Matthew Lillard Talks Fat Kid Rules the World, playing in New York now, opening in Los Angeles this weekend
Based on the bestselling novel by K.L. Going, the story follows Troy Billings Jacob Wysocki), an overweight teen who decides to end his high school career on a high note, by jumping in front of a bus. When Marcus Macrae Matt O'Leary), a charismatic punk rock superstar, tackles him to the ground moments before impact, it changes Troy's life forever.
Set against the backdrop of the Seattle music scene, Fat Kid Rules the World is a coming-of-age story about two dysfunctional teenagers searching for something more out of their completely hopeless existence. And it sets up director Matthew Lillard as a striking new voice in cinema.
We recently caught up with the man to chat about his most recent achievement, which you can catch this Friday at Laemmle's Noho 7. To buy tickets: CLICK HERE. You can also visit the movie's official Facebook page to see where the film is coming next, as it expands to Detroit, New Orleans, Palm Springs, San Francisco, and, San Rafael: CLICK HERE
Here is our conversation.
Do you see this film as a companion piece to SLC Punk?
Matthew Lillard: Yes. I do. And I love the fact that you said companion piece. People are asking me, "Is this trying to be SLC Punk!?" And it's not. The reality is, I know the impact of that movie, and the impact it has had on people. I wanted to play in that world again. The reality is, too, that I found this book that seamlessly fell in place with that world. I loved it. I loved the book, but I also knew that the book had the same power that SLC Punk! had on kids. And the culmination of the two seemed to make sense to me.
I wasn't a kid when I saw SLC Punk, but that movie did touch me in a way that is hard to explain. It's just such a good movie...
Matthew Lillard: Yeah, look, I think that's it. I think that movie has a real emotional pathos. When his best friend dies, you feel these things. Yet, you are laughing at the same time. If you can give people an emotional experience, and you can make them laugh, I think that leaves a mark. I think people remember things like that. We hope that happens with Fat Kid Rules the World.
You know what else it was? SLC came out right when DVD players became affordable. That was one of two DVDs I had for a year.
Matthew Lillard: Oh, that is funny. I had the same thing happened to me with The Princess Bride, the VHS copy.
You see it so many times. Especially when you have people come over. Hey, check this new technology out! By the way, this is the only movie I have!
Matthew Lillard: Yeah, I had the same thing with The Princess Bride and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Fast Times was one of those things I recorded off Select TV, way before your time. You would play it again and again when you came home from junior high school. You would throw it in and watch it...
What is select TV?
Matthew Lillard: (Laughs) That is awesome! Select and On TV were the first versions of paid TV. They had this box that had a key on it. If you had the key, you could unlock it at night, and watch X rated movies.
So you stole the key?
Matthew Lillard: I wish! I searched high and low for that key! But it was funny. That was, like, the first version of pay TV. If you didn't have the key, it would scramble. The scramble would be like, you could see a line going up, and through, and there would be snow. But you would be able to see the most jacked-up images of people having sex. Like Emanuelle 3, or Emanuelle 1...
I remember that. Sometimes you'd see a nipple, and the rest of it would be all green, and twisted, and crispy...
Matthew Lillard: Yes! You would be like, "Oh, my god! A nipple!" And you'd be talking about it for a week.
I'm surprised a filmmaker hasn't used that effect in a movie today...
Matthew Lillard: You know what? I saw that scramble recently...It came out on Funny or Die, or it was on Twitter. Someone referenced that. Seeing porn in the scrambled version. On and Select TV were those two first versions of it. You may not know this, but there was VHS and Beta...
Come on! I think I'm older than you!
Matthew Lillard: How old are you?
Matthew Lillard: Ah, I am 42. I got you! But I remember, there was VHS and Beta, and we knew that one of them was going to be the shit!
We always rented Beta, but then my parents bought a VHS. I didn't understand at the time why VHS was so much bigger!
Matthew Lillard: (Laughs) That's funny. You didn't know what Select and On TV was?
No. Never heard of them until today. Was that an East Coast thing?
Matthew Lillard: No. It was West Coast. Orange County. We're did you grow up?
I'm originally from Fullerton, which is Orange County, then I moved to the tiny town of Philomath, Oregon, where I guess they didn't have Select TV.
Matthew Lillard: Oh, right on.
I actually had Fast Times on a VHS that was recorded off broadcast TV. It was actually the version that I saw a dozen times, so the theatrical version was just wrong in my head. Did you ever see the TV version?
Matthew Lillard: No, I didn't know that the TV version was different. If you remember coming up, you'd have to see that movie multiple times in the theater, because you never knew if you'd ever see it again in the world.
I never got to see that in the theater because it was rated R.
Matthew Lillard: Yeah...
Of course, this is coming from parents who made me sit down and watch all the John Waters movies that were just coming out on VHS.
Matthew Lillard: Oh, that's funny. You had those parents?
