Four years ago, Matt Lanter was given the tall task of playing the resident badboy on The CW’s 90210 reboot. A large, Luke Perry-shaped shadow was cast over him, but as Liam Court, Lanter has punched, lied, and slept his way into 90210 lore. In the meantime, Lanter has put together a solid career as a voice actor, lending chords to iconic character like Harry Osborn in Ultimate Spider-Man and Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a role that required him to meet with George Lucas at the famed Skywalker Ranch. Here, Lanter, who also took on the role of Edward Sullen in the 2010 Twilight-skewering Vampires Suck, talks about his path to stardom, playing the badboy, and what it’s like to have George Lucas call you Anakin.
The whole 90210 franchise, the extent to which the stories go—you get so many dramatic elements per season, per episode—is it hard to keep track of all the drama sometimes?
Yeah. [Laughs] Definitely, it’s ridiculous. We can’t remember what we’re doing from episode to episode. Once I film it, I let it go, because I’m on some other crazy, weird blackmail, shipped-in-a-box drama the next week. So when I watch it on television, it’s surprising how kind of nuts everything is. It’s funny though. I feel like some of the characters are kind of grounded in reality sometimes, and then others are just always way over the top. Like with Liam’s character, he’s way over the top with the stalkers, being blackmailed and taken advantage of. And then Naomi is constantly doing crazy stuff that just wouldn’t happen in real life. I don’t know, I guess that’s what drama is. It’s heightened reality.
What’s been the most entertaining plot line you’ve had as Liam?
There’s been a lot of cool stuff. When I came on the show in season one, I got to do some drag racing which was fun, and season three or four we broke into this car racing facility and went out and raced cars. We actually got to to go out there and train before we did it. And they put some GoPros in the car and actually filmed us racing. Then I met Terrell Owens this season and got to play catch with him. It’s kind of cool to play catch with an NFL receiver. So I’ve had a lot of highlights that I’ve enjoyed doing.
Considering Liam’s violent tendencies, how good are you at fake punching now?
I’m so good at pulling back a punch. But I have to tell you, pulling back a punch actually hurts worse than landing a punch, because you actually have to act and throw your fist at a normal speed and then you have to pull it back at the last second. It doesn’t feel good on your shoulder. It’s pretty ridiculous, but yeah, it seems like every other episode I’m punching somebody.
Liam’s very much in the same vein as Dylan McKay of the original 90210 series. Did you feel you had to live up to his legend?
You know what, I never felt that way. A lot of the fans, especially when we were kind of new, wanted to compare our characters to the older characters, but I don’t think any of us ever felt that pressure to be a certain model of a character. We were kind of our characters, and I guess every teen drama has a bad boy type, and because of that, and because it carried the name, I obviously got compared to the Dylan character. But you know that was cool for me, because he was always fan favorite and he was kind of a standout in that show I think.
What was your conception of LA and Beverly Hills before you moved there?
I think when I thought of LA I thought of this seaside city constantly drenched in sunlight and flashbulbs popping and banners flying. I don’t know. That’s how LA and Hollywood’s made out to be. In some ways it is and in a lot of ways it’s not. It’s definitely an experience, definitely a culture shock.
How long was it before you made it to LA?
I think I was 22 or 23 when I came out. I’m 29 now. I drove out here on December 31, 2004. And I remember that, because when I got into my apartment with no furniture and no nothing, just what I had in my car, I didn’t watch the ball drop. I didn’t have a TV or anything. I was so tired from the drive out that I fell asleep at 9pm on the floor of my apartment on the carpet. That was not my most eventful New Years Eve, but I was happy.
I have to ask you about playing Edward Sullen in Vampires Suck. So many actors refuse to say a bad thing about Twilight and go out of their way to especially not say a bad thing about the franchise—were you not afraid going against the grain?
The thing about it, honestly, I can say this: I enjoyed watching the first Twilight. I watched it so many times to do some research for Vampires Suck that I kind of enjoyed it, but that’s not to say that we all know there are things about it that are very, very cheesy and very, very campy. I mean, come on, the sparkly vampires and the over dramatic stuff, obviously we picked up on that, which is why we imitated a lot of it. At the same time. But without that movie I wouldn’t have that job. We all know the downsides to the film, that it wasn’t going to win Best Picture, but at the same time, they reached a whole lot of people and the studio made a whole lot of money off it, so they were doing something right.
You have a very successful voice acting career. Anakin Skywalker, Harry Osborn, Flash Thompson and Venom are all iconic characters you play. How did you get into voice acting?
It was a no brainer to me to get started in that industry and at least give it a whirl. I went and signed with SPV and I went and had a meeting with them and they said, “We love your voice quality and we’ll rep you.” They started sending me out and I booked a few auditions, of course one of the jackpots being Star Wars. And I didn’t even know it at the time that I booked it, I didn’t know what it was for. I just knew it was Star Wars-something. That’s all they said. And they didn’t even tell me the character or anything.
What was that audition like then?
They told me it was for a character called Deak Starkiller, and I tried researching it, because I didn’t really know who that was. Of course, there’s not really much out there for a crazy expanded universe character that nobody really knows about. So I was just going in there lost, but when I got in there, they told me to give my best impression of Han Solo combined with Luke Skywalker. So I kind of did. I did what I thought was a combination of the two. A couple days later I got the call that I was on the show and it was a Star Warsanimation called the Clone Wars, and I was actually playing Anakin Skywalker. George Lucas had approved me and next thing I know I’m actually at Skywalker Ranch, in George Lucas’ office talking to him.
It was crazy. Obviously an experience. I walked into his office, and the first thing he said to me was “Anakin.” He called me Anakin. That was pretty cool. To be able to be called Anakin by George Lucas, it instilled some trust, that he was trusting me with that character and one of his babies. Then he just proceeded to explain the tone of the show, and how this character was going to be a little bit different from the Anakin we’ve seen in the films. Here we are, almost seven years later still working on the show.
What do you have coming up next?
I don’t know. There’s always something new on the horizon. But right now, we don’t know if we’re coming back or not for 90210. We’re kind of in this limbo area. We could be back for season six. I think if we are back for season six, there’s gonna be some major changes that take place for the characters.
Photography by Elias Tahan