Exclusive Interview: Director Matthew Lillard for ‘Fat Kid Rules the World’

– by Gig Patta

Actor Matthew Lillard made his directorial debut in the indie film “Fat Kid Rules the World.”

The movie is based off K.L Going’s young adult book of the same title, which was published ten years ago. Lillard made it his personal project to get this movie off the ground, including a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds and promote the movie through the Van’s Warped Tour.

The story is centered on an overweight teenager who tried to commit suicide, but was saved by a high school dropout. The new friend tried to recruit the chubby kid into a new start-up punk-rock band as a drummer.

Lillard gave Latino-Review an exclusive interview to discuss his movie “Fat Kid Rules the World.” He discussed a variety of topics, including on how it got started, the actors and the important themes from this touching movie.

“Fat Kid Rules the World” is currently in theaters for a limited release.

Latino-Review: There were a lot of themes that talked about the movie such as drug use, suicide or even teen fantasies. Which one hit home the most to you?

Matthew Lillard: I think it’s the idea of isolation more than anything. I go back to the fact that 95 percent of the kids in high school that they feel like they don’t belong or feel like they’re on the outside looking in. And some of the may feel like they should be a little skinnier, a little stronger, a little cuter or even with better hair or whatever. Kids all over the world will feel like there’s something standing between them and being cool.

It’s that notion that you’re not good enough. So that idea really resonates to me. It’s that finding that one thing you love is just enough to change your life. And that message to me is very powerful.

Latino Review: There are quite a few changes in the movie from the book, such as the main character attempting to commit suicide in front of a bus instead of a train. And also the setting is in Seattle instead of Manhattan. Could you discuss about that?

Matthew Lillard: When you’re adapting a book into a film, you’ll have to make some cinematic choices. Specifically, we moved to Washington, because our micro-budget film goes much further in the city of Seattle than it would have in the city of Manhattan. That was one of the key elements there of the location.

As for the subway, there are no subways in Seattle. It’s important to me that we maintain the integrity of Kelly’s book as much as possible. In the end of the day, I made a vow to her that we would make a movie in which she wanted to say and in the way she would say it.

In terms of tone, character and momentum of story, we had a great piece of text to work on and we lean on that a lot.

Latino-Review: Tell us about how you got Pearl Jam’s guitarist Mike McCready into the project.

Matthew Lillard: Mike McCready was introduced from an agent actually. There’s a few times in my life in which an agent has been so unbelievably successful to help me as an artist. My agent was like, “Congratulations on the script. You’ll need someone to do the music. Have you ever thought about hiring Mike McCready?” In the back of my mind, I didn’t think I could actually do that. So I was like, “Ha. Ha. Ha. It’s never going to happen.”

So I sat down with McCready and a week later, I realized that he wanted to do the movie as badly as we wanted him to do it. This kind of started this relationship in terms of the movie and its eventual success between what he and I did together.

Latino-Review: Could you tell us on how you cast Jacob Wysocki and Matt O’Leary for the movie?

Matthew Lillard: We did a short as part of the financing for the guys who want to finance the project. They wanted to see if I could direct. So we did a short and it’s called, “Fat Punk.” We had three kids come in to audition for the part and Jacob was one of them. After doing the short film with them after three days of shooting in Seattle, he became a lynchpin to the financing.

As for Matt O’Leary, he came and audition. We pretty much saw everyone in Hollywood for that age that fit that make up [for the character]. He kind of blew them all out of the water.

Casting is a huge piece of the process. Those guys are great and we were very lucky to have them.

Latino-Review: You also had an unconventional way to promote this film, such as the Van’s Warped Tour. Could you talk about why you took this path for this film?

Matthew Lillard: One of the things was that ten years ago, I wanted to make a film for ten million dollars and nobody wanted to make that version of a film. In the back of my mind, I was always trying to figure on how to get that movie made. So I decided to use Van’s Warped Tour as a marketing tour.

I saw those kids and the opportunity to market specifically to that demographic. It’s much like Tyler Perry on how he market directly towards the African-American community. It was by going after these kids specifically by making a movie that respects them and shows them their lives in their way. So it made a lot of sense.

On the Van’s Warped Tour, we hit 41 different cities in 52 days to thousands of kids. It was a great chance to get out there to our fan base directly and educate them about the film.

Latino-Review: Overall, how was your directorial debut experience? And did you get any advice from other directors such as George Clooney or Uwe Boll?

Matthew Lillard: No. I didn’t get any advice or seek any advice. It’s like trying to seek advice for being a parent. There’s really no one that could tell you on how to be a parent. I’ve been in the movies for twenty some odd years so I knew what it takes to get a movie made. There was nothing that was going to surprise me.

Directing was great. It changed my life. It was a creative accomplishment of my career. I look forward into doing it again—that’s for sure.

Interviews, Film, LRM Exclusives Fat Kid Rules the World, Matthew Lillard