Matthew Lillard is transitioning from actor to director and is now working with Animus Theatre Company.
Matthew Lillard is transitioning from actor to director and is now working with Animus Theatre Company.
(© David Gordon)

You know Matthew Lillard from his screen appearances. In Scream, he played Stu Macher, whose ex-girlfriend's murder starts off a killing spree in the small town of Woodsboro. In the live-action remake of Scooby-Doo, Lillard was slacker mystery-solver Shaggy. He also made a memorable appearance in The Descendants, as the lover of George Clooney's comatose wife.

However, the actor has recently expanded his career to directing for the stage. Returning to his theatrical roots with Animus Theatre Company, a relatively new company devoted to the mission of "finding lesser-known plays by well-known playwrights" with a particular focus on plays about "the resilience of the human spirit," according to artistic director Jonathan Judge-Russo.

Lillard has proved himself to be an invaluable member of the Animus company. "He's in a place in his career where we, as younger actors, are aiming to be," Judge-Russo said. "To have the same energy now and the same drive that we, his juniors, have is amazing."

For their first public collaboration, Lillard is directing an evening called Tennessee Williams' Collected Shorts shorts, including The Long Goodbye and The Pink Bedroom, in a production at the Studio Theatre at Theatre Row that runs through May 3. On a break from rehearsal, Lillard talked about how his New York theatrical debut is proving to be the most fulfilling experience of his career to date.

1. How did you get involved with Animus Theatre Company?
We're all graduates from Circle in the Square Theatre School. At some point, somebody reached out to me and asked if I would do a voiceover for a documentary. I said I would do it if she would help organize a teaching seminar to get me to come back to New York and teach. She went to Animus and I put together a seminar, and a couple of years later, they asked me to become part of the company. They approached me to direct about a year ago.

2. Were you familiar with the four plays that make up the set-list of Tennessee Williams shorts?
I did know Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen. It's one of those plays that, as actors, is the Holy Grail, especially for women. It's just so beautiful. I had read it at some point in my journey as an actor.

Matthew Lillard as Shaggy with Scooby-Doo in the Scooby-Doo film series, which began in 2002.
Matthew Lillard as Shaggy with Scooby-Doo in the Scooby-Doo film series, which began in 2002.

3. You're someone who's known for screen acting. Is this your first experience with directing theater?
I did a production of Genet's The Maids in Los Angeles, with Cassidy Freeman. I've been artistic director of two small theater companies. When I was eighteen, I started one in Los Angeles, and I started on in New York when I graduated from Circle in the Square. But the answer is no, I haven't done a lot of plays.

4. At this point, which do you enjoy more?
Look, if I had to choose between acting and directing at this point, I'd choose to direct for the rest of my life. I find it much more satisfying to tell stories and help actors be great. It's become a much more compelling part of my life. I'm doing a pilot for NBC [Problem Child, inspired by the 1990 film], and when you're on set and chasing the golden goose, it's a great experience. Doing the pilot has been fantastic, but it's not the same as sitting in a theater with ten actors trying to crack the brilliance of Tennessee Williams. Working with this company, and young actors full of excitement and brilliance and a hunger to be great, it refuels you as an artist and it's a completely fulfilling experience.

5. Why is Animus the right company for you to dip your toes in the New York theatrical waters?
When you find people who are like-minded, you can say, "I see us together." As an artist, whatever you do in this crazy world, you're trying to do something that's different from other people. You're out in this world alone. When you find people that are like-minded, you hold on to them dearly. It's been a great experience.

Eric William Morris and Marly Thornton in rehearsals for Matthew Lillard's production of Tennessee Williams' Collected Shorts.
Eric William Morris and Marly Thornton in rehearsals for Matthew Lillard's production of Tennessee Williams' Collected Shorts.
(© Matthew Lillard)