Matthew Lillard is an actor that everyone should be familiar with. He’s played diverse characters in several different types of movies; from horror films like “Scream” and “Thirteen Ghosts” to comedies such as “Senseless” and “She’s All That” and family fare like the “Scooby-Doo” movies and television show. His newest adventure in the movie industry is as the director of his first independent feature film – an adaptation of the young adult novel “Fat Kid Rules the World.” I had the opportunity to speak with Lillard about bringing the young adult novel to life onscreen.
Give us a little background on “Fat Kid Rules the World” and how it came about.
The movie is based on a young adult book by a woman named K. L. Going. I read the book 10 years ago and fell in love with it. It’s about a kid that’s on the outside looking in – an outcast. It starts at the moment he’s about to kill himself by jumping in front of a bus. A kind of punk rock savant stops him. They start a punk rock band together. It sounds kind of cheesy and cliché, but it’s not. All I can tell you is there are only a couple of other films that compare. It’s about a kid with real stakes and his journey. He’s an underdog trying to find his way in the world.
It almost seems like “Fat Kid Rules the World” is a companion piece to “SLC Punk.” Would you say that’s the case?
That is a conscious choice. We all don’t have the gift to walk around all day everyday as the guy that’s in that movie. I know the kind of impact that movie had on kids. I feel that is an underserved subset of the world. We definitely went out to make another movie for those kids. I actually play Steve-O grown up as a guidance counselor at one point in the movie. It’s a scene that subsequently was cut out of the movie. There is definitely a correlation.
Did you grow up in the punk rock scene? Is that why you’ve been involved in two films that incorporate that lifestyle and music into their stories?
Not really. I listened to punk rock music for a few minutes of my life. My best friend was a huge Glenn Danzig and Misfits fan. There’s a second of my life where it was in my world. It was between musical theater and hardcore rap. It didn’t last very long. It’s funny to me. Great acting comes out of energy. I think the world of punk rock is infused with so much energy that it makes a great backdrop for a movie.
“SLC Punk” was a casting choice. I got cast in it. It was a great opportunity to play a lead. I liked the part and there was no reason not to do the movie. I don’t really take responsibility for it. I got lucky and was put in the movie. “Fat Kid Rules the World” is about the book. It’s about the energy and the characters. I was overweight when I was a kid. I had a severe learning disability. I was lost in the world and I saw that in this kid. He (just so happens to) play punk rock music.
When did you realize you absolutely had to make the movie?
I was reading the book and right at the part where he was about to jump in front of the bus. You get a glimpse into his world. I had tears in my eyes. I walked out of that and called my manager and said, “I want to make this movie.” That was ten years ago. I’ve spent ten years trying to get this thing made. It is without a doubt a labor of love.
Has K. L. Going seen the movie? What does she think of it?
She’s seen the movie more than I have. She is overwhelmed. Her mom and dad are thrilled. She’s as in love with the film as I am to be honest. The writers and I thought the book had an unbelievable tone. There’s a balance between the tragic circumstances of this kid’s life and comedy. We didn’t have to go out there to manufacture a lot. We definitely added cinematic elements but the reality was we had such a strong base to go by already. It wasn’t a huge stretch of the imagination that the book was going to make a great movie.
What was the biggest challenge to getting “Fat Kid Rules the World” made?
Getting somebody to believe in a movie about a 250-pound kid and punk rock music. There are no werewolves or guns. It’s a relationship story about a junkie and an obese kid. It’s never great “down the middle” fare. For somebody to write a check these days and support independent films is difficult. We finally found somebody. It’s been years and I think the universe works in mysterious ways. I don’t think we would have been able to make the movie we ended up making ten years ago to be honest.
You’ve worked as an actor and a director now. Talk to us about the difference between the two roles.
It’s the difference between being an outsider along for the ride and the captain of a cruise liner. As an actor you’re not adding a lot to the overall trajectory of the movie. Many times you just feel like you’re along for the ride. I like my job. I love acting. However, a lot of times you’re not in charge of your lines. You inspire everyone around you to give their best being a director. It’s a matter of giving a vision of a concept to your wardrobe person, Director of Photography, sound mixer, etc. You give them a kernel of an idea and try to inspire them to give more and more and more. The way I like to direct is give somebody something simple and let them go off. If you give artists the power of creation many times the results are pretty fantastic. I felt like that was my job. That’s a much different job than coming to work on time, saying a line, and trying to get out of there with the right attitude. As a director, you try to do everything you can to make the production great.
For more articles by Eric Shirey, check out:
Interview: Director / Writer Darren Lynn Bousman Talks “The Barrens”
Interview: Director Jesse Baget Talks About “Breathless”
Interview: Actor Jodelle Ferland Discusses Her Role in “The Tall Man”