February 03, 2021
When you think of the “Godfather of Poker” you probably think of Doyle Brunson. However, when it comes to being the “Godfather of Norwegian Poker”, that honor goes to the late Thor Hansen, who died in 2018 at the age of 71 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Hansen, who many believe is worthy of the Poker Hall of Fame, was active in poker while battling cancer, and while connoisseurs were aware of his health problems, the larger poker community did not . Now, more than two years after his death, Hansen’s story is told in the new poker documentary “Smile” by filmmakers Kari Wåle and Linn Amundsen.
The 75-minute film is available now on Vimeo and offers an intimate glimpse into Hansen’s life, especially his later years when dealing with his terminal cancer diagnosis.
Here’s a look at the description of the movie:
An exceptional poker talent sends the young Norwegian Thor Hansen on a journey through life as an international poker star to Las Vegas. For 23 years he has lived a jet set life with hundreds of thousands of dollars to play for every day. He becomes a two-time world champion and is nicknamed “The Godfather”. But his life changes dramatically in 2012 when Thor is diagnosed with incurable cancer. He is returning to Norway with his American wife Marcella and is expected to live another six months. But a death sentence is just a new challenge for a man who is used to winning with bad cards on his hands.
Hansen, born June 23, 1947, was a two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner with a lifetime earnings of nearly $ 3 million in 1987. Not only that, he also played high-stakes cash games , also as the personal recruitment of Larry Flynt in the mid-1990s. In 1999 he married Marcella Braswell, who plays a prominent role in the documentary. They were together until his death on December 5, 2018.
Questions and answers with the director
The filmmakers with Thor Hansen
PokerNews had the opportunity to speak to Linn Amundsen, one of the directors of the documentary, who came up with the experience, challenges and of course the subject itself, Thor Hansen.
When and how did you meet Thor Hansen? How was your relationship
In Norway, poker was actually banned and in some ways still is. You can play at home with a maximum of 10 people and about $ 100 each, but larger tournaments are not allowed. Except once a year since 2015 there was the Norwegian championship – in Norway. Because of these restrictions, the Norwegian Championship is held in Dublin every year.
At the championship in Oslo in 2015 we did a job for the Norwegian Blood Cancer Society. You were chosen to take advantage of this agreement and we did the ideal promotion for you. Since these little films were shown among poker enthusiasts, we wanted to make a poker film and we needed two actors. We had already found one, but when we searched the poker society, Thor Hansen’s name came up. We were told that he was the “godfather” in Norwegian poker and that he also had cancer.
We set up a meeting to discuss his role as a little actor and fell in love with him the first time we met. We then asked if we could make a documentary about his life and he replied, “Why not?”
This is the film we made with Thor for the Blood Cancer Association:
How would you describe Thor Hansen as a person? How would you describe his fight against cancer?
Thor was a very charismatic person. He was very friendly and interested in people. He had an adventurous life and almost never had a normal job. He’s won so much money but also wasted everything since he was a notorious gamer. We met some dealers while filming in Dublin and asked them some questions about Thor. One person started crying when they started talking about him. So many people loved him because he showed genuine interest in other people.
He knew their names and where they came from. When he was at the poker table, he talked to people, sang verses from old songs, and was always in a good mood. Perhaps it was one of his great skills at the poker table, too, getting to know people and reading them more easily.
I think he was a curious and easy-going soul who lived one day at a time, and this may have been a benefit when he got his cancer. Doctors in the United States gave him six months of life. When he returned to Norway, he received more than 300 chemotherapy treatments and lived for six years, playing poker to the end.
What was your inspiration for this film?
We were inspired by Thor and his way of life. Not his notorious gambling, but enjoying life to the fullest and enjoying life as much as possible in every situation. While this film was being made, other projects were running at the same time, so we didn’t have much time to apply for financial support.
“We thought Thor deserved this movie, and we got the impression that he was a little proud that we made a movie about his life.”
Kari, my business partner, co-director and best friend, had also had cancer a few years earlier, so we knew a lot about the disease. Unfortunately, during the filming of Thor, she got a recurrence of cancer and was actually in the same situation as Thor as there was no cure for her cancer either. After we had been shooting Thor for about a year and Kari got sick again, finishing the film became more important, although we had to pay the cost ourselves. We thought Thor deserved this movie, and we got the impression that he was a little proud that we were making a movie about his life.
How has the film been received so far?
We showed it for the first time in Dublin in 2019 as part of the Norwegian Poker Championship. About 150 people saw it there, mostly men. Most of them cried after seeing the movie and of course a lot of people knew Thor. We went there with his wife Marcella and it was very touching to see all the guys after the screening. If Thor had been there in his mind he would have been very proud I think.
What were some of the challenges in creating this documentary?
The biggest challenge was that we had other big projects during the three years of filming, so we had to try and schedule shoots with him in between. And we had to film when Thor had the power. Sometimes we had planned to film something, but Thor wasn’t feeling well, so we had to postpone our plans. We really wanted to go to Las Vegas with him, but that wasn’t possible because of the other projects we had. We also had very little money for the project.
Filmmakers Kari Wåle and Linn Amundsen see Thor Hansen in action.
What were some of the highlights for you when you made the documentary?
The highlight for us was getting to know Thor and his beautiful wife Marcella. She didn’t like poker at all, but gave him so much love and care during his illness. He was so exhausted every time he competed in a tournament, but after being in her care for a few days he had renewed his energy.
It was also very interesting to get a glimpse into the world of poker. We tried to play a couple of times but that was really scary.
Can you give us an update on Marcella? How about Thor’s friend Steinar?
Steinar, whom you see often in this film, also died shortly before Christmas. That was really sad.
Marcella stayed in Norway after Thor died. She attended a few Norwegian classes and her goal is to find a job here. She went back to the US last summer to catch up with her family, but she had a really hard time because she lost a young family member to Covid-19 while she was there. She returned to Oslo a few months ago and is still in great mourning for all of her losses in recent years.
How did you get the famous musician Angelina Jordan to make music?
Kari, my co-owner of Zacapa Film, edited a music video with Angelina Jordan about five years ago. Then we met her family. A few years ago, together with Angelina and her grandmother, who is also a great artist, we applied for funding for an idealistic project on the subject of bullying. Unfortunately, we did not manage to get financial support and a little later they moved to the USA. I think Angelina liked the song “Smile” which was important to her. Her uncle is her manager and he is into poker and he also liked our movie about Thor.
How can poker fans see the movie?
Poker fans can watch the film here on Vimeo.