Matthew Lillard Puts His Improv Chops on Display

We take in a Hollywood improv show and get to chat with the actor afterwards

One of my favorite places to hang out in Hollywood is Improv Olympic West (iO West) just down the way from me on Hollywood Boulevard. To be honest, it was the first bar I went to when I first moved to Hollywood, since it was the first one without velvet-roped lines and asshole bouncers in sight. I started hanging out there more and more and became friends with some of the performers there and, like many places in L.A., you never know who you're going to run into there. I regularly watch the amazing improv team Beer Shark Mice (which features David Koechner, Neil Flynn, Pete Hulne, Mike Coleman and Pat Finn) perform there on Saturday nights and I've ran into awesome people like Ron Livingstone, Dave Foley, Derek Mears and, just this weekend, David H. Lawrence, who plays the awesome Puppet Master character on Heroes. Not too long ago, my buddy Neil Garguilo (who will hopefully have his crazy animated show Zombie Grandma on the airwaves in the near future) asked me to stop by for a special performance of one of his improv teams named Dr. God.

First of all, Dr. God, like all the shows at iO West, are completely improvised and this show features a special guest who comes up on stage and tells a few stories, and then the improv team snaps into action and improvising bits based off that story, with different members of the team tagging each other out and constantly taking the show in a new direction. That special show was narrated by Abe Benrubi, a longtime fixture on ER and also featured special guest Matthew Lillard improvising with the squad, which is made up of Garguilo, Sean Cowhig, Brendan McLoughlin, Brian O'Connell, Dave Park and Justin Ware. Lillard had previously been featured as the guest narrator before with Dr. God, but this was his first time actually improvising with them, and the entire show was just a riot.

After the show I got the chance to talk with Lillard about how he came to improv, movies and a lot more. Here's what he had to say.

First of all, I wanted to know how you first got hooked up with these guys?

Matthew Lillard: Well, Justin wrote a movie that I did two summer's ago. It's one of those things where he sent out mass emails that he was doing this improv group and they had a competition coming up, to go out and support them. So I came out and supported and had a great time and they asked if I wanted to come back and host the Armando show, for the revival. I said yeah, and I had a great time the first time. I did it again and the third time, they just said, 'Well, do you want to play with us?' It was like, what scares you the most, you should do, and I was terrified, so I said, 'Yeah, I'll do it' and I ended up on stage.

Yeah, because Neil said this was the first time you were actually performing and not just doing the monologue.

Matthew Lillard: Yeah. The monologue is easy because it's just you and you don't have to let anyone down. I know that I can tell a story and become relatively interesting, but jumping onto a scene, where people are switching out, and you're just available for what the next person says, it's a totally different reality. It was terrifying.

I've watched a lot of these shows and I imagine one of the harder parts is to kind of know when to jump in. Is that one of the trickier parts?

Matthew Lillard: You can definitely feel a vibe, like 'I could go here.' You can feel it, but what's hard is when you go on and have an expectation and it immediately goes south. You want to come in with an idea, but there's other times when you come in and neither one of you has an idea. You're both on stage and... But watching five times now, half a dozen times, I know that they're smart. I know that they're funny and it takes the pressure off. You don't have to be funny and that's the thing. You know that you can just let it happen. But yeah, I'm on a high. There's just a rush where you're on the stage in front of a bunch of people. That's something that, in my career... you know, it's not like an accountant does that, it's not like a lawyer does that, well maybe a lawyer, but it's this thing, a visceral reaction. It's really fun, and exciting and terrifying.

Is there any preparation that you can do for something like this?

Matthew Lillard: Nothing. I mean, we did a rehearsal on Monday, which is just getting up and listening. Coming in tonight, all I wanted to tonight was to not push and not to try to be funny, and that was it. That's all you can do, is just be available. It's my first time since high school, literally since 1987 or 1988, that I've ever done improv. When you do it in a movie it's in a small confined little thing, but to walk out and have no idea what's going to happen next, it's great. I mean, I grew up doing stage and if I wasn't doing movies, I'd still be doing Man of LaMancha. I'd be doing it whether I was making money or not. Doing a movie is like being a studio musician. Yeah, you make a lot of money, or if you do a TV show, you make a lot of money, but you don't really play, it's not really flexing your muscles. But doing a concert, it's being a rock star, and doing something like this is like being alive like that.

Neil was talking about bringing you out to some of these festivals. Are you looking forward to getting more experience in this?

