IAR: To begin with, was getting away from acting and going behind the camera to direct something you’ve wanted to do for a long time?
Matthew Lillard: Yeah, I think that it's always been a part of me, it's always been kind of in my makeup, but it took a long time to get the movie made. I've tried to make movies before and they've fallen apart in the developmental stage. I've gone off and I've scouted like two movies. So it's just a matter of timing really. But yeah, it wasn’t this movie per se but it was always a direction my life was going.
You started acting in movies when you were just in your twenties, so you’ve been involved in filmmaking now for over half of your life. Do you think directing was just a natural progression for you as an artist?
Lillard: Yeah, I mean I think there are a lot of actors in the world that have been around for a long time and that have acted their whole lives, but have no interest in directing. I think it's either you are a storyteller or you're not. I kind of think that's either in your makeup or you're not. It’s something that you have to strive for, but it's not for everyone. A lot of times actors act and they don't like the process. A lot of times they direct and it doesn't really work very well. But for me it was the most natural thing in the world. To be honest with you, if I could just do that for the rest of my life I'd be pretty excited.
So you really enjoyed the process of directing, is that right?
Lillard: It's like it changed my life. It's the single greatest creative achievement of my life. The idea of being an actor is so myopic, and it's so self-centered. It's just not that appealing anymore. I mean to be honest, the roles I get aren't exactly lighting the screen on fire. So it's not challenging anymore and therefore not hugely rewarding. But when your directing you're leading people, and you're inspiring fifty or sixty people. It's a creative process. It takes a year and then you put it out into the world and there's a huge sense of pride. Look it's not my movie, it's our movie, but I certainly got to shepherd a big piece of it along and to me it's just so much more rewarding.
You've been involved in some really amazing films over the course of your career such as Scream, SLC Punk! and most recently The Descendants, but do you think this is the project that you are most proud of as an artist?
Lillard: Yeah without a doubt, it's not even close. It’s like you saying, “Do you like your college buddy versus your own child?” Yes, I like my college buddy, but in reality my own child trumps everything. It's a weird analogy in a way, but the reality is you're a very small piece of a big tree when you're an actor in a movie. You're like a leaf or a branch depending on the role. When you're directing, it's just so much more encompassing and so much more rewarding. There's more work and it’s challenging but at the end of the day you stand with pride. As an actor you hit your mark, you say your line, and you hope they use the take and keep it in the movie. It's just not that exciting when you're number ten on the call sheet, you know?
Are you the type of actor that studies the director while on set and is watching what the crew and the other department heads are doing?
Lillard: Not studying. I mean I would sit there and go, why'd you do that? After fifty movies you have a very clear sense of what it takes to accomplish a day on a set. It's osmosis. You don't sit there and study it, but you definitely know how the day works, what's going on and what's happening. Even early on I was very inquisitive in terms of what lens were being used and what was being shot. I asked a lot of questions very early on to figure it out. But I was never really there studying something. It's like a parent, and I have a ten-year-old kid, I'm a different parent now than I was when I had a newborn baby. You just learn more through osmosis and time, and you gain a different sense of wisdom. I think that that's really more what it was. I have a different sense of wisdom about being on a set and what it takes to direct a movie.
Were you a fan of the book that the movie is based on and when did you decide that you wanted to adapt it into a film?
Lillard: I did the book on tape ten years ago. In that moment I fell in love with it. I called the author and said that I wanted to make it into a movie. It took me ten years to find somebody that would roll the dice on me as the director and let me tell this story.
What did you like about the story itself, and what was it about the actual material that spoke to you?
Lillard: It was an underdog story. I felt like that kid, I felt like I related to that kid. The lead in the book and in the movie is a kid named Troy Billings. I wasn’t outside of that life. I was a kid that found acting, but before that I didn't really have a place in high school and I was kind of drifting. Acting changed my life and I saw that in the hero of the book. I think that everyone digs that. There are a lot of people around the world that don’t understand high school or where they fit in. They feel uncomfortable in their own skin through high school and I just think that the themes of the book are really identifiable by everyone.
Did you see the film Terri? Is that how you found actor Jacob Wysocki for the lead role in your movie?
Lillard: No, I still have never seen Terri. I tried to watch it. At some point it was on TV and I was in Australia but watching him in someone else's movie felt dirty to me. I just couldn't watch. It just didn't seem right. But we had an open casting call for the short. We did a short version of the movie before we did the feature and we had three kids come in to audition for the part of Troy and he was one of them. We kind of fell in love with him and put him in the short. Then we did the feature length version and he became an integral part of making that movie happen.
Did you know actor Billy Campbell previous to making this film or did you discover him during the casting process as well?
Lillard: No, I knew Billy. We did a pilot a hundred years ago. We were trying to find somebody to come onboard and do the movie and everyone kept rejecting the film. Obviously it was a small movie and they didn't know me. I don't think anyone ever really gave the script a chance and at the end of the day when you're paying somebody a hundred bucks, it's hard to get the attention of some Hollywood agents. At the eleventh hour I got a call saying, “Billy's not doing The Killing and is looking for a project. What about Billy Campbell?” We’d started shooting already and I was memorizing lines at the end of the day of work because I thought I’d have to play the dad. So he kind of came in at the eleventh hour and saved the day. He turns in just an amazing performance.
Did you specifically not want to act in your directorial debut? Were you concerned about keeping your focus on directing and not being distracted by playing a character as well?
Lillard: I certainly didn't want to do the acting and directing thing unless it was needed. I don't know if that always works. I think it's a hard thing to pull off. I was in the movie, I played a small part in the film that I cut before it even went to the rough cut.
Do you feel like your experience as an actor helped you better direct the other actors on set?
Lillard: Definitely, it for sure helped. I hope it helped after years of doing acting. But the reality is that I teach in a Vancouver film school in British Colombia and I think teaching more than acting really inspired me as a director. I think that changed everything in my life. I learned more about myself teaching and it gave me a different sense of confidence in terms of crafting performance and helping actors find performance. I think that in terms of helping them my history as an actor helps, but I also think that having success in the classroom was the biggest advantage.
Finally, while we’re on the subject of actors-turned-directors, what was it like for you acting opposite screen legend Clint Eastwood in Trouble with the Curve?
Lillard: It was awesome! Anytime you can have Clint Eastwood call you names, its great! It's funny because he does one take and he’s very famous for very fast days. But he did multiple takes of a single line in one scene where he called me a jerk-off, a jackass, an asshole and everything in between. I have a very distinct memory of Clint Eastwood calling me every name in the book for about two minutes. It was good and he's funny. That whole experience was mind blowing.
Fat Kid Rules the World will be available on VOD beginning October 25th.