By David Martindale
Special to the Star-Telegram

Tilt, a TV drama about high-stakes poker, airs on ESPN. But series star Michael Madsen admits he never considered poker a sport.

"ESPN is a sports network predominantly, so I guess cards is a sport," says Madsen, whose film career includes such modern classics as The Natural, Thelma & Louise and Reservoir Dogs. "But I always kind of thought you had to sweat to have something called a sport."

Madsen was a bit mystified at first by the Texas Hold'em craze that has taken over the airwaves and the Internet. But now, having portrayed Don "The Matador" Everest in Tilt, he gets it.

"I think people love poker because it's so available," Madsen says. "You can play poker on television, you can play poker on the Internet, you can have a little handheld poker game that you buy at the dime store. It's for the common man. You don't have to be a world-class athlete to excel at it. Anybody can do it."

Are you a poker player in real life? Sitting at a card table for hours is one of the most boring things I can possibly imagine. I don't see how these guys do it. I don't have the patience or the fortitude to sit at that table for five or six hours. Unfortunately, that's exactly what I have to do now as an actor because that's how long it takes to shoot some of these sequences.

You haven't gone out and tested any tricks of the trade that you've picked up? Well, I've gone out a little bit here and there, but it's not like I've really been out there turning myself into a card player. It's just a role that I play. I try to immerse myself in it as much as I can to make it believable. But, when they pull that plug at the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is play cards.

Are you a typical ESPN/sports fan? I've always been one of those fair-weather sports fans. I like the big games -- the playoffs, the Super Bowl, the Olympics. I like everything when it gets built up to the point where it's the big one. When I was in Chicago, I was a Blackhawks fan and a Cubs fan. When I moved to California, I became a Lakers fan. And I'm a Green Bay fan. I like Brett Favre. He's got such a great look on his face when he's winning. I've rooted for him for a long time.

What's the best part about being The Matador? Aside from staying busy so I can pay my bills? I really like the character's name. It's a pretty good tag. I've been known as Mr. Blonde (from Reservoir Dogs) for years. And now some people on the street here in Toronto, I've actually been called the Matador by passersby, which has been very fun for me