Shaggy from the live-action Scooby Doo movies entirely shaped my taste in men. I’d rather say it was Matthew Lillard’s roles in SLC Punk! or Scream — and those were indeed a factor — but unfortunately, it was his performance as Shaggy in 2002 that burrowed into my six-year-old brain, only to emerge as a full-blown infestation later on in my teen years. Something about that scene early in Scooby Doo where he puts chocolate syrup on an eggplant burger and the countless stoner jokes I was too young to understand cemented him as the blueprint for masculinity in my mind.
I can take solace in the fact, though, that I’m not on an island in this regard — on Twitter and TikTok, I’m constantly being fed fan-cam style videos of Lillard’s early roles from fellow thirsty fans who, like me, appear to be Gen Z (this is fascinating, as Lillard is both relatively average-looking and 51). If anything, it seems like he might be more of a sex icon than even I thought.
It’s all the more curious considering that he never played the guy who gets the girl. Nor was he ever framed sexually. In fact, he was barely ever the focus at all, unless you count being one-fifth of Mystery Incorporated as a starring role. Most often, he just played a Supporting Guy, flanked by some other male or female protagonist with way more lines than him. And yet, he continues to be the star of the show in Gen-Z minds.
I tried to slide into his Twitter DMs, which are surprisingly open, to ask him about this. But alas, he never responded. I do, however, have old newspaper clips and “Where Are They Now?”-style articles to base my hypothesis upon.
In July 1995, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel published a piece about a “new generation” of young male stars. “The late-‘90s model male heartthrobs are thoughtful, sensitive and, dare we say it, kinda nice,” author Michele Willens wrote. She then included a list of men she perceived to fit this new archetype: Ryan Phillippe, James Van Der Beek, Paul Walker, Freddie Prinze Jr., Joshua Jackson, Chris Klein, Breckin Meyer, James Marsden, Seth Green, Josh Hartnett, Heath Ledger, Scott Speedman, and yes, our boy Matthew Lillard.
Save maybe for Ledger and occasionally Phillippe, none of these men get discussed as heartthrobs anymore. I don’t even know who half of them are. Similarly, a 2011 “Where Are They Now?” article from Flavorwire explains that Lillard “may not have been an Andrew Keegan-level dreamboat, but [he] did happen to be in just about every major teen movie of the mid-‘90s.” Again, I had to Google who Keegan is, and while I indeed recognized him, I haven’t once seen a horny TikTok about him.
“There seems to be something palatably non-threatening about these guys,” casting director Ellen Chenoweth told Willens. “Their sex appeal doesn’t feel violent or disturbing.”
Such an assessment is perhaps true for Scooby Doo, but doesn’t seem to apply to many of Lillard’s other roles. Ironically, much of the adoration for him today pertains specifically to his most bad-boy personas, including the serial killer Stu in Scream and the pierced punks in both SLC Punk! and Senseless. Interestingly enough, neither of these movies were terribly popular when they were originally released. SLC Punk! only made $300,000 at the box office, and Senseless has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of six percent.
Obviously, though, box-office returns and Rotten-Tomatoes scores are of little consequence to the young women of today’s internet. For us, the most important things are that Lillard is an excellent actor with decent politics, and that he is/was hot as fuck. There are several TikToks documenting his iconic movie looks, some of which have millions of favorites and views. Nearly all of them feature him in Scream, Senseless, SLC Punk!, or occasionally, Scooby Doo.
“I used to be so embarrassed as a child for finding Matthew Lillard attractive, I’m so happy I’m not alone in this anymore,” a woman commented on one of the TikToks about him (which, it just so happens, is set to a song that repeats the phrase “Come on, fuck me, emo boy”).
Surely the fact that he’s aged rather gracefully, both physically and in terms of his public persona, is an influence here. Namely: He’s maintained a few high-status roles, like in Good Girls and the revival of Twin Peaks, and his Twitter points to him being a left-leaning dork — most of his tweets are about his Dungeons and Dragons expansion game Beadle and Grimm, with a few anti-Trump things thrown into the mix.
But this particular revival of Lillard attraction mainly seems based in nostalgia, relating to the aesthetics of Scream and the late 1990s writ large. More than that, Lillard’s roles back then have ostensibly served as a prototype for the e-boy look of today, defined by a mix of oversized skater-style clothes, crop tops and dangly jewelry. For me, though, the appeal is actually far more basic: He’s just a 6-foot-4 goofy-looking lanky dude a lot of us would like to climb like a tree.