The SCAD Performing Arts department kicked off their SCAD Studio Series with guest speaker and professional actor Matthew Lillard Wednesday evening, April 27.
From the start of his discussion, Lillard engaged his audience through an intimate conversation without a microphone. The actor, best known for playing Shaggy in the 2002 live-action adaptation of “Scooby Doo,” shared his knowledge of “the business,” discussing what it is to be a working actor and how to move seamlessly from one sound stage to another.
“I think that there’s something to be said about a conversation between me and you,” Lillard explained when he commenced his hour-long presentation. “So, my goal here is to satisfy some kind of element that’s burning in your own creative journey.”
Prior to taking the stage at the packed Arnold Hall theater, Lillard spent the day working with performing arts students in and out of the classroom on voice and acting techniques. He discussed his own acting odyssey as a way to connect with the students in attendance.
“I’ve been in some of the worst movies ever made,” Lillard said. “As a thirteen-year-old kid I found acting. I sucked at everything else in life and I found acting. I had a severe learning disability and I found a place where adults said to me, ‘Hey, you are good at that.’ And it’s amazing what can happen when you tell a kid that they’re actually really good at something. And so I was this kid lost in the oblivion of school and struggling to find my way through. I found a teacher who said, ‘You don’t suck.’ When she said, ‘I don’t suck,’ it inspired my entire life.”
Lillard’s theatre career began when he was in high school, where he said he was neither better nor worse than anyone else. What set him apart was his commitment to his craft.
“It was the one place in my life where I could take what I wanted to do and do it and adults were like, ‘Oh that’s good, keep going,’” Lillard said. “And so I just kept doing it. But I found something I loved and it’s my love that sort of changed my life.”
After high school, Lillard attended a junior college for a year where he excelled in theatre arts. Lillard also briefly attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA) when he was nineteen. He started his own theater company while studying at the AADA, and then again when he moved to New York.
“My third audition was for a movie called ‘Serial Mom,’ and when I came back, the first thing I did was I started to teach,” Lillard said. “And then I started doing movies.”
Aside from “Scooby Doo,” Lillard has acted in a number of films both big and small, good and not as much so – according to him. His credits include roles in “Scream” and “She’s All That.”
“So I did all these movies and I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’m crushing life,’” Lillard said. “And I thought that my life was set, and then our industry changed around 2000. Our industry became such that we used to run by artists…and then it became a place where industry makes movies. So, the industry was no longer interested in finding a kid that had been around for years.”
At one point Lillard was offered the chance to be on “Dancing With the Stars,” an opportunity he ultimately declined for the sake of preserving his dignity as an actor, he said. Instead, Lillard and his family made financial compromises and he decided to pursue teaching.
“We sold things, and we changed the way we lived our life,” Lillard said. “I’m a better teacher than I have ever been an actor. I’m a better teacher than I have ever been everything else.”
For Lillard, making the commitment to teach helped him regain control of his career’s trajectory. He advised students to practice perseverance and integrity no matter their interest or dream.
“To me the most important thing as an artist in how to persevere is you have a sense of due north,” Lillard said. “What I’ve realized on this journey, it has nothing to do with success. I’m telling you right now, if I could give you anything as an artist, the first thing you’re going to [ask] is ‘what’s next?’ There is nothing that satiates that need as an artist. There’s never enough, so then why do we do it? It’s the fellowship that’s in this room that makes life as an artist awesome.”
Written by Emilie Kefalas.