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WTF Happened to Matthew Lillard

WTF Happened to Matthew Lillard
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With the actor’s strike finally over, Matthew Lillard can finally talk about the plum role he has in Five Nights at Freddy’s. In a recent THR interview, Lillard mentioned being thrilled about how fans have reacted to the film, noting:

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“Being 53 years old — and being around the block a couple times — I have a much deeper sense of appreciation in this moment than I probably have ever had because I didn’t expect it. I realize that these opportunities don’t come around that often. It’s been a really rich, joyful moment because I can sort of sit back and appreciate it on a deeper level.”

Lillard’s character, who has a rich mythology in the game, could well wind-up being a recurring presence in the Five Nights at Freddy’s world, especially with the film such a huge hit in theaters and on Peacock. But, it turns out that due to this Strike, Lillard actually hasn’t any any conversations at all with the studio.

“This is the first conversation I’ve had about the movie ever. We couldn’t do press the entire time. So, the idea that we’re sitting here having this conversation is amazing because that movie opened day-and-date with Peacock, which didn’t hurt the opening, but it certainly hurt the second weekend, and I’m sure it’s going to hurt this weekend. We weren’t able to support it. All those traditional avenues of publicity weren’t available to us. I’m excited to see when they greenlight the second movie, the plan we put together to make it even bigger and even more successful.”

Indeed, it’s an excellent time to be Matthew Lillard, with him also kicking off an Improv show centred around his beloved Dungeons and Dragons on Freevee, called Faster, Purple Worm! Kill! Kill! next week. It’s just the latest twist in a long, beloved career for the one-time teen idol of the nineties, who it turns out, is likely going to launch one heck of a second act.

In the late nineties and early 2000s, Matthew Lillard was everywhere. He and that era’s biggest heartthrob, Freddie Prinze Jr, were quite the combo for a while, acting opposite each other in She’s All That, Summer Catch, Wing Commander, and the two Scooby Doo movies. He was the scene-stealing wild man, and he hit the peak of his fame when he was cast as Shaggy in Scooby-Doo and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. He also had good roles in the cult hits Thirteen Ghosts and Without a Paddle and was one of the killers in Scream. Still, sometime in the mid-2000s, he went from headlining teen studio fare to lower-rent movies like Uwe Boll’s In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, Extreme Movie and something called Endless Bummer. Yet, in 2011 he surprised everyone when he showed up in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants and delivered a solid character turn opposite George Clooney.

From there, Lillard made a unique comeback, evolving into an in-demand character actor on TV shows like Billions, The Good Wife and Twin Peaks while also continuing a prolific career as a voice actor (continuing as the voice of Shaggy for many years) and turning up in remakes of his nineties classics like He’s All That. Indeed, he’s had an exciting career.

Matthew Lillard was born on January 24, 1970, Lansing, Michigan. He would soon move to southern California where he would attend the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena. His laid back vibe would help him land his first ever gig on TV, when right after high school he hosted a variety show on Nickelodeon called SK8-TV (1990)that would feature interviews with skaters and remote pieces out of the studio. On the big screen, Lillard would kick off his career as the nerdy Dexter in Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go To College.By 1994, he would land more sizable roles in in films like the John Waters classic Serial Mom and the made for TV film Vanishing Son. But really 1995 would be the year Lillard truly broke out. After appearing opposite Dres Barrymore in Mad Lovehe would appear in the now cult classic film Hackerswhich is really quintessential Lillard. He plays a burnt out high school kid, despite being 24 at the time it was shot, who goes by the handle “cereal killer” with his real name being the Orwellian Emmanuel Goldstein, who just wants to “Hack The Planet!” The character feels like it was tailor made for Lillard as it was both a laid back stoner high school kid who is also so high strung and energetic, he felt like someone you actually knew from High School. I don’t think we get to a Stu Macher or even a Shaggy without Lillard’s stand out performance in Hackers. 

