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BWW Interviews: Actor/Director Matthew Lillard Talks HARBOR & THE DESCENDANTS

Film star Matthew Lillard is now onstage at the Big Victory Theatre in Burbank in the world premiere play Harbor. Star of Scream, Scooby-Doo, SLC Punk and the soon to be released The Descendants with George Clooney, Lillard's first love is the theatre and he makes a return after an eight year absence. In our chat, he talks about Harbor, how it came to be and his other current projects.

How did Harbor come about and what are the challenges in playing your role in it?

I host an acting group at my house every two weeks and we read plays. Jon (Cellini) brought Harbor in to be read, and it played great in the room, and everyone was very excited about it. We were roommates at Circle in the Square for years. I had just come back off of doing a film, and in the back of my mind, months ago, I thought it (the play) would be my comeback into being an actor, having been gone and directing for so long. I decided to do it in the fall between pilot seasons. We put it on paper and committed to it. The challenges...it's outside my wheelhouse, I've never played a guy like this. Tom's a kind of blue collar Boston guy, and you go with the fact that he's wrong, he's the selfish one and you have to find the humanity in what he's doing and saying. It's such a well written play and the challenges are...just keeping him human, grounded so that you can relate to him and that he feels real.

Tell me about your film Fat Kid Rules the World.

It's based on a young adult book that I optioned eight years ago about an obese teenager that in the opening frames of the movie is about to kill himself. He gets saved by this little punk rock guitarist, and they start a band. So it's the trials and tribulations of this American teenager who's overweight and lost in America. It took me eight years to get it, and I'm super proud of it. It stars Billy Campbell from The Killing, Matt O'Leary and Jacob Wysocki from Terri. It's got a great little cast; we're a small movie, but I think it plays really well. Our music is done by Mike McCready of Pearl Jam. Let's see what happens.

This is your first direction, correct? How does it feel to switch chairs to director and producer?

It's great. I mean I like being a storyteller. It's the difference between being the quarterback on the bench and the quarterback on the field. I like things hanging in the balance and having it be my responsibility... my fault or my success. Success rests on your shoulders, and I like that responsibility. So much of an actor's process is laying at the hands of other people, and for better or for worse, I've done incredible movies and I've done terrible movies. I like telling the story and I like being in charge of telling the story.

What is your the favorite film you've done?

The Descendants, which is George Clooney's next movie, and that's Alexander Payne's new film after Sideways. Right now there's a lot of buzz for Academy Awards. Clooney will definitely get nominated. To be a part of that, and it's the most exciting movie I've ever been a part of, because it's so high profile in such a critical way. It hasn't been released yet, and already it's odds-on favorite to be all over the Academy Awards. That's really exciting, and then as an actor, SLC Punk, the little independant film I did ten years ago, that's probably my favorite performance to date.

You won some awards for that, didn't you?

I did. I won the Argentinian Film Festival for Best Actor. It was a movie that went under the radar, but it's still around. If I walked down the street right now, there's a bunch of fifteen to twenty year-olds, odds are, that'll come over and say "Hey, you're the guy in SLC Punk." More so than they would Scream or Scooby-Doo. Punk has such an incredible following.

What are your feelings creatively about Scooby-Doo?

Something like that is a piece of business in my life that ...I mean, can we talk about acting and not talk about the business of acting? Actors have to balance between how do I feed my kids and how do I maintain my dignity. More so now than ever, there's not as much work as there has been. Our industry is completely upside down like a lot of industries in America. Right now it's harder than ever to just get by. To be number one on the call sheet is an excitng place to be, but... Was Scooby-Doo the most rewarding, creative movie I've ever done? Certainly not, but it's been huge in my life and has allowed me to continue to be an actor.

Who are your idols past or present?

I grew up on Jimmy Stewart. If I picked an actor I'd like to be, it would be him. There's just something about his charm...he did drama and comedy effortlessly...he had the opportunity to be everyman.

Do you have a role that you haven't played that you'd like to play?

No, I used to, I really wanted to play George in Our Town. There's a play called Tracers, I didn't get cast in it, and I had to play that role, so I went out and started a theatre company to create the opportunity to play that role. But now I really don't hold on to that quintessential performance, that singular role. To me...all I want to do is continue to work and find things like this. I mean if you could be the first guy to play Brick (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) or the quintessential actor that brings a part to life and makes it definitive, like say a Malkovich...

Maybe yours is just around the corner. Anything else you care to add about the play Harbor?

Being back on stage is awesome. The last thing I did was the European premiere of Fuddy Meers by David Lindsay-Abaire and the European premiere of Neil LaBute's Bash in London on the West End. That was eight years ago. So, it's great to be back.

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From This Author - Don Grigware

  Don Grigware was a writer for BroadwayWorld through December 2019.                            ... (read more about this author)