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June 2004
Napoleon Dynamite : An Interview with Jon Heder

By Todd Gilchrist

Napoleon Dynamite : An Interview with Jon Heder

One of the breakout stars this summer may be Jon Heder. He's absolutely amazing in the critically acclaimed indie film, Napoleon Dynamite. The film was shown earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival and is currently in theaters nationwide. Blackfilm.com had a chance to speak to Jon about the character he plays and some information on himself.

The character is so unique. Did Jared Hess tell you exactly how to portray him or did you have a lot of latitude?

Jon: We kind of worked on it together. What we did, I don't know if you read up on Peluca, the short film we did before Napoleon, it was pretty much the same character, same everything. So, by the time of Napoleon, we were like, you know this character. There's no figuring it out. When we did the short film, he came to me, I don't even think he had the perm in mind. He wanted me to be in his film and then a month later, he's like dude, do you want to get a perm? I was like sweet! I wish I'd documented more how we did it. Jared does a lot of the same voices. You'll hear him and, the way he did his voice, I just did my own spin. I could see what characters he was talking about and then I took a lot from my younger brothers. How they would sayŠidiot, stuff like that.

So he didn't have all the euphemisms, dang, sweet?

Jon: He had them written down in the script. Gosh was like the main word, I remember. I totally said that growing up, gosh. It was perfect how we collaborated, that I knew so well. A lot of it was scripted. The short film and the feature length film, everything I said was pretty much scripted. Anytime I'd adlib would be an extra sweet or extra dang or extra gosh. He has a few words in his vocab that he's got down.

What's it like to be the focal point of the ad campaign? It really is all you, the posters, commercials.

Jon: It's cool. Alright, it's weird to see, if this is headed towards a cultural icon, if he becomes, obviously you can't nail that if he's not big, but if it comes to a point where it's like Shrek plastered on domes. It's weird. It's cool.

Is intimidating to think that you're the character people are turning out to see?

Jon: I kind of get nervous, but at the same time I don't. I'm like dude, play it, be myself. I don't have a lot riding. I don't a lot on my career because I don't have much of a career. This is my first film. So its not like I have people stalking me, seeing how my relationships are going. It's not too bad. It's straight Napoleon stuff. It's really nice that most of the people that do the interviews like the movie. I think that's helps is that it's a great movie. Even some of the bad reviews, they're still like, Heder did a good job.

What was your favorite t-shirt in the film?

Jon: There were two. There's the helicopter one, that I would wear myself. I'm going to get those clothes once all this press dies down. The material is sweet. The endurance one is funny. Its got the horse and it's endurance! That's awesome. There's two horse ones, the endurance one, there's another of horses, and then there's one with the wolf, like some fir trees and the moon, that's really awesome. There's a Rick's College one that's pretty obscure. I like the endurance one a lot.

This is such an iconic character. People love him. I thought he was funny as hell. Your career is just getting out of the gate. Are you worried that it'll define you too much and you'll only be seen as Napoleon?

Jon: Yeah, of course I thought about that. If I'm serious about doing an acting career, this could definitely be, especially if it hits cult status, everybody'll be he'll never amount to Napoleon or he's always that Napoleon character. I've never been destined to be an actor. Ultimately it wouldn't bother me that much, but I would like to do more acting. I really want to play characters that are way different from Napoleon. I can imagine characters that I would love to play, that are different, but are pushed in the same way. Napoleon is the ultimate dork. He might be hard to top, at least performance wise. I hope I can find another character I would be able to convincingly portray, but we'll see.

Give us some background info. Where were you born? Where are you from? How did you get involved in this film?

Jon: Born in Fort Collins, Colorado, moved to Oregon when I was two, grew up in Salem, Oregon, the capitol. I went to BYU in Utah and that's where I met Jared and Jarusha, and Jeremy Coon, the producer, everybody in the crew was mostly friends of ours and people who had gone to BYU, who had worked in the film program. I went to BYU and started studying film and then switched over to animation. I started studying computer animation. That's where I'm at. I going to graduate with a BFA in animation and see what I can do with acting.

So all the guys in the film program are the guys that made this movie?

Jon: Yeah, most of them were graduates or had been in the local film community for a couple of years. Jared and I were in a couple of classes together and had worked on a few film projects. I had acted in two tiny student projects before that. I think he was like, this guy's kind of dorky, let's use him.

You have a twin brother?

Jon: An identical twin.

Does he get any Napoleon feedback? Do people think he's you?

Jon: At Sundance...it's funny, after a couple of screenings, people gave him some cards. Either knowing he was or not, but they knew he was a twin brother, close enough. I think a few people thought he was movie. Although I think we look different. He was always about thirty pounds heavier, but now I'm starting to catch up.

Back to the animation, did you do the drawings in the movie?

Jon: I did. I did all the drawings and I loved doing that. I'm way into art and I knew exactly what Jared was looking for in those drawings. Growing up, especially in high school, since my brother and I were known as the school artists, we knew tons of kids who'd draw things and show them to us. Check this out, this is pretty sweet, we'd be like that's cool, and were like uhhh! There is a definite look. I almost directed. When it came to Jared, I want this how I want it. Trisha, the lyger, Pedro riding on the dragon, it was hard. I had to get the crappiness just right.

The story is so specific. It's prime for other Napoleon adventures. Have you guys talked about that? You could really do Napoleon again in some other way. Will we see a sequel to this film?

Jon: I'm almost one hundred percent positive there's not going to be a sequel, because Jared's very much, this is an art piece that doesn't need a sequel. However, we're going to see how well the movie does, but he's talked about a television series. It's definitely one of those characters that you could put in so many situations. Hunting wolverines in Alaska, running track with Pedro, there's tons of possibilities, but we'll see how the movie goes. I think he's almost thinking, if it does really well, then it might be overkill to do to much Napoleon. But if it does pretty well, we'll see. I would definitely do it.

A TV show or another movie?

Jon: TV show, if he wanted to do another movie, I would trust Jared. I'm skeptical about sequels. Everybody does sequels now. That's why I'm sure Jared doesn't want to. But if he told he was going to make one, I would trust he had a way to make it work, and I would do it, definitely.

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