I met Matthew Lillard on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Mill Valley, day three of the Mill Valley Film Festival.
“I was in New York last night for the premiere,” he told me, “and flew out this morning at 4 a.m. and I haven’t slept. If I start to snore, just kick me.”
Neither age nor exhaustion can suppress Lillard’s charm and energy—it’s on display during our interview, just as it was in films like Scream, SLC Punk and Hackers. But he’s never more animated than when talking about Fat Kid Rules the World, a film he says he’s been trying to make for 10 years. Lillard discovered K.L. Going’s novel, about an overweight outcast (Troy, played by Jacob Wysocki) who finds his place in the Seattle punk scene, when he was hired to record the audiobook.
“Kids still recognize me from SLC Punk and tell me what a profound impact it had on their lives,” Lillard told me. “I want to make a movie for these kids that they can find and enjoy. That screening right now?” he said, gesturing more or less in the direction of the theater in which his film was being shown, “It’s filled with a bunch of people with gray hair. It’s not made for them, but if they like it, that’s great. But we’re going after punk rock kids. As long as our core demographic likes it, it’s a success.”
So far, getting people to like the movie hasn’t been a problem; it won the Audience Award at Sundance, but left the festival without a buyer.
“We won the Audience Award and got love-letter reviews,” Lillard said. “Every buyer who saw it said ‘I love your movie, but I’m not gonna buy it.’ We got four offers, and they were all pretty terrible.”
That’s when Lillard and his producers turned to the Internet. Lillard participated in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit.com and leveraged that interest to raise more than $150,000 via Kickstarter to promote and distribute the film.
“We raised $158,000 on Kickstarter and took it around on the Vans Warped Tour. On the success of that, people started to find the movie. That’s when we started to pick up relationships and a kind of co-release. We opened in New York last night and we’re in 30 theaters nationwide.”
In the press materials for the film, Lillard makes a point of saying how much he identified with Troy, the titular fat kid, rather than Marcus (Matt O’Leary), the energetic, charismatic punk-rock singer who initiates Troy into the Seattle scene. I told him I was surprised by that, because he’s made a career of playing charismatic Pied Piper-types like Marcus.
“I’m not Marcus,” he assured me. “Matt O’Leary has an energy and style that’s similar to mine. What I like best in me, I see in him. (kennedyandperkins.com) But I always felt like I didn’t fit in, I was overweight, I had glasses and braces, but I found acting and finally felt like I belonged somewhere.”
Making Animal Room was like that for Lillard.
“I remember that really clearly. As a kid, doing movies was about making friends. I mean, it’s always like that, but Neil Patrick Harris, Brian [Kelly], Dechen [Thurman] … we hung out.”
He also says that while director Craig Singer’s take on A Clockwork Orange might not have been completely successful, he appreciated Singer’s vision.
“It was the second movie I ever did after Serial Mom, and I got to play a really great bad guy! I went wherever the director sent me.” That included a scene in which he committed murder in a recording studio while the Misfits provided musical accompaniment.
“That was surreal. I was like 21, 22 and those guys were in their thirties… The Misfits were these punk rock icons, but at the time, you’re like ‘These guys are so old!’”
I couldn’t resist asking Lillard about my personal favorite of his films, the dated but undeniably charming Hackers.
“Iain is an amazing filmmaker! He made Wings of the Dove, Backbeat, Hackers, and K-PAX. How’s that for versatile?”
“There’s something about that film,” Lillard continued. “Underdog story, good performances, and he was a great shooter. But no one knew Angie [Jolie] was going to be Angie, and no one knew Rollerblades were going to go out so fast. The best part is that I get incredible customer service whenever I set foot in an Apple Store. It’s like Mick Jagger walking into Guitar Center!”
For playdates and more information, visit http://fatkidrulesthemovie.com.