And who is Stu Macher, you ask? He is Lillard’s murderous character from 1996’s genre re-defining film Scream. After appearing in Tarantella (1995), Animal Room (1995)and the highly acclaimed TV movie If These Walls Could Talk (1996), Lillard would land his biggest role yet when he was cast in a new type of slasher film from horror master Wes Craven. The true genius of Lillard’s casting here is that he once again plays this joker, smart assed high school kid that no one take seriously. So in the end, when you see that (Spoiler Alert for 27 year old film here) Skeet Ulrich’s boyfriend character Billy Loomis is the killer, we feel a sense of calm knowing who the bad guy is and can just enjoy the ride as we watch our hero Sydney Prescott ultimately win… but wait… what’s this? There are TWO Killers?! And the other one is Matthew Lillard’s Stu?! C’mon man, he was funny, we liked him! But it was perfect, no one expected a second killer. You have to remember, this film was the launch pad for the last almost 30 years of slasher films. Prior to this, we had Jason and Freddy and Michael Myers, basically supernatural killers, we hadn’t really seen teens dressed in costumes slaughtering their classmates, at least not in a truly mainstream movie. The idea that the killer was someone you knew was a pretty new concept in 1996. Craven said they went with two killers because generally in a murder mystery, once you know who the killer is, there is no rewatch value. But with two killers it would give the audience a reason to go back and rewatch top try and figure out which killer is in which scene. Lillard says that he was cast purely by accident as on the day of the audition he had actually taken his girlfriend to the building for her to audition for a different project and when the casting director for Scream saw him, she asked him to audition, he did… and obviously he was pretty good!

Despite dying in the first film, you may have still felt a presence by the actor as he would show up in a blink and you’ll miss it party scene in Scream 2 and even having a bit of a cameo in the 2022 re-quel Screamwhere Lillard provides the voice for the Stab 8 flame throwing Ghostface (where he says “This Shit is Lit”) and towards the end of he film when the character Amber is walking through the house, and off camera Lillard can be heard saying “Cool House, Freeman” which is especially meta when you realize that scene takes place in Stu Macher’s house from the original. From there you would start to see Lillard branching out with different types of supporting roles including the horror film The Curve (1998), Senseless (1998),the Jennifer Love Hewitt starring Telling You aka Love Sucks (1998)and Without Limits. But it would be 1998’s SLC Punk that would finally bring Lillard’s talents front and center with a tremendous leading roles that almost seemed like it was written just for him. The film covered everything you love about Matthew Lillard, going from this disaffected youth in the 80’s to being an emotionally wrecked human who is forced to grow up by the end, which I think is what Lillard wanted to show. It perfectly encapsulated his wild and crazy characters like the one from Hackerswhile also showing maturity and growth in his performances. Critics agreed saying the film worked as a form of youthful rebellion and credited Lillard’s tremendous performance as the main reason the film worked so well. Lillard has even said that the crying scene in the film is his proudest moment as an actor. He said during the lunch break he worked himself up into a frenzy and when they shot the scene after lunch he was “ready to lose my shit.” Sadly the film would fail to ignite the box office, pulling in less than $300,000, but it has since gone on to be hailed as a cult classic and mentioned in the same breath as other now classic rebellious youth films like Dazed and Confused and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

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The thing with Matthew Lillard was that he never felt like an actor who thought he was above anything. He had no problem taking on supporting roles in all different types of genre’s. Whether that was in the teen romance film opposite frequent collaborator Freddie Prinze Jr in She’s All That (1999)where he would play what we expect: a hard partying, promiscuous reality tv star to playing a con artist in Spanish Judges (1999)to a fresh faced Lieutenant from the year 2654 in the video game adaptation of Wing Commander (1999)which was meant to be a big sci fi hit igniting a new franchise but crashed and burned with just $11.6 million at the box office. He would follow that up with an unexpected turn as Longaville in the Kenneth Branagh directed Shakespeare adaptation of Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000)followed by the surfer comedy Dish Digs (2000)while off screen his life seemed to be going just as smooth when he married Realtor Heather Helm whom he met at a party in 1998. The duo would go on to have two children together, and 23 years later are still a happily married couple, a rarity in today’s Hollywood. To start the new millennium, Lillard would appear in the romantic comedy Summer Catch (2001)while getting mercilessly slaughtered in the horror remake Thir13en Ghosts (2001)while starring in the Jeff Probst (yes, THAT Jeff Probst) film Finder’s Fee (2001)opposite Ryan Reynolds which would actual garner some strong reviews and even win Best Picture at the Seattle International Film Festival.

But true fame generally comes when you take on an iconic character that has been beloved for generations and make it entirely your own. That is what Matthew Lillard did when he signed on to star as Shaggy in the live action movie Scooby-Doo from 2002! The role was really well suited to Matthew Lillard and the types of characters he had most success with over the years. Shaggy is a guy with a very laid back chill vibe, basically a stoner-esque character. Although Lillard and the rest of the cast had signed on to the film when the script was far more adult oriented as it was meant to be a parody of the cheesy cartoons, with Shaggy actually being written by writer James Gunn as a full blown stoner. Gunn would later admit that the original cut of the film received an R rating but the studio balked at that and decided to make it a PG rated affair for the whole family. Lillard says that in order to get his voice to where it needed to be he would scream so loud that his voice became horse, but that eventually took its toll and he simply had to learn to do the voice without killing his vocal chords. For their part, critics hated the movie, but actually singled out Lillard’s performance as the sole highlight in the film. Those poor reviews wouldn’t matter much as the film would go on to be a massive hit pulling in over $275 million, while Lillard would win an award from the Kids Choice Awards for “Favorite Fart in a movie.” Yes, somewhere in Matthew Lillard’s house rests a trophy that says “Favorite Fart in a Movie!”

