Though perhaps best known as Shaggy in the Scooby Doo movies, Matthew Lillard has amassed an impressive list of screen credits. Beginning with John Waters' Serial Mom, Lillard garnered notice in Wes Craven's Scream, James Merendino's SLC Punk! (soon to be an MTV animated series), Kenneth Branagh's musical Shakespeare film Love's Labour's Lost, and as "the buddy" in just about every Freddie Prinze, Jr. movie ever made. Now, he's starring alongside Seth Green and Dax Shepard in the Deliverance-flavored comedy Without a Paddle. Shepard, after a season on MTV's Punk'd, plays his first major role in a feature film. I spoke with Lillard and Shepard on the afternoon of July 21, 2004 at San Francisco's Clift Hotel. This interview also aired on Celluloid Dreams (90.5FM in San Jose, CA) on August 16, 2004.
Groucho: Alright, I'm talking today with Matthew Lillard and Dax Shepard, stars of the new comedy Without a Paddle. In Without a Paddle, you guys and Seth Green play childhood friends who run afoul of some nasty folk in the Oregon wilderness. Since Seth isn't here with us today, is there anything you'd like to say about him behind his back?
Matthew Lillard: Yes, Seth Green has, um, halitosis. Thank you!
Dax Shepard: Seth Green has, arguably, the finest body, pound per pound, of any man I've ever met.
ML: That was Dax Shepard—I should introduce myself. My name's Matthew Lillard, that's the voice you're hearing, and—
DS: And I'm Seth Green, Dax Shepard's friend.
ML: No, I will say that Seth Green has absolutely no body fat on his body, and we spent a month in our underwear, and Dax and I are normal human beings—
DS: Yeah, and we have normal problems associated with being a homo-being.
ML: A homo-being?
DS: Yeah, a homo-being.
ML: A Homo-sapien?
DS: Yeah, like the little roll above your pantaloons. Back babies.
ML: Ten percent, twelve percent body fat, normal. Thirteen to nineteen percent is normal body fat.
DS: We're from Michigan, where it gets very cold, so it's understandable that we have an insulating layer.
ML: We run thick. And Dax—and, and Seth Green has four percent body fat.
DS: Mm-hm. He wouldn't make it three hours in a cold Michigan winter.
G: Matthew, you've done a lot of theater, and Dax, you started with, or you worked with the Groundlings. How did your improv experience serve you on this movie?
DS: It didn't serve me, it saved me. I cannot act unless I'm improv-ing.
ML: Y'know, it's actually one of the great things about the movie. The script was a good script; it wasn't a great script, but it was a good script, and I think that this is an example in Hollywood where people come together, and chemistry, um, and, like, our genuine friendship for each other kind of took something and made it better.
G: And you had a week of rehearsal, right? How did that—?
DS: Three weeks.
G: Is that right—three weeks of rehearsal?
ML: Well, we definitely did two weeks of physical training, and at the same time we were doing—so I guess, yeah, it was three weeks.
DS: It felt like an eternity, learning how to paddle a canoe through rapids, I'll tell you that.
G: Had you had any experience with rafting prior to the film, either of you?
DS: I'd done a lot of rafting, in a raft, whitewater rafting, which is child's play compared to being in a banana peel.
ML: (Laughs.) It's the difference—yeah, we were in a Canadian flatbottom canoe, which are basically designed to skim along easy-moving streams and lakes. And something about putting a canoe like that into a class-four rapid really isn't conducive to staying dry.
DS: It was like racing the Baja 1000 in a motor home. That's an esoteric joke for all you dune buggiers out there.
G: So you three play childhood friends, or you two and Seth play childhood friends. How did you bond, or was the three week warm-up to the film—how did you spend that?
DS: It was pretty instantaneous. We had a lunch in L.A. to get to know one another. Seth and I knew each other, and then Seth and Matt knew each other, but Matt and I did not know each other, and we had a pre-movie lunch that went swimmingly, right off the bat.
ML: It was very strange. It was one of those things that—the executives from the company came, the producers came, the director came, and kind of everyone, 'cause Dax and I didn't know each other, and that was kind of the last piece of the puzzle, and if Dax and I got along, it was a go go. And so it was kind of one of those things where you're like—
DS: (Laughing.) More accurately, if Matt Lillard didn't like me I was out, but luckily he liked me so I stayed.
ML: But it was one of those things that you sit down on a lunch, and go, "I like you—you like me?"
DS: "Yeah, I'm really into you. How's things going with you, uh, regarding me?"
ML: "It's great, I think you're great, you look like a nice guy."
DS: "You're really funny, and tall. I like your work."
ML: "You're handsome. We'll do a movie!" Y'know, it was like one of those really contrived Hollywood scenarios, that thank God we actually—
DS: I was more nervous, 'cause Lillard and I are both tall, lanky, blue-eyed white kids who do comedy, and I was a little nervous that Lillard, y'know—
ML: Yeah, but I think we're different. I think we're really different.
DS: We are...
ML: (Overlapping.) You're really funny.
DS: No, you're really funny.
ML: No, you're really funny.
