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How Matthew Lillard's Kids Convinced Him to Play the "Voldemort" of Five Nights at Freddy's

A new generation of horror fans gave the Scream acting icon some scary good pointers on Five Nights’ future fate as a breakout box office smash.

By Benjamin Bullard

Matthew Lillard knows a thing or two about horror films. After all, he’s one of the pivotal founding figures in horror pioneer Wes Craven’s iconic 1990s Scream slasher movie-verse. But being cast in a quirky little 2023 scare film called Five Nights at Freddy’s… and all to play a strange guy in a giant stuffed-animal suit? 

Well, at 53 years old, Lillard needed a youthful second opinion to realize that his more-than-meets-the-eye Five Nights turn as William Afton — the movie’s sinister string-puller whose animatronic creations eventually come back to bite him — might just mark a whole new pop-culture milestone in his decades-spanning career. 

RELATED: Why There Won't Be an R-Rated Cut of the Five Nights at Freddy's Movie

In what’s since become a fan-favorite character in the video game-based movie, Lillard’s Five Nights at Freddy’s role didn’t immeditaely come across as a sure casting bet to the prolific actor, who’s also seen tons of success as Shaggy in the Scooby-Doo film franchise while continuing to earn new generations of fans for his memorable movie turn in the 1998 cult classic SLC Punk!

Lillard's Five Nights at Freddy's Role: "Dad. That is going to be huge!"

It was one of Lillard’s kids, in fact, who convinced him that his Five Nights role was all but assured to become the kind of movie part he’d regret turning down. An early meeting with director Emma Tammi convinced him that his character was essentially “the Voldemort in the Five Nights at Freddy’s universe,” as Lillard recently explained to The Hollywood Reporter. But it took a little extra behind-the-scenes chatter at home to give him all the insight he needed into the movie’s eventual smash-hit success.

RELATED: The Ending of Five Nights at Freddy's Explained

After his early meeting with Tammi, “I came home, and I was talking to my wife about it,” Lillard told THR. “…[A]nd my middle child was sitting there, and they heard me say ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ and were like, ‘Wait, who are you playing?’

“I said, ‘William Afton and some rabbit.,’” he continued. “And they were like, 'Dad. That is going to be huge!’ Then, my son came in, and he affirmed the exact same thing. The fact that the two of them agreed on something was crazy.”

What’s not so crazy is the Halloween-season success that Five Nights at Freddy’s has amassed since setting horror-movie records at the late-October box office — all while enjoying a simultaneous release on Peacock, where the movie took less than a week to become the platform’s most-watched premiere ever. Based on the sensational indie video game series from creator Scott Cawthon (who produced the film alongside horror master Jason Blum), Five Nights at Freddy’s is the biggest horror-movie debut of 2023, with a global box office haul (so far) of more than $250 million

RELATED: Five Nights at Freddy's Creator Scott Cawthon Snuck Into Screenings Wearing a Disguise

"You start seeing projections coming out for the movie — and, in the back of my mind, I was like, ‘I think it’s going to be way bigger,’ Lillard told THR, citing the intense level of enthusiasm the movie’s built-in audience was showing whenever he would appear at fan events. “I’m in the trenches at these conventions. Kids come up to me all the time. Cut to early projections [for Five Nights' debut] being $40 million and then doing $80 million on the first weekend. It was remarkable and super exciting,” he confessed. 

Credit Lillard’s plugged-in kids with knowing a scary-good thing when they see it. “I think they’re more chuffed that I’m in the movie than with the performance in the movie,” he admitted to THR. “My middle kid called me crying because they were so happy for me when the movie came out. They went to the movie with all their friends, and I think they were very proud of me being a part of it. It was important to me, and I think it was fun for my family. I haven’t been in a movie that’s appeared in a movie theater since they can remember."

RELATED: Will There Be a Five Nights at Freddy's Movie Sequel? Everything We Know So Far

While we wait for word on a potential sequel, there’s no time like the present to see what all the Five Nights fuss is about — even if Lillard does play a less-than-exemplary character in the movie.

Catch Five Nights at Freddy’s in theaters by scoring your movie tickets here! Or, get the popcorn ready at home and watch the PG-13 horror hit — a fun scare for the whole family — by streaming the movie on Peacock here.

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