24 March 2013
By FIONA PURDON
There was plenty of incentive for Matthew Lillard to sign on to play Bindi Irwin’s father in Return to Nim’s Island.
Not only was Lillard keen to return to southeast Queensland - where he also worked on live-action blockbuster Scooby-Doo (2002) with signature role Shaggy Rogers - but he was attracted to starring in a family movie with Irwin, known in the US for television series Jungle Girl (2007-08), which the Sunshine Coast wildlife warrior made with her late father Steve Irwin.
"My kids are in love with Bindi Irwin, who is Jungle Girl to them," Lillard says. "My kids freaked out when they found out I was doing a movie with her. I’ve got three kids so to be in a movie all my family can sit around and watch is great."
In Return to Nim’s Island, Lillard plays marine scientist Jack Rusoe who, with daughter Nim (Irwin), is trying to stop the sale of their island home to Buccaneer Resort Company.
While Jack heads to Brisbane to convince authorities that the island should be declared a protected sanctuary, Nim stays to find three endangered species.
In Jack’s absence. Nim receives unexpected company with the arrival of runaway teenager Edmund (Toby Wallace) and animal poachers Booker (John Waters) and his two sons.
"Bindi carries the movie...it flows well because of her charm and charisma," Lillard says. "She definitely has a future in acting if that’s what she wants. If she puts in the time and effort and works hard on it she could be a huge star. I don’t know if that is what she wants. She is in love with the conservation of animals, the crocodiles in northwest Australia. She has so many things on her plate."
Irwin, 14, takes over the title role from Abigail Breslin while Lillard replaces Gerard Butler as Nim’s dad from the original 2008 film Nim’s Island, which was also made in Queensland.
Lillard, who rose to fame as one of the stars of horror blockbuster Scream (1996), says that working on Scooby-Doo in southeast Queensland was a golden time of his life.
"My wife Heather and I holidayed at Tangalooma (on Moreton Island) and I had a lead on a $100 million movie, which ended up being one of the great filming experiences of my life," he says.
"A great thing about Queensland is that we can helicopter into the middle of nowhere into a beautiful place.
"I liked meeting warm and genuine people and this translates directly into the crew...it is an A-list crew: talented, fun and professional.
"It’s one of my favourite places to work in the world."
After Scooby-Doo made almost $300 million worldwide and was a box office hit, Lillard was asked to appear in 2004 sequel Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, which was filmed in Canada.
The sequel was an underachiever and received poor reviews.
"I love Scooby-Doo but to be completely honest, I’ve gone through ebbs and flows since the second movie," Lillard says.
But the movie studio was so impressed with Lillard’s work on the two movies that he is "honoured to be the voice of Shaggy" for every Scooby-Doo animation since 2010.
It was during a low period Lillard was offered the chance to audition for Academy Award-winner Alexander Payne’s 2011 acclaimed film The Descendants. Lillard almost pulled out because the audition clashed with a family engagement.
"I felt I owed it to one of the great filmmakers to attend the audition then, to my surprise, Alexander told me I did the best audition."
Lillard’s fortunes have markedly changed since starring in The Descendants, which won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Lillard has recently acted alongside Clint Eastwood in Trouble with the Curve (2012) and Patrick Stewart in the soon-to-be-released Match. He will also star in new FX television series The Bridge and is now in Vancouver filming an NBC television pilot with John Stamos, I Am Victor.
He also enjoyed working on The Descendants with George Clooney who, he says, shares similar qualities with Bindi Irwin.
"George Clooney and Bindi are surrounded by hype and praise," he says. "Clooney is the nicest guy in the world, all the hype is true. He’s one of the most self-deprecating guys around. He is sincere and sweet and he has that hardworking Midwest American mentality.
"Bindi may be a pop culture icon in Australia but she is so grounded. It’s not about the fame and celebrity... Bindi has a higher calling, which includes Australia Zoo."