G: (Laughs.) Alright, break it up. For the very physically demanding shoot here, obviously there were stunt people that helped you out, but were there any hairy moments, on location?
ML: Yeah, I can honestly say that it was chock-full of hairy moments. You know, it was one of those scenarios that—doing a movie in a river like this is pretty intense, 'cause you, y'know, they say if you're in an ocean you know exactly what you're dealing with; y'know, you can get a grasp of what is going on in the ocean. (Bottle cap rattles.) That's Dax, he's opening another beer; he's such a lush. No, but the thing about—if you're in a rapid situation, in a class-three or class-four rapid, you don't know what's right underneath the water, so I'll never forget, Auggie, our Fujiian kayaking instructor—
ML: Guru, or canoeing instructor, said to us, you know, "If something goes wrong on the river, save yourself, 'cause we're not going to be able to save you." But it's an intense situation, we did, like, y'know, all the fore-bying, or all the—
DS: In the—all of us would disappear underwater for long periods of time, and if you were watching, like if we were on the banks while someone was filming their shot going through the rapids, sans boat, it was hairy. You know, like, Seth, I remember—I only know 'cause I watched you two like disappear underwater for a hundred yards, and I was like, "Oh boy, why aren't they jumping in, what's happening?"
ML: Yeah. At one point there was a line of safety guys across the river. And I, y'know—and the other thing that's crazy was that we're in very little flotation—y'know, the buoyancy vests were made for us, but we have no body fat on our bodies at that point, 'cause we were all kind of working out and, y'know, we were in really good shape, so we had low-density fat, and we just weren't very buoyant, so we'd get pulled under—you get pulled under these eddy lines really easily, and I, y'know, distinctly remember going underneath the safety guys' legs and looking up and seeing the safety guys above us as we're getting sucked underneath. It's a terrifying situation. But it's much more terrifying when you're, like, in it or watching it, but the reality is we were gonna pop up, but—
G: It's a long way from that nice, pleasant lunch when everything was so easy, I guess. So in the movie you guys are on a mission to track down the treasure of D.B. Cooper, which might to some people might seem like kind of a crazy, foolhardy thing to do.
DS: A lofty goal.
G: A lofty goal, sure. Is this the sort of thing you'd be likely to do in real life, given the opportunity: go on some crazy expedition?
DS: Absolutely not. I am horrendously lazy. The only thing I do, my saving grace, is I have a work ethic, so if it weren't for going to work, I would probably never leave my house.
ML: Yeah, but if I told you that you would be in a bunch of rapids and a quad-bike and going down a ride for—y'know, a rope swing, you'd be like, "Oh, I'm there."
DS: But tromping through a forest aimlessly is nothing you'll ever catch me doing.
ML: In your undies.
DS: In my underpanties.
ML: What about the tree full of beautiful women?
DS: I would definitely hang out in a tree with beautiful chicks who have not seen any other men in a long time.
ML: What if they were hairy?
DS: I'm into it...
G: In the movie, New Zealand stands in for Oregon.
DS: New Zealand was Oregon's stunt double.
G: Did you bound around the area at all, or were you too exhausted from the shoot?
ML: No, actually, the movie shot all over the entire North Island. I mean, we literally had—at one point we had five locations in like, seven days, which is, y'know, you go to work, come back, pack, and leave, go to work, come back, pack, and leave, but we were in such obscure, remote locations, we would take helicopters in and out every morning.
DS: Which was...super-cool. I used to be a roofer, and we never helicoptered onto the top of the roof.
G: And you share some very interesting scenes in the movie with Burt Reynolds. So give it up: what's Burt like?
DS: Awesome. Everything I had hoped he would be. He's like, my number-one childhood hero. And he was really gracious with us and generous and, y'know, took us under his wing. And it was just the best experience it could have possibly been. Outside of him having brought Bandit One down and letting us drive it.
G: And you guys also share a scene with a somewhat less auspicious star, but Bart the Bear is a co-star of yours—not the original, I guess.
DS: Bart is an asshole.
DS: He's impossible to work with, he was a scene stealer, and I hope the son of a bitch never gets another job again.
G: Well, plus he must have had the biggest trailer on the set. That can't be fun.
ML: He came down by private plane, he was big time, just, the whole time, y'know, "Don't look Bart in the eyes, don't look Bart in the eyes," it's like, "Whatever!"
DS: "He'll eat you."
ML: He's not that impressive.
DS: Bart would look great in front of my...fireplace, is what Bart would look great in.
ML: Didn't you say that to him at one point?
G: You can't say that about Burt Reynolds, though.
ML: I will say that there was one point—y'know, most of the time you have, in that scenario, you have trainers all around you, and there's always somebody between you and the bear, but in one particular scene, there was—y'know, the bear is carrying Seth off into his den, and they shot over Bart to Dax and I, so there was nobody between the bear and us, and he was carrying, as he was supposed to, this fake Seth, and all of a sudden he just stopped and he looked, and started coming at Dax and I. And there's nothing more terrifying than when the trainer, who's like all calm, was like, "Don't worry, don't worry." And then all of a sudden, he's like, "BART, NO! DON'T! BUT DON'T LOOK HIM IN THE EYES, DON'T BE SCARED, DON'T RUN!" And everyone starts panicking, they go for these—y'know, they carry these big sticks, and they didn't take the sticks out ever, until Bart started coming at us.