After appearing as another lovable loser in The Perfect Score,Lillard would next be seen as himself in Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003)where the animated Shaggy and Scooby take issue with his performance in the film and tell him he better do better in the sequel, which he would do in 2004 when Scooby-Doo 2: Monster’s Unleashed was uh, unleashed, on the public where yet again critics hated the movie but singled out Lillard’s performance as a highlight. The sequel would take in nearly $100 million less than its predecessor and earn the Razzie Award for Worst Remake or Sequel, but it was clear the role of Shaggy was one Lillard was meant to play, and despite no third film ever being made in this franchise, it was obvious that Lillard still had a lot more “Shaggy” to offer the world.

Lillard would continue dominating in supporting roles in films that maybe didn’t garner the best reviews or box office such as Wicker Park, Bickford Schmeckler’s Cool Ideas, What Love Is, In The Name of the King which Lillard recently said was the worst movie he ever made, but that he dug his performance,Extreme Movie, Alls Faire in Love, Messages Deleted, Home Run Showdownwhich he said he absolutely hated when he saw itand Bloodsucking Bastards. But he would also pop up in films like Without A Paddle (2004)that although not a comedy classic, was a solid way to kill an hour and a half on a rainy Sunday that actually did fairly decent at the box office with $73 million off a $19 million budget. But it was embracing his indie roots that helped Lillard discern himself from his peers. Whether playing against type as a well adjusted married man in Edward Burns’ The Groomsmenor producing the 2007 film One of Our Own that one critic said was a great change of pace for Lillard, followed by producing and starring in Spoonerthat would go on to win several awards at the Newport Beach Film Festival. No matter where you saw Matthew Lillard, he always gave it his all. And that would even extend to the directors chair for his directorial debut in the 2012 film Fat Kid Rules The World.Despite garnering strong reviews from critics who praised Lillard’s directing saying it was clear he had an affection for the material, providing the film with authentic characters and genuine laughs, and even taking home several awards including the Narrative Spotlight Award from the South by Southwest Film Festival, this would be the only film to date that Lillard has directed, which sounds like a shame as it seems like he is good at it.

But it was always nice to see Lillard pop up in front of the camera, especially in places you weren’t expecting him such as the Academy Award winning film The Descendants (2011) playing the man with whom George Clooney’s now comatose wife was having an affair. For a lot of us, it was the first time we had seen Lillard on screen in a while, and this was a more grown up and mature Matthew Lillard for which he would be rewarded with a Screen Actors Guild nomination as part of the films Ensemble Cast. He would continue that more mature streak with the Clint Eastwood starring Trouble With the Curve (2012).Recently it may seem like you haven’t seen much of Matthew Lillard, but you definitely have heard him. Whether voicing characters on Seth Green’s Robot Chickenor as Eko in the Japanese Karasseries. More importantly, after nailing his role as Shaggy in the two Scooby-Doomovies, Lillard would actually take over for original Shaggy voice actor Casey Kasem after he retired in 2009. Over the past 13 years Lillard has voice Shaggy in nearly every Scooby-Doo related project from movies to television shows to video games. He says that playing Shaggy cost him a lot of credibility in the industry after the success of SLC Punk, but it has also been the biggest blessing because without it he doubts he would still be in the industry. She adds that playing Shaggy over the years has kept him relevant. He would still appear on screen from time to time in movies such as Matchopposite Patrick Stewart and the gender swapped remake He’s All Thatin a subtle nod to his performance in the original. But it isn’t just the big screen where Lillard has been killing it, on TV he has turned in stellar guest performances on shows such as House, Leverage, Criminal Minds, The Good Wife, State of Affairs, FBI, Billionsand a recent episode of the just launched series True Lies, while also having significant roles in TV series such as The Bridge, Bosch, Halt and Catch Fire, Twin Peaks and Good Girls.

It may seem that Mathew Lillard was one of those actors that was all over the place in the late 90’s early 2000’s and then kind of disappeared only to resurface years later in supporting roles, but the truth is: he has never gone away. The through line of all of those films was generally a stellar performance from Lillard who always gave it his all. And that has paid off, his resume is filled with characters for both children and adults.

What role do you think showcased Matthew Lillard at his best? Let us know in the comments!

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