Interview: Matthew Lillard, Director of ‘Fat Kid Rules the World’
After a two-decade long career as an actor, Matthew Lillard has made the transition from the front of the camera to behind it with his new directorial debut, Fat Kid Rules the World. Speaking of what it took to make him want to direct, he explains how much the book on which the film is based affected him. ”I did the book on tape ten years ago. Halfway through, I just fell in love with the story. It’s the story of an outsider, a guy who’s lost in the world. I felt like that kid in high school, I felt like I didn’t have a place. I found acting, and he finds punk rock music. It has nothing to do with being fat, but has everything to do with being on the outside looking in.”
It was a long journey from the page to the screen, though. “I always wanted to direct it. I called the author, Kelly Going, and said, ‘I know I’ve never done a movie, but this really speaks to me.’ I had an emotional epiphany while reading, and it was something I wanted to give the world. It took ten years to get it done, but we did it.”
The film, following the travails of lonely “fat kid” Troy Billings, balances an interesting tone of drama (Troy is suicidal) and comedy (A guy pushes him out of the way of a bus and demands twenty dollars as a reward). Does this mood come from him, or from Going’s source material? “It’s both. Kelly’s tone is in there. The emotional weight is in the book, and comedy as well. But the balance of tone is what defines filmmakers. She has her own tone, I have my own tone. I believe in comedy in life and death stakes, and telling a story with emotional weight. I don’t think life is a straight drama or comedy. And to put the two together is real and powerful. I don’t think we see that very often in big films.”
When asked about what kind of adjustment it was like to go from acting to directing, Lillard responds that, “It’s funny. I didn’t have a huge learning curve. To me, it was a really natural progression. I keep hearing that question, and I wish I had something like ‘Oh my gosh, I was blown away.’ I’ll say that the endurance of editing… I’m a guy who likes to be surrounded by people and the energy of a set. Editing is a little more cerebral and laborious, and the time and energy that it takes to edit a movie was the one thing that I had to get accustomed to. I loved it, but it wasn’t the most natural piece of the pie for me.” Overall, it seems that extensive experience on a set, no matter what the capacity, can be a good substitute for formal training.
So were any of the many directors whom Lillard has worked under an influence on him? “No, not really. But the answer is also yes, everyone. But not one singular person. It’s like being a parent. You can ask for suggestions, but the parent you are is the man you are. As a director, I’m an accumulation of the actor I’ve been over the last thirty years.” He elaborates that, “You ‘steal’ things, tidbits and pieces that you call back on. It’s like Slumdog Millionaire - you go through your life and think ‘I had no idea how that was going to apply.’”
All these experiences have paid off for Lillard, as Fat Kid Rules the World has received critical acclaim. It goes into a limited release today, and is most definitely worth a look (a review is pending). Lillard has embarked on an exciting new direction in his career, and may prove to have an even better output as a director than he has had as an actor.