'Fat Kid Rules The World': Matthew Lillard weighs in on his directorial debut

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If a fat kid really did rule the world, then a movie version of KL Going‘s 2003 book Fat Kid Rules The World would have hit cinema screens years ago. But it took actor-turned-first-time director Matthew Lillard (Scream, The Descendants) almost a decade to get his adaptation of the young adult novel in the can and a subsequent, successful Kickstarter campaign to guarantee a run in theaters. (The film opens this Friday at New York’s Cinema Village, followed by a nationwide roll out. Fat Kid Rules The World will also be available on VOD and iTunes on Oct. 25.)

Below, Lillard talks about making this tale of an overweight, suicidal high schooler, played by Jacob Wysocki (ABC Family’s Huge), who is recruited to play drums in a band called the Tectonics by Matt O’Leary’s charismatic, drug-addicted guitarist.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You are one of the film industry’s lankier performers…
MATTHEW LILLARD: [Laughs] I used to be, that’s for sure.

 …so what was it about this project that appealed to you?
Well, I did the book on tape. I’d never read it and I sat down and about 20 pages into it I had this kind of emotional catharsis. Look, it’s an underdog story. I love underdog stories. And I see myself in that kid. For me, I found acting and that changed my life, and he finds drumming. We made the movie for a reason. I wanted to make a great movie that’s fun but had something to say. Hopefully we can deliver on both sides.

How did you come to cast Jacob? Did he have any reservations about taking the role?
I don’t think so. I think that he relishes it because it’s not making fun of the fact that he’s an obese teenager. He gets to do a lot in the movie and I think he identifies with a lot of the things that character is going through. We did a short version of the movie before we did the feature and he was so amazing in the short that he became a linchpin to the financing. Without him, we wouldn’t have had a chance to make the movie. That’s how charismatic and tremendous an actor he is. To me, the most important thing was to treat those kids with respect and give them words to say that felt right. Our protagonist is a 350 pound teenager. I love him and I love that character and I never wanted him to be the butt of the jokes, and that was important to me.

Tell me you’ve made t-shirts with the line “Don’t f— with the fat kid” on them.
That’s our slogan. We went to SXSW — we won the audience award there — and we plastered stickers everywhere [with that on them].

Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready wrote the score. How did he get involved?
My agent put us together. I knew that he would make a huge impact on our film. Look, we’re a micro-budgeted film, so for anyone to find our movie it’s a little bit of an act of god, and I knew that I would add some kind of clout with his following. And I’m a huge fan of Pearl Jam. I was so intimidated to be giving notes to Mike McCready ,who I’ve been listening to since I was 13, 14. So when I sat down for that meeting, I was hellbent on begging him to do the movie and I found out very early on that he was hellbent on doing the movie. So it quickly became a conversation about, “How do we do this?” It ended up being one of the most fantastic experiences I’ve ever had in my creative career. I made big mistakes as first time director and Mike’s work really helped gloss [over] those.

Talk about your experience with Kickstarter.
It’s a wave of the future, that’s for sure. The time for Kickstarter is coming into the world. We won the audience award and we expected a big distributor to come along and say, “We want this movie.” With our reviews, and the audience reaction, and winning the audience award we were like, “Oh, here we go.” That didn’t happen. We got a bunch of offers but none of them of them really gave us a chance to find success. So instead of taking a crappy deal we went to Kickstarter, and in 33 days we raised $158,000.

Where did that money go to?
That all went to the distribution of the film. So instead of taking the bad deal, we took the $158,000, we became one of the co-sponsors of the Vans Warped Tour over the course of the summer. Then we did a deal with TUGG, which is also really innovative in terms of what’s happened with the film. Any kid anywhere can request a one-time screening of our film in any theater across the United States, from Alaska to Florida. So all summer we went around preaching and trying to convince people to set up their own screening and we’ve had over 1,000 screening requests in the last eight weeks. If you go to tuggthefatkid.com, you’ll see our page. The TUGG screenings we’ve done, they’ve become so popular that other theater chains have found out about the movie and so we have successfully booked a theater in several cities. So, starting this Friday, Fat Kid will roll out in New York, L.A., Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland…

As an actor you’ve worked with several notable directors, including Alexander Payne, Wes Craven, and Uwe Boll. Did you call any of them up to ask for advice before you started shooting?
Yeah, I called Uwe and I said, “How do I punch people in the face who don’t like the movie?” [Laughs] I know you got word of that! No, I didn’t. Look, I’ve been acting since I was 13 and you are the director you’re going to be by virtue of the fact of who you worked with and your time as an artist. So I don’t specifically go looking for anything. For me, it was a really natural fit. I never felt lost or like I didn’t belong there. But I’ve been trying to direct for a long time and I finally got to express this side. And hopefully I can do it again soon.

You can watch the Fat Kid Rules The World trailer below.

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