Fat Kid Rules the World is the directorial debut of Matthew Lillard, the star of movies like The Descendents, Scooby-Doo, Scream and She’s All That. God, has it really been that long since the ‘90s teen movies? Fat Kid is the story of a suicidal teen (Jacob Wysocki) who gets rescued by a dropout (Matt O’Leary) and enlisted as his punk rock band’s drummer. The film premiered at SXSW earlier this year and opens in New York October 5, L.A. on October 12, and then VOD/iTunes October 25. We got to chat with Lillard by phone this week.
CraveOnline: How much more of your life is taken up directing a film than when you’re an actor in a film?
Matthew Lillard: Oh, it’s the best because you’re smashed all day every day. I think as American men we are defined by what we do and I like to work. I have a high rate of work and a really strong work ethic.
So have you struggled on films as an actor where you have to wait so much?
Yeah, it’s a drag. It’s not really on films, because you’re still at work. At least you’re a part of an experience or a team, you’re onto something. Where I struggle is in between jobs. I think Jimmy Stewart said even the day before he died, “Am I ever going to work again?” And there’s that fear of am I good enough, is this ride going to end. They finally figured me out and I think that’s pretty consistent with most artists.
And with directing you keep working after production has wrapped, right?
Yeah, but that’s great. I consider the director kind of the caretaker of a vision so it’s not just mine, but it’s my job and my responsibility to try to guide all the pieces together to tell the singular story. I like the part that I keep going and everyone stops.
Were you looking at other scripts to direct and Fat Kid Rules the World is the script that won?
No, I’ve been trying to get this movie made for 10 years. Really difficult to find somebody that’s willing to invest money in the story of an obese teenager and punk rock music. It’s not the right down the middle movie choice to put money into something. Without one gunfire or ab or werewolf anywhere, it’s hard to make your money back. Originally, 10 years ago, I thought I’d do a $10 million movie and we finally ended up doing it for well less than a million dollars.
What did you learn about directing from Uwe Boll?
How to punch reviewers in the mouth. Only fight people that are smaller than you. That’s what I learned. It’s so funny, I will say this about Uwe Boll. There is not anyone that’s ever worked with him that I know of that doesn’t like him. He’s a great guy. Charismatic as can be.
Even people who’ve interviewed him, he’s great.
Oh, he’s so funny and charming and hilarious and fantastic, and maybe does not make the best movies ever.
Did you know that going into In the Name of the King?
No, I was just happy to get the offer.
When you finally got to go out to actors for Fat Kid Rules the World, what sensitivity was involved with going out to actors like Jacob Wysocki, when “Fat Kid” is in the title and he was going to play someone decidedly overweight?
Sure, that’s a great question. I think that when you read the script and when you see the movie, we treat that lead character with so much respect. That character is never the butt of the jokes. I think if that movie was about making fun of fat people, then we would’ve had a hard time. I’m proud to say that’s not an element of the movie at all so it becomes much easier. And the given circumstances of Jacob’s life are that, you know, he’s a big kid. Not only that but the part is a spectacular part. To get to do everything he does in that movie, and I said to him, “Look, you’re going to be amazing in this film.” I think an actor sees that.
Are the roles Jacob and Matt O’Leary have the roles you would have liked to have as a young actor?
Oh yeah, there’s no doubt that I hired Matt O’Leary because I see in him what I like to do. I think Matt O’Leary is more talented than I am but he’s fearless and he says yes to everything and has this incredible energy and charm. I just like what he does. I definitely would’ve played that character 20 years ago.
You got to do some great teen movies, but were these kinds of movies just not around back then?
I don't know. Look, I think independent film has changed so much in the last 20 years. We optioned this book 10 years ago and I thought for sure I would make this movie in a small format. To me small format was $10 million. But the reality of filmmaking is you can do it for much less money now. I think that they were around. I just think there wasn’t as much exposure to them.
There is a lot of vomit in this movie and most vomit scenes in movies are usually only a mouthful because that’s what the actor has. How did you do that?
I’m very proud to say that this is the first time in the history of films that a puke gag has been done like this. We built prosthetic around Jacob’s mouth and cheek and jowls and we ran microtubing up through his back and out the side of his mouth. Most of the time a shot like that comes from the side or from behind or is a visual effects gag but we are none of those things.
Is that the most expensive effect on the film?
No, not at all. It’s funny because Bill Boes, who is a special effects genius in Washington state, he came to us and said, “I’ll do this movie for your cut rate” because we didn’t have a lot of money “if you allow me to try this.” Everyone said, “Yes, that sounds amazing.” That was one of the great things about Fat Kid I think that every turn, I went to the DP, to the editor, to everyone involved and said, “Here’s my small idea. Take this idea and run with it.” A lot of times when you give artists that kind of freedom, they inspire themselves and they turn out something fantastic and he did.
What has been the industry reaction to you as a director?
I think that people like it. It’s funny, the movie is just now getting out into the industry. We’ve been holding it and trying to get distribution and setting it up in theaters, but I think people like it. People are excited that I’m a relatively known entity. I’ve been around for 20 years and people know me or know about me and in general I’m a nice guy, pretty straightforward guy. The fact that I deliver a movie that has a lot of heart and is good and relatively well crafted I think, people seem to be excited about that. They’re excited about the next chapter in my life.
It played at festivals too, so this isn’t the first time anyone’s seeing it.
No, but we won the South by Southwest Film Festival audience award which was exciting, but we were holding onto that movie so that people couldn’t pirate it and slip it onto the internet. So we just started to expose them and set up screenings and send people the copies of the movie and people seem to really like it.
I actually saw Spooner because I was exploring Drake Doremus’s previous work after Like Crazy. What were your thoughts on him when you made his first movie? Did you follow what he’s done since?
Well, I’ve seen everything he’s done. Look, I think he’s one of the big inspirations for me in making this film. We did Spooner for less than $100,000 and I love that movie. I love the kind of rough edges of that film. I love the way he directs and how he was trying to make a little piece of magic with not a lot of money. It’s another film that I wish people had seen. I wish people had got a chance to see it. It’s a little like Fat Kid in that yes, we got out there but I don't know how many people have ever really found it, but I think the people that do really enjoy it. His positivity, his ability to make a good movie for no money was awesome.
We just saw you acting in Trouble with the Curve. That was an interesting character because I got why he wouldn’t want some lawyer getting involved with scouting, but he was really hung up on her being a girl. Did you find that the baseball community was still that sexist?
I can’t comment on that at all because I’m not that keenly in tune in the baseball community. I was just playing the part. I’m not sure if that’s an indictment on that industry, you know what I mean?
Do you have your next directing project lined up?
No, I’d love to find one. Will you be it? Will you find one for me? It’s that thing, it took me 10 years to get this movie made. It’s nice because right now people are starting to see it and we’re starting to open up other opportunities for me. I’m just trying to find that story that I can get behind again.
Having been on both big movies and indies, were you familiar with the level of production that Fat Kid Rules the World was?
Yeah, I think so. Having been one of the co-producers of Spooner and one of the co-producers of One of Our Own, another microbudgeted film, I’m definitely used to that world. I’ve done lots of independents so I know what goes into those days. I also know that preparation and planning means everything in terms of completing the work flow you have to get through in a given period of time.