Yeah, I don't know what they were thinking. I wasn't allowed to go see the Terminator, "But, here, watch this drag queen eat some dog shit!"
Matthew Lillard: That's hilarious.
Back to Fat Kid. This is your first diretorial feature, but you also directed a short film, correct?
Matthew Lillard: I did...Well, it's funny. I directed a short film at Vancouver film school. Which was me, a camera, one other adult, and fifteen students. They were working as grips. It wasn't really...Look, it was me working with a bunch of kids, basically.
What is it like to direct a movie that you are not in?
Matthew Lillard: Liberating. I was actually in the movie. I am in a scene that I cut out, even before the rough cut. In fact, I play Stevo grown-up. It was an homage to SLC Punk! Stevo was a guidance councilor at the school. But I cut it out, just because it didn't work, and it was slow, and the acting was terrible. It was a big fantasy sequence. But the timing of it was long and laborious. The joke just didn't work, so I cut it out.
What were some of the challenges of being on the opposite side of the camera? You've worked with some great directors. What were you able to pull from them, and what personal challenges did you face in bringing your vision to the screen?
Matthew Lillard: Every day there is a different challenge as an independent filmmaker. On a big film, the challenges you have are circumvented by money and time. You don't have that luxury as an independent filmmaker. You have to rely on your wits and creativity. So I had to figure out every day, all day, how to answer the new riddle of the new problem. Whether it's breaking the window on the bus, going all the way around to real things...And I think that preparation and hard work early in the process is important. You need that prep time, it helped us fix things that inevitably came up on set.
What about the influence of those you've worked with in the past? I don't watch the movie and sense anything but your personality. There isn't an instance were you stop and go, "Oh, okay, he stole from that!"
Matthew Lillard: Yeah, no...I didn't directly steal from anyone. You have an element cinematically, I am trying to think of the name of it...Stay with me...There is nothing specific about any one moment...We watched twenty movies, me and my DP. The idea, cinematically, of the shots that we take...We we're taking pieces, and making our own interpretations of those shots. Though, in terms of directors I've worked with...There is nothing...I didn't steal...This is a collection...The actor I am, the man I am, is an amalgamation of all the experiences I have had. That is the same experience I had as a director. I didn't really sit with anyone. I didn't pick someone's style, or take an element of something. It's just really an extension of the actor I am. I think that is the most influential thing. The actor I am has translated into the actor I became. It is an extension of me. The acting is an extension of what I believe is good acting. Whether anyone else believes that, its up for interpretation. What I believe is that translates into the movie. One of the things I have suffered for, in my life, is that I am not a comedian. And I am not a dramatic actor. I am in-between. I am a hybrid. I think the movie suffers a little, because you can't pigeonhole it. It's not a comedy. And it's not a drama. It's really both. I think that tone is an extension of my aesthetic.
I think that's what people want. They gravitate towards that mix. They aren't gravitating to purely comedy or drama...
Matthew Lillard: No, I think they do! The further we go, the more of a divide there is...
If you look at the bigger movies, I guess you are right. Its like, Kevin James has Here Comes the Boom, its nothing but comedy, and people eat it up...
Matthew Lillard: That's the thing. You have a movie like Marvel's The Avengers, and it has to hit everyone. But, look, the The Avengers actually doesn't make sense, because you have characters and you have arcs, you have a great story. You set something up at the start, and you pay it off in the third act. It's a great movie. It's a great piece of writing, I think. Look, on a big movie, you have sixteen people giving their opinions on what the movie should be. On an independent movie, you have one guy and everyone is getting behind that person. Everyone is trying to help you. You have a producer there to help guide you. My producer helps in incredible ways. Helped to define tone, and helped to edit. He was unbelievably helpful, but the reality is, he wasn't sitting there all day, every day, going, "This is how this works." He is letting me make a movie. In a big studio environment, they are not helping you make a movie. They are really micromanaging your vision. That is when you get away from telling a real story. It's a collection of so many people's votes.
I find that people gravitate to movies that have a personality. I think there is a major shift happening...
Matthew Lillard: I think that too. I think that more than ever. You have people that can make movies early on. There is no barrier to entry. You don't need three million dollars to get film, develop film, cut on film. I mean, you can shoot on your iPhone, cut it on your Mac, and make a great movie. Drake Doremus made Douchebag for twenty-six thousand dollars. You can have unbelievable filmmakers. It's the golden age of filmmakers, I keep saying. 2.0.
I believe that wholeheartedly. It's just that people have to find these movies.
Matthew Lillard: That's the thing that's broken. The distribution model is completely broken. How can you connect with an audience, and how do you find it? That's what is still antiquated. It's coming down. It's going to topple. Look at Tugg. Look at what we did with our film. Look at crowd sourcing, and Kick Starter. Even with iTunes. There are new methods of delivery all the time. I think that is all changing.
You can catch Fat Kid Rules the World in Los Angeles this weekend before it expands to more cities in the coming weeks. The movie is already playing in New York. Check it out!