Yeah, the guy from Scooby-Doo. Since the start of his career, Lillard has opted for roles that either pitted him against monsters, or had him become the monster himself. His first credit was as an extra on the set of Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College. From these questionable beginnings, he snagged a role as Chip, the son of Kathleen Turner's titular psycho in Serial Mom. Not too bad for a second job. Young Matthew worked steadily through the 90s in television and short films. In 1996, Wes Craven made him an automatic entry in the Horror Hall of Fame with a little story called Scream, and that's when things started to get interesting.
For most actors, such a high-profile role in such a critically acclaimed slasher would make them get choosy about their projects, but Lillard has always made a habit of going with scripts that fit his personality and interests first. Sure, not all of them have been winners (the less said about Wing Commander, the better), and sometimes it seems like he's just a whipping boy for Freddie Prinze, Jr. Even so, this guy consistently delivers the goods even in the hokiest of films. Thir13en Ghosts and Scooby-Doo are both great examples. Neither of them are particularly good, although I enjoy both for very different reasons. So what's the undeniable quality aspect of these movies? Lillard. Each performance showcases his talent, remarkable sense of humor, and sheer enthusiasm for the work. He's since stated in interviews that his decision to take the Scooby role was a poor one, but I think that had less to do with his career taking a hit than it did with his feelings about the final results of the movie. It's obvious that this is a man who enjoyed the cartoon, knew exactly what Shaggy Rogers was about, and did his best to give the audience an entertaining show, even when a scene involved him having a farting contest with an imaginary dog. His performance is more faithful, and more subtle, than the casual viewer seems to notice. And when it comes to Thir13en Ghosts, a flick positively boiling over with absurdity, you can count on Matthew to keep things light and more than a little self-mocking.
Above all, the man is quick-witted and knows how to strengthen a scene when he's in the moment, usually with great helpings of laughs. The climax of Scream is rife with his wonderful ad-libbing -"Um Houston, we have a problem" thought up on the spot; his hilarious reaction when co-star Skeet Ulrich actually dropped the phone on his head mid-take; and of course, his disturbing last words to Sidney, which Neve Campbell countered with her own clever ad-lib. This guy is good at what he does!
Lillard continues to fill his resume with quirky shorts, television movies, "I-needed-the-paycheck" projects, and Scooby-Doo voiceovers, but I'm waiting for him to take on something that will prove his mettle. He really is a talented and under-appreciated actor, and while he will always be remembered in the Terrorverse for Scream, it'd be great to see him tackle a meatier role. Imagine Lillard as Carnage in a Spider-Man film!