Fat kid: Lillard's directing debut rules the world

Some people recognize Matthew Lillard from Scream. Others know him from Scooby-Doo. Sitting in the airport in Dallas on the day he's talking to a reporter, someone tells him they just saw him in SLC Punk. One role in which he hasn't been recognized– yet– is as a director, and that's the one that's bringing him to Charlottesville.

The movie is Fat Kid Rules the World, and Lillard is candid about what brought him to direct the K.L. Going novel.

"I saw myself as that kid. I felt like that when I was in high school. I found acting; he finds punk music."

Overweight teen Troy Billings is contemplating jumping in front of a bus when a former classmate, now a dropout, saves him and convinces him to become a drummer in his band. When Lillard listened to the book on tape 10 years ago, "I had these tears running down my face," he admits.

Lillard, 42, has been acting since he was 13, and has a lengthy filmography. Directing, he says, "was the most natural transition in my life. I loved it. You are the storyteller."

He gets plaudits from one of his actors, Billy Campbell, who happens to hail from Charlottesville.

"In all my years in the business," says Campbell, "he's in my very top echelon of directors I've worked with. He's a very smart guy and he knows what it takes to get a good performance." Campbell insists he's not just saying that.

Lillard worked with many directors, among them Alexander Payne, who directed the 2011 Best Picture Oscar nominee, The Descendants. Lillard played the guy with whom George Clooney's comatose wife had cheated.

"I don't think there's a lot of black and white in his work," says Lillard of Payne. "To be on that ride and go to the Academy Awards, to be in a movie like that was an incredibly validating experience in my life." (The picture won for Best Adapted Screenplay.)

John Waters directed the first film Lillard was in– Serial Mom– in 1994.

"I had no idea," says Lillard. "You've got to remember, this was before the Internet. I found out there was a book about [Waters]. It talked about his fetish for serial killers. I ran to the video store and rented Pink Flamingos. I was a nice American boy from the midwest and thought, what have I gotten myself into?"

Adds Lillard, "He's the nicest guy."

Like many independent directors, now Lillard is working on building the word-of-mouth that will build an audience for Fat Kid Rules the World. The film won the Audience Award at SXSW.

"We got four offers after South By Southwest," he says. "None of those offers allowed us a chance at success. We wouldn't have been able to make back our modest investment."

Instead, he went the Kickstarter route to raise money. "We raised $158,000 in 32 days to distribute it ourselves," says Lillard.

He's taking the film to a small, select number of film festivals like the Virginia Film Festival because, he says, "There's a kid out there who needs to see this movie."

Lillard will be joined by Billy Campbell to discuss Fat Kid Rules the World at 7pm Sunday, November 4, at Newcomb Hall Theater.

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Plus, Mike McCready of Pearl Jam scored the movie...how cool is that