Matthew Lillard: I would love to. I love doing it, I love those guys, they're great guys, it challenges me, it's terrifying. I would love to be a part of it. It's playing. It's like working out as an athlete... I don't know. It's like the best part of being an actor. You go in and audition and you get rejection or money, or whatever. Doing this, it changes who you are as an artist.

There are so many people now who are coming from this kind of improv background and it seems like it builds you up and helps you as an actor, because you can bring so much more to the table.

Matthew Lillard: I think that being a great actor is about confidence, choices, energy and all of that is instilled here. If people haven't done theater growing up, or who haven't been a part of high school theater - you know, a lot of beautiful actors are not a part of high school theater. A lot of beautiful movie stars aren't a part of college theater. The stage is a training ground and it's where you learn what's funny and what's successful. I haven't worked in six months, and you can't be an athlete and not work for six months. You can't be an actor and not work for six months, so something like this is just training.

You said you haven't worked for six months, but is there anything you're kind of close to, or that you're looking to hop on?

Matthew Lillard: No, do you have something? I'd love to be a part of it.

Well, it's been kind of hard to work on my own stuff lately.

Matthew LIllard: Look, things are good right now. The industry is in a weird place. I'm in a weird place, meaning I'm not the kid in Scream or Scooby Doo. I'm almost 40, so it's an awkward time in my career. You kind of hope it comes through and, if not, I'll be a waiter. Awesome.

There was a TV show called Exit 19 and a few other things I saw you were working on.

Matthew Lillard: Yeah, pilots. Those are all pilots.

Are those being shopped around right now?

Matthew Lillard: No. Last year was Exit 19, this year was Married Not Dead. It's just a roll of the dice. They do, what, 50, 75 pilots a season and they pick up 10 or 12. I've done a pilot every year that hasn't gotten picked up. It happens.

I know you obviously won't be in it, but there's been talk that Scream 4 is moving forward so I was wondering what your thoughts on that were?

Matthew Lillard: It's great. I mean, look, everybody's reinventing franchises now. Kevin Williamson is a genius, Wes Craven is obviously a legend. They're like a family. I know Neve is going back and I'd love to go back, but it's like, 'Oh yeah? You're doing Scream 4? Why'd I have to die in the first one?'

Well, you can do dream sequences...

Matthew Lillard:... from prison. When you see Kevin Williamson, tell him, 'Use your imagination.'

I'll see if I can find him on Twitter and let him know.

Matthew Lillard: I'll take it.

There hasn't been anything moving with Scooby Doo is there?

Matthew Lillard: Not really. I played the voice of Shaggy for this new cartoon coming out. It's two seasons of a cartoon coming out and then we do two movies a year. Casey (Kasem) has officially retired from doing the voice, so I'm doing the voice. I know they're doing a live-action thing.

Yeah, I talked to them at Comic-Con. It was on TV then it went right to DVD, I think.

Matthew Lillard: Yeah, my kids watched it. I mean, my middle kid on Halloween is going as Daphne. Nothing would make my kids happier than to do another movie.

Are you getting into anything on the writing or producing side at all?

Matthew Lillard: Yeah, I've got a lot of stuff. We're trying to do something right now for the Warped Tour. We're trying to release a movie every summer on the Warped Tour. More so now than ever, our world has changed where actors are more into writing and directing and producing than they've ever been, so I've got a lot of shit going on, and hopefully something hits. I know these guys (Dr. God) are writing a movie, so I might try to direct that next year. We'll see how that goes.

To wrap up, what would you like to say to your fans about what they can expect from you down the road?

Matthew Lillard: Don't forget about me. I'm coming back. I swear to God I'm trying. I mean, it's hard. I'll run into a kid on the street and he'll be like, 'Are you still acting?' I'm like, 'Yeah.' I don't want to take shit movies - I've done a lot of shitty movies, to kind of pay rent. I've stopped doing that and I'm just trying to find something great. We've got this thing going on right now with a comic book that we're trying to bring to a TV show. I did a movie called Spooner that's been in six festivals and we've won five awards. I produced and starred in it, so there are things, and I'm always working, and I'm just waiting for Hollywood to catch up.

Awesome. Thanks so much for your time, Matthew.

Matthew Lillard: Thanks for your time, man.

If you want more information on either Dr. God or iO West (6366 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA) you can check out DrGodComedy.com or IOWest.com for upcoming shows. Also, if you see a guy that looks like this guy down at iO West some night, buy him a drink. Bam. Peace in. Gallagher out!