Regardless of her ethnic background, many were surprised when Tilly landed a supporting role in the Chinese film Empire of Silver (2009). Directed by Christina Yao, the project received mixed reviews.

The New York Times called the movie an "odd duck." Slant was less generous, calling Tilly "out-of-place," and describing the overall film as "somnambulistic," which is a fancy film critic's way of saying "boring." SBS was similarly dismissive of the film, describing it as "unwieldy," and remarking that Tilly's part "seems to have been butchered in the editing."

The film initially played only in theaters in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong but was released in the United States two years later in select theaters, where, as far as we can tell, it did not exactly blow up the box office.

She's living that hibernating bear life

Despite her past success, Tilly told The Augusta Chronicle in 2005 that she's given up on her dreams to make it big. "You get to a certain age and you start to rethink your life and rethink your priorities," she said, while expressing how travelling for long periods of time in unfamiliar countries no longer appeals to her. "When I was younger, you would go on a set and you would have affairs and you'd drink and it was just like summer camp," she said, adding, "When you get older it's like, 'Uh, I'm in another hotel room, in another town I really don't want to be in.'"

More than a decade later, Tilly echoed similar sentiments while speaking with The Hollywood Reporter in October 2017. She said she's "been on a hiatus a little bit." Describing herself as "independently wealthy now," Tilly said that she no longer has the desire to "wake up at 5 in the morning, and put on makeup, and do some movie that's probably — might not even make the smallest film festival." She even likened herself to a bear hibernating in a cave, perhaps meaning she no longer has to rummage through Tinseltown's trash to store up for tight times.  

While she seems like she's not exactly gunning for an Oscar, or even just mainstream visibility at this point, Tilly has appeared on popular television shows such as CSI, Drop Dead Diva, and Modern Family in the past decade. Perhaps she's going for quality over quantity these days?

She's still part of the Chucky franchise

Horror may be a niche genre that not everyone enjoys, but the Chucky franchise continues to breathe new life into Tilly's legacy. What began as the Child's Play films later inspired Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky, where Tilly played both a murderous doll named Tiffany as well as a fictionalized version of herself. Those who've seen 2013's Curse of Chucky will know (spoiler alert!) that Tilly appeared at the end of that flick as Tiffany, alluding to her character's return in the seventh installment.

Tilly did return for Cult of Chucky in 2017, once again playing Tiffany/herself to the delight of Chucky-obsessed fans. In an interview with Dallas Voice, Tilly spoke about her character's fourth appearance in the franchise. She said creator Don Mancini wanted her to be "more like Tippi Hedren in this movie ... all elegant and vintage," a note that Tilly found impressively meticulous, considering it was regarding the part of "a plastic doll that has gone into a movie star's body."   

But critics seemed to agree with Mancini's attention to detail, since as of this writing, the film sits at an impressive 82 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Forbes even went so far as to call Cult of Chucky "the Fast Five of the Child's Play films," meaning it elevated the entire series into something bigger than its previous incarnations.

With Tilly's most notable role in the past decade or so also garnering critical acclaim, it's no wonder the raspy-voiced star has announced she has no intention of leaving the franchise.

...and she probably will be forever

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter in June 2017, Tilly talked about her relationship with Chucky creator Don Mancini and how their friendship that developed after her role in Bride of Chucky will likely cause her to be forever linked to the franchise. 

"I think he's going to put me in every Chucky movie until the end of time, and I honestly feel like there are going to be Chucky movies until the end of time" she said, referencing the murderous little doll's irritating habit of resurrection.

Tilly also told Dallas Voice that she hopes "less time elapses between this one and the next," which she's confident she'll be a part of, because (spoiler alert!) her character started a romantic relationship with Nica, the franchise heroine.

It may not sound glamorous for an Oscar-nominated actress like Tilly to have her wagon hitched to such arguably low brow fare as a horror series, but for any working actor, a franchise is a godsend. Tilly's Bound costar, Gina Gershon even told her as much when Tilly first expressed reservations before joining the cast of Bride of Chucky. "'My God, you will have a franchise. I would love a franchise,'" Gershon reportedly told Tilly, who later told The Hollywood Reporter, "So, if Gina wants a franchise, I'll take it."

Her fanbase is niche, but dedicated

Though she may not be a household name, to the horror movie crowd, Tilly will always be an A-lister. Her persona in the Chucky franchise continues to seduce and inspire. The actress brought crazy to a whole new level in her role as Tiffany in Bride of Chucky, somehow making it sexy to be a psychotic serial killer. Then she did it again, taking crazy in a different direction in Seed of Chucky, where she plays both herself as a promiscuous actress and Tiffany as an ex-serial killer getting in touch with her maternal side.

As a horror industry icon, it's not uncommon to find Tilly at major events celebrating the genre. Alongside others who've made the Chucky franchise a success, Tilly has attended horror conventions such as Monsterpalooza, New York Comic Con, and Frightfest 2017. At the latter, she spoke with Wicked Horror: "The Chucky fans are the best in the world," she said. "They're like Trekkies — they're very, very, very devoted, and I met a lot of them in my travels, and so I don't really think Chucky will ever die."

Hot grandma

Though you'd never guess it, as of this writing, Tilly is inching towards her 60th birthday. However, her age combined with her youthful beauty is causing something of a career conundrum. She told The Hollywood Reporter that she now gets sent out for "parts for grandmothers," but when she shows up to the casting calls, she gets sent away because she clearly doesn't represent the aesthetic the filmmakers were going for.

"Apparently, I'm this sort of weird, floaty thing that I can't play my age, I can't play younger — All I can do is play Tiffany til the end of time," she joked.

Tilly even says that compliments about her timeless beauty — which she attributes to her Asian heritage — have shifted of late. Fans used to tell her how "beautiful," "hot," and "sexy" she was, whereas now they tell her, "You're so beautiful for your age." Yeesh.

Please don't put Chucky on her tombstone, you guys

Despite the combination of her dedication to the Chucky franchise and her lack of motivation to do much else, Tilly says she still has the desire to expand her professional portfolio.

Citing the recent passing of actors Gene Wilder and John Heard, Tilly told The Hollywood Reporter that she was surprised and disheartened to see remembrances of their careers distilled down to just their more notable roles, i.e. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Home Alone, respectively. Referencing her own inevitable death, Tilly said, "I would like to be remembered for something besides Chucky movies." She continued, "I'm not sure if I would like it to have Chucky on my tombstone going, 'Stay dead, b****!'"

She also said that one of her goals is to work with legendary director Martin Scorsese, as well as to vary her resume to reflect her range as a performer. "I really would like to be known for an entire body of work," Tilly said, adding, "So I want to do more movies and different films in the future that sort of — people will say, 'Wow, she's such a versatile actress.'"