Interview: Matthew Lillard
Near the end of the 1999 film, SLC Punk! there is a scene where Matthew Lillard’s character, Stevo, is questioned by his new female acquaintance, Brandy. After gently criticizing his clichéd fashion sense, she suggests that “rebellion happens in the mind. You can’t create it. You just are that way.”
Now when it comes to punk culture, Lillard would not hesitate to use Stevo’s vernacular and refer to himself as a “poser.” And yet, despite admittedly being far removed from the scene, his directorial debut, Fat Kid Rules the World, centers around an overweight youth who rediscovers himself as a punk rock drummer. So why would a self-proclaimed poser choose such a project? On the film’s Kickstarter page, Lillard states, “I made this movie for everyone who has ever felt like they just didn’t belong…the misfits, the outcasts. The kids that are lost…this movie is for you!”
If Brandy’s words hold any truth, it would seem that Lillard has more in common with his SLC character than he gives himself credit for. The star of Scream, Scooby-Doo, and a number of other popular films was generous enough to answer some questions about his directing experience, his acting career, and his views on the current state of Hollywood.
You’ve stated that it took you nine years after optioning the rights to Fat Kid Rules the World to actually produce the film. What happened between now and then? Why did it did take so long?
My quick answer is that nobody wanted to invest in a first-time director telling the unsexy but truthful story of a fat kid discovering punk rock music. No abs, no vampires, nothing blows up…who wants to see that?
In the indie film world, a lack of finances is often made up for with bartering, personal favors, and creative implementations of available resources. Was the production of Fat Kid Rules the World an example of said practices, and if so, can you think of any moments in particular that exemplified indie filmmaking at its finest?
We shot a collection of scenes from the screenplay before shooting the feature to see 1) if the producers and I liked each other, 2) if I could direct or, if I was just another jackass actor thinking he “wanted to direct,” and 3) if it was a story worth telling. We flew up to Seattle and I asked the film community there to basically work for free. In return, I promised to hire everyone back for the feature if we were successful in finding financing. I asked the film community of Seattle to take that leap of faith with me [when] shooting the short. They did, and I will forever be in their debt.
It would seem that the success of Fat Kid Rules the World’s Kickstarter campaign proves that audiences want to see this kind of “unmarketable” movie. Do you think this demonstration of such strong public interest and support will help convince studio heads that it might be worth investing in “offbeat” films?
No, not really. The money it takes to distribute a film like this, in a traditional way, is astronomical and hardly worth the return. I think society needs films like these, [and] I think people love to discover films like these. But the truth is, studios are more likely to look at the box office returns for The Avengers than what we did on Kickstarter.
One of the best qualities of SLC Punk! was how well the style of the direction matched the subversive, independent nature of the characters and the world in which they lived. Do you think the smaller budget of Fat Kid Rules the World actually strengthened the film in the same way? Do you think a big budget would have resulted in an overly glossy final product and taken away from the rebellious punk content of the story?
Great question. Yes, I do think “Fat Kid” benefited from the constraints our micro-budget presented. I do indeed. We had to think outside the box and solve problems in a creative way instead of throwing money at any given situation. Creativity and ingenuity are borne of necessity, and I think we exemplify that adage.
We shot a lot of cool elements in the film: three huge crowd scenes, two punk rock shows, an underwater sequence, an epic puke scene, [and] we lit up downtown Seattle – all shot in 23 days and on a budget of less then a million bucks. We had to get creative to cram all that stuff into the movie.
It might be very easy for young, aspiring filmmakers to look at your Kickstarter page and think, If a Hollywood veteran like Matthew Lillard needs to ask for financial help to fund the distribution of his film, what chance do I have to make it in the biz? Is there any advice you have for a potentially discouraged artist?
Discouraged? That’s crazy! We’re in the Golden Age of Filmmaking 2.0 because anyone can make a movie, and make a great one. For the first time in the history of our industry there is absolutely no barrier for entry — all you need is an iPhone and a Macbook, for Christ sake! I think people should look at me and find inspiration: “Lillard? That guy sucks, and he’s old and shit. I can make something way cooler than that dork!”
If you’re looking at my journey with Fat Kid and getting discouraged, you didn’t have a chance to begin with. Every time the world has said no, we’ve found a way to make it happen.
On your Reddit AMA thread, you refer to yourself as a “blue collar actor,” and say that Hollywood now is “mostly about bottom line and making money.” Considering there are most likely tons of other actors who share this sentiment, do you feel Hollywood could use its own “Occupy” movement?
Actors and an Occupy movement? Hahahahahahahaha (that’s what they use to write before “LOL”). Never going to happen! Actors are just trying to feed our families without having to wait tables. Not to mention the fact that actors have no power in our industry to change anything!
The only power in this business is you! The future of film production is in the hands of people who buy the content. If you want change it starts with the people who pay the money to see the product. Don’t go see shitty movies and they’ll stop making shitty movies. Promise.
As a new director you must have heard this question a thousand times already, but would you humor us and share your main influences when it comes to your directorial style?
I’ll gladly answer any question you have! I think my influence is found in my life. The work I’ve done, the man I am, the bad movies I’ve seen and been in, the great ones — all the influences of my life make me the filmmaker I am. I am what I am, for better or for worse. I was never a “film student,” so my style is simply a culmination of my experiences. As an actor, I’ve worked with so many different directors, actors, crew members…they’re all a part of what I’ve become.
You’ve starred in films based on novels, cartoons, video games, and remakes of other films, and now your directorial debut is an adaptation of young adult novel. Is there something particular about the adaption process that attracts you, or is a good script simply a good script?
I loved the adaptation process. For me there was great freedom within the form of KL [Going's] story, and I could lean into the world she had created. She’s an incredibly talented author — she painted such full world, [and] I had plenty to build on.
I also think the creation process came from an organic place — I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I read the book and was moved to make the movie, which is very different than getting a script and asking yourself, “How can I shape this story into something I want to say? Something I need to say?”
I’m dying to find my next movie; I’m reading everything…hunting for another strike of lighting.
Whether you were playing a high school computer hacker, a blue-haired anarchist, a psychic spirit hunter, or an anti-masturbating punk rock-loving hockey player, your roles have always demanded a high amount of energy. Are you at all making an effort to transition from the high-energy roles of your earlier work to mellower, quieter characters? Is your recent role in The Descendants or even your stab at directing reflective of your desires to stay in the game but with less yelling (or rollerblading)?
I believe that great acting is borne of energy. I’m not a fan of small, empty, simple acting choices — I like my acting to be infused with power and raw emotions. But that’s me. Mostly I’ve tried to do that, sometimes with terrible results. It happens. I’m not yet a powerful Jedi. I don’t believe you can be amazing unless you try to be amazing — you have to say it out loud and not be afraid to fail in your attempts at brilliance. I’m just waiting for my next chance to let it rip. On rollerblades.
And lastly, what’s the scarier situation: being confronted by an enraged George Clooney after sleeping with his wife, or Til Schweiger waving a loaded gun in your face?
Both are horrific in their own handsome way, but Schweiger was more prone to spitting in your eye.
To learn more about Fat Kid Rules the World, visit the film’s official website.