Best known for Scream (1996) and as the live-action Shaggy in the Scooby-Doo, er, pantheon, Matthew Lillard isn’t ashamed to call himself a “blue-collar” actor. And while the Scooby-Doo films and their subsequent video games and animated TV programs – in which he replaced the legendary Casey Kasem as the voice of Shaggy – have no doubt helped put food on the table, Lillard continues to seek out loftier opportunities. He landed a plum role in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants (2011) and even directed an award-winning feature (2012’s Fat Kid Rules the World). This summer he stars in FX’s The Bridge as Daniel Frye, a loathsome, substance-abusing reporter for an El Paso newspaper who gets caught up in a serial-killer investigation. Rolling Stone spoke with Lillard about complicated characters, longstanding body issues and the real Casey Kasem.
There’s an intense part of The Bridge pilot where you’re trapped in a car with a bomb. How did you prepare to shoot that scene?
When you have three kids that you’re madly in love with, it’s not that hard. Funny thing is, you’d think that you’d lean on the pain, but you really lean on the joy and love. That’s where that comes from. Actually, they made me reshoot that scene. I think it was the most crushing blow I’ve had in my entire career.
The Bridge got picked up, we had a celebratory dinner, and one of the show runners said, “Could you do that scene again, you think?” I’m like, “Heck yeah, that’s my job. That’s what I do.” He says, “Good, ’cause we’re gonna reshoot it.” I called him back the next day and said, “You know, that was a pretty drunk moment for me. Maybe we don’t have to. Are you serious?” And he was like, “Yeah, I think we have to shoot it again.”
But it’s one of the best moments I’ve ever had as an actor. I connected with something really deep, and I ended up sobbing. It’s a pound of flesh in that scene.
The second time through, were you thinking about the same things?
The stuff that works the first time never works the second time. I call it the emotional ninja. I don’t want to sound like a pretentious cock, but you kinda get yourself into a state. And you just hope that state sits there for enough takes to get through it. And in terms of what you’re thinking about with your kids, you’re not putting them under a bus or thinking of them falling off a cliff. You’re thinking how much love you have for them.
In another episode, you snort cocaine. Don’t you worry about your kids seeing that?
They’ll never, ever see the show – until they’re eighteen. It’s so sad: I never do anything that my kids get to watch.
This character is a pretty bad guy. Do those roles appeal to you now?
I like to say he’s complicated. He’s a racist, he’s a drunk, he’s an asshole, and yet he’s the smartest guy in the room. And what’s in that is this humor that I understood very quickly. To be a dick and to be funny at the same time is a fun combination. To get to do both is like heaven on earth. I feel like every actor in the world is going to want this role and hate my guts because I get to do it.
TV is the shit right now! You get great directors, great actors, great things to say, and you get to work all the time. You do a movie. . . I did The Descendants. A year later I did Trouble with the Curve. That’s two jobs in two years. That’s a really terrible way to make a living.
Lots of actors – Stephen Moyer on True Blood, Jon Hamm and John Slattery on Mad Men – are directing these days. Is that something you aspire to?
I’m trying to make that happen. I directed Fat Kid Rules the World last year, and I said to the universe, “Screw acting, I’ve found what I really love to do, and I’m happy to move on.” And all I’ve done is act since. You try to go a different way, and all of a sudden something brings you back. But I’m dying to direct another movie.
She’s All That is probably something that you’re tired of talking about, but recently, M. Night Shyamalan claimed he ghost-wrote it. Did you know that at the time?
I had no idea. That was brought to my attention and it was shocking.
So you never saw him on set?
I was a 23-year-old kid. I wasn’t really paying much attention to anything.
I guess you had to be in character that whole time.
Yeah! ‘Cause that’s when I went deep.
I just watched it, because I’d never seen it all the way through.
You should never go back and re-watch things like that! There are things in the past that you don’t have to experience!
I’m glad I did, because I hadn’t known you were riffing on [Real World character] Puck. I’m happy that somebody was, because that guy was ridiculous.
We saw an opportunity to make fun of the situation. . . and there you go.
The rest is history. Last question: What’s Casey Kasem really like?
Casey is a legend. There’s something dignified and noble and wonderful about him. I grew up listening to him – he was the original Shaggy. He’s a dear, dear man.
What else can one say?
That he’s on crack, and he’s got hookers with him all the time.
So you were channeling him for your coke scene.
Exactly. I imagined WWCD – what would Casey do?