G: One of the themes in the movie is nostalgia. Did you guys indulge any of your own nostalgia in the process?
DS: Well, yeah, we worked with, like, the set designer, Perry Blake, and he was ask—we were asked, y'know, like, what kind of things would you think would be cool in the, in the—
DS: In the treehouse, and we all got to, y'know, chime in on what kind of songs we thought were '80s, or were appropriate to who we were back in the '80s.
ML: What stuff we played with as kids.
DS: Yeah, that was cool. Like, there was a Mr. T Poster in the, y'know, in the—.
ML: That's funny.
DS: Why can't I remember the god—what is it? The treehouse. Geez.
ML: It's funny, it's interesting, 'cause this is the first day we've done press for the movie, and you spend the first day, when you ask these questions, you know, for the next month we're traveling around the United States, doing these kind of tours, and it takes a while to remember the stories, but to spend the day today with Dax, and to think back about all these stories, it's kind of fun to reminisce.
DS: He goes, (in a bored voice) "Yeah."
G: (Laughs.) Well, I wasn't there—
DS: "Sounds great." Looks like you're really havin' a blast, so I guess I'll just keep doin' my job.
G: (Laughs.) I think back to that lunch that we had, where you guys said, you know...
ML: Didn't we kick you out, though? I thought we voted you off the island.
G: You said it would be alright if I came and interviewed you today, though.
DS: You know what it was, he brought me a Coke instead of Diet Coke, and I chewed him out.
ML: "Listen, I'm nobody yet, but I will be somebody soon!"
G: Dax, this is your first major film role, but you came to national prominence with that show Punk'd that some people have heard about.
DS: That crazy wacky show Punk'd.
G: Isn't it the case that you actually were involved in a punking of Seth Green?
DS: Yeah, but the interesting thing if you watch that, is that I already knew Seth; we had performed together once at the Groundlings, he was a guest there, and throughout the entire bit I always placed, like, a lamp between he and I, or I never looked at him, stayed out of his eyeline; all he heard was my voice, and then afterwards, he was like, "I can't believe it was you over there," so.
G: Uh-huh. And Matthew, you—I guess your first major film role might be Serial Mom?
ML: Sure, yeah, that was my third audition.
G: What did you learn from that experience working with Kathleen Turner and John Waters?
ML: That was great. I'll never forget, I auditioned for the movie, and I was going back for the callback, and I was screen-testing, and they were actually firing somebody to put me in the part, so before I screen-tested I wanted—I don't know, I was doing research on John Waters, and I knew he had done this movie called Pink Flamingos.
DS: Oh, yeah.
ML: I was like, "I should go rent this movie."
ML: So I'm sitting there with my girlfriend at the time, and I throw in Pink Flamingos, and I was like, Divine. And I thought he must have a cameo, but why is he on the cover? And I throw in Pink Flamingos, and they get to that scene—I think we all know the scene we're talking about—
DS: Expanding asshole?
ML: No, he starts eating the crap.
DS: Oh, it's the end.
ML: And I was like—oh, no no no, that was—
DS: Putting the steaks on his thighs—
ML: No, it was the chicken. It was one of those scenes. Any scene.
ML: But there's a chicken scene, in Pink Flamingos.
DS: He's fucking a chicken in the chicken coop, right?
ML: Yeah, I think so—is that Pink Flamingos? Anyways, I remember watching one of 'em, and I was like, "What have I got myself into?" And I'll never forget, the first direction John Waters ever gave me, he's like "Don't do that, oh my god don't do that! You look so gay, don't do it so gay!" And I was like, I don't know—I just came out of acting school. It's like, I have no idea how to process that. "How do I 'less gay?' I wasn't trying to — I wasn't being gay!" It's funny.
G: (To Dax) So given that this was your first major film role, did you learn anything from working with Matthew?
DS: Tons of stuff. He and Seth both really, y'know, took me under their wing, and showed—I mean I just, I didn't have the technical knowledge that they had as far as, y'know, camera placement, what do you do in the, y'know, cross—there's just tons of stuff I didn't know, and they were both really patient, really. Lillard's—one of his first pieces of advice was the truest he said, and that was, "Hey Dax, it's not a sprint, it's a marathon." 'Cause I blew most of my wad during the camera tests to try out whether our outfits worked or not for the studio. I was like, at a hundred and ninety-eight percent for the first week and a half.
ML: It's like that great story, Magic, in like the first game he played, and he hit a buzzer-beater to win the first game of the season, and Magic went screaming off the floor of the forum, like, "Yes! Yes!" and Kareem came up to him, he's like, "It's the first game of the season. It's okay."
G: Well, you guys made it to the finish line just fine. I've been talking with Matthew Lillard and Dax Shepard of Without a Paddle. Thanks very much.
DS: August 18th, see it, y'all. [Ed. Aug. 20, that is.]
ML: Yeah, um, thank you.
[For Groucho's review of Without a Paddle, click here.]