In the meantime, he gets a sword

Times Staff Writer

Matthew Lillard is working on a book, which he describes as advice to aspiring young actors from someone in the middle of a long haul.

He means to offer perspective from someone “in the middle of a fight,” neither speaking from on high nor from the sidelines of the acting game. For the book, Lillard said, he is interviewing contemporaries like Efren Ramirez, who is Pedro from “Napoleon Dynamite.”

Lillard has similarly managed to lodge himself in the firmament of movie trivia. He was Shaggy in the “Scooby Doo” franchise and one of the killers in the first “Scream.” He thought he was about to break several times -- after landing a role in a pilot called “The L Word” (a different one, for NBC in the mid-'90s), or starring as the disaffected narrator of the 1999 indie “SLC Punk!”


Now he’s 37, going on 38, with a wife and two kids and another on the way. Lillard finds himself well-off, somewhere on the mezzanine level of fame, though hardly invulnerable to the shifting winds of Hollywood.

Which is why, when an eccentric German director named Uwe Boll says he’ll pay you three-fourths of your quote for two weeks of work in his swords-and-sorcerers movie, you take it. Even if the movie will open in Eastern Europe before doing the January graveyard shift in the U.S., the director is archived on YouTube boxing his detractors, and your paycheck is being cut by a German equity group.

“For me I got to dress up, I got to play a petulant bad guy, ride around on a horse, sword fight,” Lillard said. “I was in heaven.”

He was also in Canada. Based on the video game Dungeon Siege, “In the Name of the King,” which opens today, uses the mountains of British Columbia to stand in for the story’s fantasy realm called Ehb.

The movie’s cast is a hodgepodge of names -- Ray Liotta, Burt Reynolds, Leelee Sobieski, John Rhys-Davies, Ron Perlman, Claire Forlani.

For good measure, there is also Kristanna Loken, of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” here playing a bodice-wearing leader of jungle women who descend from vines.

Jason Statham (“Transporters,” “The Italian Job”) is the star of “In the Name of the King,” as Farmer, a humble, be-muscled tough who must battle the evil wizard (Liotta) and his band of ransacking goons, called the Krug, and put things right for King Konreid.

Burt Reynolds is the king. As the craven, brown-nosing Duke Fallow, Lillard has several over-the-top scenes with the legend. It wasn’t the first time the two had worked together, having met up in New Zealand on the set of the 2004 comedy “Without a Paddle.”

“Those two amazing actors in this movie is what the industry is right now,” Lillard said of Liotta and Reynolds showing up in “In the Name of the King.”

“Catch as catch can. Catch what you can and love it.”

Lillard was speaking by phone from his Pasadena home, having just dropped off his kids at school. He has been in blockbusters and turkeys and everything in between, the titles at once familiar and forgotten -- “She’s All That,” “What Love Is,” “Wicker Park.”

His look is malleable -- lean, a little bug-eyed, not conventionally handsome, but with features that, with his high-octane demeanor, are more often tipped toward comedy.

“I think part of my problem in Hollywood is I’m a weird kind of in-between,” he said. “I’m not a Paul Walker, and I’m not a Chris Farley.”

Lillard grew up in Tustin, after his father moved the family out from Michigan when he was a child. He attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena and later Circle in the Square theater school in New York.

Shortly thereafter he landed his first real movie role as Kathleen Turner’s son in the 1994 John Waters comedy “Serial Mom,” a way-before-"Desperate Housewives” spoof in which Turner played a happy homemaker/homicidal maniac.

“People had no idea how to interpret Kathleen Turner saying pussy willow,” Lillard said succinctly, of “Serial Mom’s” fate.

“The thing that has given me some kind of stability in my life is the fact that ‘Scooby Doo’ came along, and it was a franchise movie,” he said.

He considers the film the best work he’s done, “in terms of straight performance.” But Lillard knows the flip side of the “Scooby Doo” gravy train is “you lose all of your indie cred.

“There’s no chance you’re going to be hosting the Independent Spirit Awards. That invitation is gone for a while.”

But other, less-trendy invites arrive. Like getting paid to go to Canada and do pretend battle with other people in costume, working with fight choreographer Tony Ching, of “House of Flying Daggers” fame.

“I saw it last night, and it has lots and lots and lots and lots of problems,” Lillard said of the preview DVD of “In the Name of the King.” “But my wife and me sat watching this movie, and in the end it’s funny. . . . “

He meant that in a good way.