Matthew Lillard interview: Scooby Doo, Scream, and Statham

There’s a new Scooby Doo series about to start, so we caught up with the man who’s become synonymous with Shaggy to find out more

No list of great character actors would be complete without Matthew Lillard’s name. He’s the kind of actor who brings his A-game to whatever material he’s given, whether that’s a dopey horror movie or an ambitious sci-fi thriller. He’s played a movie inspired serial killer, a reality TV star, and an alcoholic journalist. But there’s one role he keeps coming back to – a goofball with a canine best friend and a fear of ghosts.

Yup, Lillard played Shaggy in the 2002 and 2004 live action Scooby Doo films, Scooby-Doo and Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. His manic energy and elastic face made him the perfect embodiment of a cartoon character, and since then he’s been called on to reprise the role in dozens of Scooby Doo incarnations. He’s about to play Shaggy again in a new cartoon series set to debut on Boomerang this week, so we managed to grab some time to talk to him about imaginary dogs, beloved characters, and, well, some other stuff, too…

Be Cool, Scooby Doo! is just about to hit our screens. Can you tell us a bit about it to kick things off?

Yeah, you know, it’s the same characters we’ve known and loved for the past 40 years, but it’s a new take in that it’s much sharper and faster, and I think it’s funnier than we’ve ever seen it. It’s very Marx Bros in tone – it’s witty, and they’re all funny.

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You know, in the traditional tropes of the franchise it’s Shaggy and Scooby that are funny, but I think every member of the gang is funny in this version, and that sets it apart. And I think it’s really clean, and fast, and really fantastic.

You’re playing Shaggy, obviously. He’s a character you’ve played many times before. What is it that appeals to you about that character?

Well, he’s a character I cherish because I’m the protector of that character. He’s mine, and I’m the steward of Shaggy right now. It was Casey Kasem for a long time and now it’s me and I take that seriously.

As a character, I love that he represents the child’s reaction to seeing a ghost. He does what a kid would do if they saw a ghost. He’s their voice. And he’s also represents what it means to be a real friend. In the world of media and the stories that people are telling now, it’s nice to be part of a franchise that continually comes back to friendship and sticking together. It’s a feel-good kind of character.

And it’s very rewarding. In this transient business, where you don’t know where your next job’s coming from… Kathleen Turner once said that being on a movie set is like being in a marriage with a built-in divorce. It’s nice to have something that I can do from anywhere in the world, at any time, I was just at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival directing two plays, and I did Scooby Doo from a studio right in Edinburgh. 

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Do you find that the character changes from one incarnation to the next, just in the movies and TV shows and games you’ve worked on?

Well, I think the character changes somewhat, but there’s one thing they try to protect and that’s the relationship between Shaggy and Scooby. They’re the anchors to the series so they don’t change much. Frank Welker has done the voice of Fred since the beginning, and he’s been Scooby for the last 25 years, and I think he and I in a way are guardians of those characters. We have a very clear sense of what our guys would do in a given circumstance.

When you’ve been doing a character for, in Frank’s case, 25 years, and a line comes in that doesn’t make sense, or if you can add a laugh or an idiosyncratic reading to make it more Shaggy, the good news is we’ve been doing it so long that they allow us to do that.

You wouldn’t think there was much room to improvise on something like this.

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Yeah, there is. Not huge beats, but there’s definitely something we can bring. You know, we know better than anyone. If someone’s just starting to write, you know, say you’ve written two episodes and Frank’s been doing it 25 years, you’re not expected, nor should you be, to know it as well as he does.

You played Shaggy in the live action Scooby Doo movies back in the early 2000s, and I’ve always thought you had amazing chemistry with, basically, a dog that wasn’t there. So, congrats on that, first of all.

Thank you. It’s on my resume: can build rapport with imaginary dogs.

It’s pretty impressive. How did you manage it?

In my life, fifty movies in or whatever it is, that was by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. It’s one thing to run from a dinosaur or an imaginary shark or be blown up by Martians, it’s another thing to have your best friend in the movie, the lead of the film, be an animated element. It doesn’t happen very often. And that is a challenge, to have a relationship with someone who’s not there on the day.

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I have to say that you can attribute a lot of the success of those movies to not only the animators but also to Neil Fanning, who did the voice of Scooby during the films. He was invaluable to me. He was on set every day and he knew the characters inside and out.

I wanted to ask you a bit about Scream. It’s one of my favourite movies, and, well, it feels a bit sensitive now given that Wes Craven recently passed away, but I just wanted to ask a bit about what it was like working with him on that movie?

If you read any of the tributes to him, they all make the point that he was the most gentle man alive, so kind and so sweet. The antithesis of what he put on screen! He was a gentle soul who loved watching birds. The world celebrates this ‘master of horror’, but if you knew him you knew he was the furthest thing from that.

At the time that we shot Scream, we were so young and so naive and happy to be there. I think that’s part of the success of that film, that there’s this willingness to say – “fuck yeah, let’s do it!” There was this reckless abandonment, putting all your faith in this director.

And at the end of the day it’s one of the greatest experiences of any of our careers. Certainly on the first movie – I don’t know what it was like on the fourth – it was this momentous, huge moment in our lives that we always attribute to him. It was a sad day when we lost him.

Definitely. Okay, so, finally, we ask everyone we interview what their favourite Jason Statham movie is, so – what’s your favourite Jason Statham movie?

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THAT IS AN AMAZING QUESTION. I did a movie with Jason Statham, I did In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, so for me it was that movie because I got to see him every single day. But yeah, that’s hilarious. He’s fantastic.

I will say that in that movie, not only did we work with Uwe Boll, who in himself is a treat, but I would go to work and we’d have fighting practice and acting rehearsal and it was like two weeks of warrior chaos. It was fantastic. I’m going to say my favourite Jason Statham movie is In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, one of the quintessential worst films ever made.

I think you might be in a minority there.

It is just one of the worst movies ever made.

It’s an experience. I mean, I feel like the cast is a lot better than the film…

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Ray Liotta was in leather trousers, and that’s all you have to say. Amazing.

Matthew Lillard, thank you very much!

Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! screens on Boomerang, every day from 8am.