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Friday, December 15, 2023

Exclusive Interview: Matthew Lillard Is Excited to Have a Brand New Horror Movie Franchise to Call Home

From Stu Macher in Scream to Shaggy in Scooby-Doo, Matthew Lillard is no stranger to iconic roles — but the fervent fanbase that accompanied his casting as William Afton in Five Nights at Freddy’s came as a surprise. The wildly popular video game franchise yielded Blumhouse’s highest-grossing film of all-time.

The affable actor knew of the games but hadn’t played them prior to getting the role. “I got a call from my manager saying, ‘I’ve been working on this project for a while, and I’ve set up a meeting for you and the director, and if it goes well, the part’s yours.’ For me, every time that happens, the movie’s pretty shitty,” he chuckles.

“I read it, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know why they want me to play this part.’ There wasn’t a lot in the original script for me to do, but I met with Emma [Tammi], who’s the director. We got along great, and I finally just said, ‘There’s not a lot here. Why are you coming to me?’ I’ll never forget what she said: ‘This character is like the Voldemort character in this Five Nights at Freddy’s universe. If it’s successful and they make more movies, as the universe grows the part gets more detailed.’ That was exciting for me.”

His kids were “emphatic that I had to be a part of it” when they heard about the opportunity. Upon signing on, he wanted to familiarize himself with the source material. FNAF creator Scott Cawthon, who co-wrote and produced the film, told him to focus on the first three games. “I started watching playthroughs, and I started playing the game with my son. That’s how I started to dig into the lore.”

“An immense amount of pressure” came with the role. “In other movies that don’t have that kind of connective tissue to an already-developed community; you can just do what you think is best. But in this moment you just wanted to honor what Scott has built and what [fans] care passionately about.”

Upon his casting, Lillard noticed his fan lines at conventions doubled. “It went from three hours to six hours of people waiting in line. I started to see these kids come through in cosplay and people bringing me Springtrap Funkos, and I immediately started to understand the depth and the commitment of the community. And in that, there’s a responsibility to honor what they’re building.”

He continues, “To everyone’s credit — from Scott to Emma to Jason Blum at Blumhouse — everyone was like, ‘We don’t really care about appealing to the four-quadrant movie. Our whole goal, our North Star, is appealing to these fans.’ And that was literally it. As you start to realize that, you realize there’s pressure to deliver, and you don’t want to be the thing that lets people down. You don’t want to be that guy.”

In his first conversation with Cawthon, “The first thing he said was, ‘In two years, nobody’s gonna be able to think of this part without thinking of you.’ At the time, I thought he was really just myopic about his project. The reality is that, as I started to understand what this character means, I started to understand how important he is to the world.”

On set, Cawthon “was very happy to sort of let us do what we do and was hands off. For somebody who’s the creator of the game and so deeply rooted to its success and the lore, he did a great job of letting us be the best we could be.”

After making a name for herself with 2018’s The Wind, Tammi directed two installments of Blumhouse’s Into the Dark before helming FNAF. “She’s an incredible collaborator,” Lillard gushes. “I think she landed the tone of the movie in an authentic place. It wasn’t campy. I think that they really tried to create a horror movie out of these incredible circumstances, and I feel like she did an incredible job.”

He also praises the look of the movie. “I think Lyn [Moncrief, director of photography] did an incredible job shooting it. The color palettes are beautiful. The lighting is incredible. I think that we made a beautiful movie that happens to be a horror film for kids. I hope we get to do it again.”

He believes FNAF is a good gateway horror movie because it’s true to the games. “The games are built on these jump scares and the growing anticipation and that sort of suspense. I think they did a great job articulating that in the movie, where other filmmakers, other studios would have pushed it too far, and it would have become not a Five Nights at Freddy’s movie. It would have been another kind of movie.”

He adds, “If the game was built on gore and ultra-violence, then that’s what the movie would reflect, but it’s not. I know there’s a lot of people out there that are like, ‘It’s not scary enough. It’s not gory enough.’ Well, that’s not the game. I think that Emma did an incredible job partnering with Scott to deliver the DNA of the game in movie form.”

Lillard stresses the importance of FNAF’s practical creatures. “I think that so many movies are based on actors being solely reliant on their imagination. The idea that you’re in a huge warehouse in mo-cap suits pretending you’re a Jedi is very difficult. There’s something very rewarding for an actor about being surrounded by monsters that are moving at you in real life.

“You put me in that suit, it’s 8 feet tall with the top of my bunny ears going to 11 feet. I mean, huge! I think that that has an impact on the acting and what’s happening in that scene. They are very labor-intensive, and sometimes long days are born out of working with animatronics, but it was pretty awesome to be a part of.”

