While the issue of bullying is nothing new, there has been a wonderful, overwhelming sweep of activism against bullying in movies and the news lately. I was personally never bullied. Maybe, occasionally made-fun of. I chopped off all my hair in 6th grade and got called a "boy," along with several other 'cute' terms I won't go into. Kids get teased about everything from weight to their general appearance. Words hurt. It's always refreshing to read a story about a teen who turns things around for himself and changes his way of thinking. Having a positive attitude is harder for some than others, but in early years and awkward social environments, it can be a life-saving skill.
K.L. Going's book, Fat Kid Rules the World tells the story of how one teen copes with the social pressures of high school. The line "I saved your life... now you owe me lunch" sums up the relationship between the two main characters. We quickly see the take-away message and the importance of letting others help us when we really need the boost of confidence.
Fat Kid Rules the World was recently turned into a film by Matthew Lillard. Because so many people understand the importance of this movie's message, 2,218 people (so far) have given money to a Kickstarter account in hopes that everyone will get to see the result of a movie disguised as an important lesson we could all use a refresher on. We got to chat with one of the film's actors, Julian Gavilanes. Check out the interview below:
What is Fat Kid Rules the World about?
Fat Kid Rules the World is a coming of age story about this teenager (Troy Billings) who's really struggling socially. He's 300 lbs, depressed and suicidal. At his lowest point, he's saved by the unassuming deadbeat, Marcus MacCrae – a homeless, drop out, punk rock guitar legend. Marcus totally takes advantage of Troy's vulnerability by swindling money and a meal out of him. Really, the relationship seems very shallow and superficial. Troy agrees to play drums in Marcus' new band, despite having never played before. With a faith in him that Troy doesn't understand, Marcus is Troy's nightmare and dream come true, all at the same time. Though Troy's dad thinks that his son is hanging out with a junkie, he ultimately supports Troy's efforts to learn the drums, especially because it's the first thing he's been interested in since his mom passed away. It's fun to see this story play out-- Troy gets more than he bargained for but he also gets his life back and learns a lot about himself.
It is a movie about all the things, good and bad, that are ultimately relevant in today's society, but have been tossed aside until they're real issues again. It's a very honest and touching account of life, and the way that we so often forget to see it.
What did you like most about the script?
The brilliant K.L. Going was the author of the award winning book several years ago and the screenplay was adapted from that. The script was very similar to the book so I'll credit her with these comments.
I remember having the cast read the first time we all got together, and reading through the whole script, and saying to myself..."I wish I would have thought of this." It was genius in the most simplistic way, all the way through. I think screenwriters these days think it's appropriate to over-complicate their stories, or to just dumb down a story that's already been told. Fat Kid does the opposite. It is a story that SHOULD be told, and the message resonates with everybody who has ever felt like an outcast, or just different. It's very well written and most importantly, very honest.
How would you describe the main character?
There are two. Troy Billings (Fat Kid) self played by Jacob Wysocki, and Marcus MacCrae, played by Matt O'leary. They are undoubtedly a dynamic duo. The contrast between the two creates such an incredible display of the beauty in friendship and all its underlying values that we so often neglect. Troy is so uncomfortable with himself and self-conscious, but maintains this super sweet level of charm throughout the whole film. You're constantly rooting for him. Marcus on the other hand, is dirty, drugged out yet completely confident and outgoing. There is, kind of, always an angel and demon on Troy's shoulder, and Marcus definitely symbolizes his demon. The journey that the relationship takes is something spectacular, and proves so many times, that we can all be saved.
What did being part of this movie mean for you?
It was brilliant! It was basically the first audition I ever walked into, and so needless to say the first film I ever got to be a part of. I got really lucky. Matthew Lillard is a super energetic and passionate guy, and when he started pushing me around in the audition room so much, I just ended up getting pissed off and pushing him back, screaming obscenities at him, and I guess he liked it. It was such an honor to be a part of something that matters so much. I was talking to a friend, and explaining that people don't get as lucky as me when they start a career in acting. You're lucky if you can be a background extra in "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," or something like that, but I get to say for the rest of my life that this was my first project. This beautiful film that has so much meaning and substance behind it. It has and always will be a passion project. It might never make it to being some Hollywood blockbuster, but to us and the people who it affects, this is bigger than that. I'm proud of everyone involved and I'll always be thankful for the opportunity I was given.
What was high school like for you?
You know, high school was really weird for me. I wasn't the outcast or somebody that didn't have friends. I was friends with everyone. I was just kind of that silly kid who ran around acting like an idiot all the time, and for some reason, people didn't beat me up. I was the kid that drove the conversion van and smoked joints in the parking lot before class. I carried a guitar around, although I couldn't really play it all that well. I'm sure it was a plot to get girls to like me. I don't know how well that worked either. I think I went through a really impressionable stage, where I wanted to be accepted by everyone, and I think I worked towards that for a little bit, but found out pretty early that it didn't matter. I was who I was, and if you didn't like me, that was totally cool with me. I never really got good grades or cared to do much academically, which, looking back on, I wish I did differently, but I think I'm turning out alright.
I always hoped I was nice to everyone and kept an open heart, because I was aware that there were bullies and kids being affected by that. If I ever neglected that, and you're reading this, you get to slap me in the face for being a jerk. I think I became too much of a stoner to really care by the end, so as long as I didn't hurt anyone's feelings, I'll be happy.
How do you feel about bullying?
I think it's a serious problem that public schools specifically need to be addressing so much more frequently than they are. It exists in every school. Somebody somewhere is either bullying or getting bullied. Kids are such a product of their environment, and I think that especially now, in such a technologically driven generation, where "cyber bullying" is so accessible and often unnoticed to parents or teachers, there is a serious need for help. It's no joke. I think bullying is developed in a home environment and then expressed outwardly thereafter, so it's impossible to remedy, unless we just require parents to join the PTA and cancel "Jersey Shore," or something like that. Maybe then we'd see happier kids. Until then, I think it's my social responsibility and yours to reach out to kids and let them talk and listen. Sometimes that's all that's missing.
Did you relate to this story in any way?
I think everybody can relate to this story in certain ways. I was a chubby kid growing up, and I had two older bothers, who beat the snot out of me and made fun of me all the time. I was pretty tortured by them and their friends, but in the end I became a stronger person because I eventually fought back. I faced my fears and I challenged my beliefs. That took courage so I can relate to Troy's character quite a bit. It's really a story about growing up and accepting yourself before needing to be accepted by anyone else.
What kind of message do you hope people take away from it?
Have an open heart. Be the best person you can be. You never know whose life you can change. You never know who can change yours too. Be good to people and know that you can be an incredible impact.
Watch the Kickstarter Video: