EXCLUSIVE: Matthew Lillard Spells ‘Trouble’ for Clint Eastwood in New Drama

MATTHEW LILLARD as Phillip Sanderson in “€œTROUBLE WITH THE CURVE.” ©Warner Bros. Entertainment.


Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—It’s never easy to be nasty to film icon Clint Eastwood, but Matthew Lillard had the pressure of having to do it in just one take.

Best known for his roles in “Scream” and the “Scooby-Doo” franchise, Lillard plays the upstart heavy in “Trouble with the Curve,” in which his tech-savvy character is plotting to push Eastwood’s old-school talent scout Gus Lobel out of the Atlanta Braves organization so he can move up the career ladder.

Eastwood’s fast-paced directing style is legendary within the Hollywood community, and though the Oscar-winning filmmaker didn’t actually direct this family drama set against a baseball backdrop, his longtime producing partner, Robert Lorenz did, and he obviously adopted Eastwood’s brisk filmmaking style.

Lillard, who attended drama school in Pasadena and New York, describes the quick pace as challenging but also rewarding.

Having recently returned from shooting the sequel to the kids’ adventure movie “Nim’s Island,” the 42-year-old Lillard is sporting a goatee. He also is out promoting “Fat Kid Rules the World,” the first movie he has directed.

He discussed what it was like working with Eastwood, how he landed the gig and his future.

Front Row Features: Did you watch the GOP convention?

Lillard: I did.

Front Row Features: What did you think?

Lillard: I listened to Clint on NPR as I was driving. I’m not a Republican, so the message was beyond me a little. But he’s a legend and he’s one of the great men this business has offered up in the world. I just think the world of him.

Front Row Features: Why the goatee?

Lillard: I just got back from shooting “Nim’s Island 2” in Australia. I went there for five weeks this summer. I just got back two weeks ago.

Front Row Features: How was it?

Lillard: You can reserve judgment. It is not the same movie.  (He laughs.)

Front Row Features: Sometimes sequels are better than the original.

Lillard: Not this time. (He laughs even harder.)

Front Row Features: You starred in a dark thriller in 1998 called “The Curve.”

Lillard: I did, with (director) Dan Rosen.

Front Row Features: How many actors can say they’ve starred in more than one film with “Curve” in the title?

Lillard: Probably not many. How many other “Curve” movies are there?

Front Row Features: So did Clint Eastwood call you and ask you to be in this movie?

Lillard: No. Rob Lorenz and I were at the AFI luncheon last year where they were honoring the best 10 movies of the year. He was there for “J. Edgar” and I was there for “The Descendants.” I’d auditioned for Rob and Clint on tape two weeks earlier. So Rob walked over to where I was waiting in line for my car at the valet—the valet line is the true Hollywood equalizer—and he offered me the part. I was like, “that’s awesome.”

Front Row Features: Did your involvement in “The Descendants” help you land more roles?

Lillard: No.

Front Row Features: Did it help you land this part?

Lillard: Maybe. But this was really an audition. It just hasn’t really… it’s a very fickle and weird business. When it comes down to who you’re going to hire, I don’t know, it’s tough for me to get a job still.

Front Row Features: As Phillip Sanderson, your character is presented as the villain. Was it fun to play a guy like this?

Lillard: It’s always fun to play a bad guy rather than the right-down-the-middle romantic interest because you get more to do. It’s more arch. There’s more energy to throw into it. You’re not onscreen the whole time so you can kind of jump out a little more. It’s a great role and on top of it. It’s a great script and it’s Warner Bros., which is where I love to work. I was working with John Goodman half the time and Robert Patrick, who’s lovely. All of those things make this job one of the five best jobs of my life.

Front Row Features: Was there an intimidation factor. Do you have to psych yourself up to verbally spar with Clint Eastwood?

Lillard: He’s so charming and funny so that wasn’t bad. Eastwood is a legendary director in the way his sets run. You move quickly. You have one take. You’re on and through by lunch. So you know you have to be on your game on the first take, ready to roll. That was intimidating for the first day. But like everything else around the Clint Eastwood experience, once you get past the first day and you see the life of it and you see the generosity of spirit, that tension and fear goes away really quickly.

Front Row Features: Did you really only get one take or did you get a couple?

Lillard: It was literally one take and then we moved on. That’s how Clint works and Rob adopted the same kind of texture to his directing.

Front Row Features: Was that good for you?

Lillard: In general, I believe in options and I like giving options. I like improv; I like adding stuff. So that goes out the window a little. It certainly works for Clint Eastwood, though, so who am I to question that?

Front Row features: You recently directed your first feature, “Fat Kid Rules the World.”

Lillard: Yeah. We premiered at SXSW. We also did Toronto International Film Festival Next Wave. We did the Seattle International Film Festival and soon we’re going to Savannah. We’ve done this thing called Tugg. If you go Tuggthefatkid.com, any kid anywhere in the U.S. can set up a screening of our movie at their local movie theater. We’ve had over 1,000 screening requests across the U.S.

Front Row Features: Do you have to be innovative today in terms of getting your movie out there?

Lillard: You have to be innovative and outside the box when you’re a $750,000 movie. We were a tiny micro-budgeted film. People like the film. We’ve gotten great reviews but the reality is that connecting the film to people is difficult so social media and the new kind of era of electronic release and distribution is upon us. We are on 20 screens right now and next month we open in L.A., New York and a few other markets.

Front Row Features: Why was it the right time to direct?

Lillard: Ten years I tried to get the movie made but nobody would make it. It’s about an obese teenager who finds punk rock music. It’s not an easy movie to make. But we finally found somebody that would commit to it and it was Whitewater Films, and their whole edict is first-time filmmakers and independent film. Directing’s all I want to do and I finally got a chance.

Front Row Features: Do you think you’ll do it again?

Lillard: Oh yeah. I’m champing at the bit trying to find something.

Front Row Features: Do you want to do a broad comedy?

Lillard: No. I’m not a broad comedy guy. I did one broad comedy, which is “Senseless.” I’ve been funny in movies, but I’m not a comedian. I’m an actor who’s sometimes funny. My tone and my style are reflected in the movies I choose to make. I want to make big movies. My dream is to be Jon Favreau or Ben Affleck.

Front Row Features: Is there more “Scooby-Doo” in your future?

Lillard: Yes. I’m still the voice of Shaggy. We have a long-running series on Cartoon Network. It’s called “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.” We also do two DVD movies a year. We have an ongoing video game. And I just did a commercial for McDonalds. “Scooby-Doo” just turned 43 the other day. Every Wednesday, we get together as a cast and we do it like an old radio show.

Front Row Features: Is it fun for you?

Lillard: It’s the best job. It’s a normal income to some extent.

Front Row Features: Do fans come up to you for that?

Lillard: No, when fans come up to me it’s usually because of  “SLC Punk” or “Scream” or “Without a Paddle.”

Front Row Features: What’s next for you?

Lillard: I just did an episode of “Criminal Minds.” I’m looking to find something to do.