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Matthew Lillard would like you to know that his feature directorial debut — Fat Kid Rules the World — is not actually about a fat kid.
Sure, Troy (Jacob Wysocki) is an overweight teen who doesn’t have any friends in high school until he meets a charming dropout named Marcus (Matt O’Leary) — but this story isn’t about Troy’s weight.
“It’s a little bit unfortunate that ‘fat’ is in the title because it really has nothing to do with size, or weight or image,” Lillard, 42, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “He’s an outcast looking in and that’s really what the movie is about, and I think that’s why the movie resonates with more than just people who are fat because about 95 percent of the world at some point doesn’t feel like they belong.”
Lillard — who is known for his work in front of the camera in films like Scream and The Descendants — optioned KL Going’s young adult novel of the same name 10 years ago, and has since that time worked on getting it made into a movie.
“To me, this movie is perfect for me because it’s funny and has comedy and drama,” says Lillard. “It’s driven in performance and character. So all those things I like about me as an actor and me as an artist are represented in this movie really well.”
While Fat Kid Rules the World won the Narrative Feature Spotlight Audience Award at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival and was picked up for North American distribution by ARC Entertainment in June, Lillard has embarked on an unusual marketing campaign to get the word out about the project. This included raising $158,000 for P&A through crowdfunding website Kickstarter.
Lillard talks to THR about why he stayed away from fat jokes, the struggles of making an independent film and why he’s no Ben Affleck.
The Hollywood Reporter: Did you always want to direct?
Matthew Lillard: It’s always been in my DNA. So when I was in high school, I directed high school things. When I was in college, I directed college things. I started a theater company when I was 19. I’ve always been on the trajectory. It wasn’t until I started to teach did I really find the confidence in myself to know that I’d be able to direct and do it with success.
THR: What kind of director are you?
Lillard: I’m a visceral director. Also, it’s funny, my biggest fear is that I would see something and want them to do it the way I wanted them to do it because I’m an actor and I have an instinct and I would apply my instinct to them. The reality is I can watch them and see something small that they’re doing and go out and get more of that thing that I liked.
THR: Would you want to act in a movie that you direct?
Lillard: I did. I cut myself out immediately.
THR: You were in this movie? Who did you play?
Lillard: Yes. I played the guidance counselor. So [Troy] goes to see the guidance counselor and I become a long fantasy sequence. It just didn’t work storytelling-wise. I didn’t even make the rough cut. It was out.
THR: What about in a future movie you direct?
Lillard: To be honest with you, it’s satisfying two different things. I mean, Ben [Affleck] just did it. Everyone says Argo is genius. Look, if you’re Ben Affleck and you’re getting Argo made because you’re hugely famous and that’s the muscle that movie needs to get made, then I understand it. If I was more famous and I had more box office “weight,” if it made a difference if I was in a movie, then, yes, I could see using that as a pawn to get a story that you want to tell made. I feel a lot of pressure to be very smart with The Hollywood Reporter. Am I saying anything smart at all?
THR: Yes, you’re doing fine. Genius. How aware were you about fat jokes or stereotypes in this movie?
Lillard: Respecting these characters was essential — respecting their journey and their plight and never throwing Hollywood crap on top of it. I have obesity in my life; I’ve been overweight. I understand that pain. I think that you can’t have both. You can’t be one of those movies that’s like, “Haha. Fat joke, fat joke. Haha. Fat joke.” And then in the end say, “but he really has a heart of gold.” F— that. It was important to me that we treat our hero like a hero. We try to earn our comedy through character, not one-liners.
THR: What’s been the most surprising or frustrating part of getting this movie made?
Lillard: The thing that I think is most surprising to me is how hard it is to find a way get it out in the world. That’s the surprising part: How hard it is to get somebody with a movie that “works” to bet on it. I understand that it’s expensive, but that’s been the part that’s been the most discouraging is that, yes, we have a movie that works and that nobody wants to bet on it is a little heartbreaking.
THR: You’ve done some pretty innovative things to get the movie seen, like the Kickstarter campaign.
Lillard: We keep trying to find the way in, continually trying to find an audience. Continually trying to make our dollar back and also give the film the kind of experience it should have, which has been exciting because we’re outside the box. My whole idea was to shift the paradigm of independent distribution. I had pretty lofty goals in that. It hasn’t really happened. But f— it, I’ve tried. But that’s the frustrating thing as a filmmaker, I feel like we did our job, we told our story, the story works and you want people to find it.
Fat Kid Rules the World opens in New York City on Oct. 5, Los Angeles on Oct. 12 and on VOD on Oct. 25.
Email: Rebecca.Ford@thr.com; Twitter: @Beccamford
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