Those animatronics were created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. “They did an incredible job. Seeing Fraggle Rock sitting on the wall and seeing Kermit the Frog there, you realize the depth and the richness of that history, and the fact that amongst that is now all these legendary Five Nights at Freddy’s creatures. It’s pretty exciting for us to add to their history.”

While a sequel has yet to be greenlit, the film’s success leaves little doubt that more is on the way. Lillard is just as excited as the fans to see where it goes. “I really enjoyed working in the suit, so being Springtrap will be fun to some extent. I also hope to find ways to get outside of the suit as well. I think that we did a great job of breaking in Steve Raglan, so the idea of him living in the world outside of the suit, I think that’s fun.”

Signed on for three films, Lillard trusts Cawthon’s vision. “I am a small piece of the legend and the lore that I think we’re responsible to deliver to fans. I don’t know what Scott has in mind, but I know it’s going to be based on what he thinks is best for the fandom. Quite frankly, that’s all I really care about. As long as we, at the end of however many movies we do, satisfy what people want, that’s all I could ask for.”

Speaking of being part of a legacy, Lillard has long perpetuated the fan theory that Stu is alive in the Scream universe, but he’d only return under the right circumstances. “It really depends on the movie. It depends on how they did it, if it made sense. I’ve said for a long time Stu’s not dead, because I think that that’s fun. I think the fans love it, and I know that there have been countless Easter eggs in the last two movies that they’ve established a runway to me coming back.

“But I’m gonna be super candid: that’s a movie I did 20-some-odd years ago. I am super excited to be in [Five Nights at Freddy’s] and going forward, so it would really have to make sense. It would have to be interesting for me, and it would have to serve the fanbase. The idea of coming back in episode 10 on a franchise that has been around the block a bunch of times, and coming back in a way that wasn’t good, I’d rather just stick with the authentic first performance and let that live out its day.”

Lillard recently wrapped a small part on The Life of Chuck, Mike Flanagan’s upcoming Stephen King adaptation with an ensemble cast that includes Tom Hiddleston, Mark Hamill, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Karen Gillan, and Jacob Tremblay. “That cast was super exciting. I only worked one day. I have a very small part in it.” Lillard befriended Flanagan through a mutual friend and discovered they were fans of one another’s work.

“I got a chance to have lunch with him, and we hit it off. I play Dungeons & Dragons, and we talked a lot about D&D. He’s a fan of my work, I was a fan of Midnight Mass and his work. He called me up and said, ‘I’ve got a small part, and I want you in my universe. If you want to do it, great. If not, it’s not a big deal.’

“I jumped at the opportunity, because I love what he’s doing. I think what he’s doing right now on TV is as exciting as it gets, and he works with the same sort of base of actors, and I would be honored to be one of those actors. Quite frankly, it was a Machiavellian move on my part, because I want to be in his world, and if this helps me then I jumped at it.”

Lillard is a co-owner of Find Familiar Spirits, a newly-launched whiskey brand geared toward fandoms. He teases that a horror-themed spirit may be in the company’s future. “Our whole thing is like, can you authentically build premium products for very specific fandoms? Having seen firsthand the passion of horror fans, we would be idiots not to consider that a viable option sometime in later 2024,” he hints with a smirk.

Unable to promote the film upon its theatrical release in October due to the SAG-AFTRA strike, Lillard is enthusiastically eager to discuss Five Nights at Freddy’s now that it’s available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital — even if he didn’t realize physical media still existed.

“There’s a bunch of special features that are super cool, so I think that fans are gonna love that aspect. The ability to sort of stop and go back and find the Easter eggs that are buried in the film, I think they’ll really appreciate that. God knows I didn’t even know they still made DVDs,” he laughs. “Physical representation is really exciting. I’m glad it’s around,”

While FNAF caters to the fans, Lillard considers the film a great introduction to the world for newcomers as well. “My personal opinion is I think there will be more in the future, and it allows you to be a part of something that’s going to be culturally relevant going forward. You may not be familiar with it but some of your friends are, and being a part of that sort of communal experience is one of the exciting things.

“I was at the theater opening weekend with my family, and seeing it in a live audience is what we used to experience back in the ’80s and ’90s, where you’d go see Star Wars or Aliens. The place was packed and people went crazy for Rocky; that kind of experience doesn’t happen as much anymore. In this community that does happen, so I think it’s a good moment to onboard an ongoing theatrical experience that will reward you over the next five, 10 years.”

The post Exclusive Interview: Matthew Lillard Is Excited to Have a Brand New Horror Movie Franchise to Call Home appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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