Napoleon Dynamite Turns 18 | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Napoleon Dynamite Turns 18

A chat with Jon Heder, ahead of his appearance in Bend

I don't think it's possible to overestimate how influential to pop culture "Napoleon Dynamite" was upon its release in 2004. I was working at a video store at the time and the number of copies I rented to teenagers and proto-hipsters wearing "Vote For Pedro" t-shirts is too many for me to even try to wrap my head around. It felt like the movie was such an omnipresent piece of entertainment that it even transcended cult-classic status and just became a staple for a lot of youth who felt different and sometimes alienated.

On Dec. 28, Napoleon himself, Jon Heder, is coming to the Tower Theatre to attend a screening of the film and then take part in a Q&A with me afterward. I had a chat with Heder in anticipation of his trip to Bend and I'd just like to say how proud I am of myself that I didn't quote a single line from "Napoleon Dynamite" at him. If you don't understand how difficult it was for me not to ask him about his bow hunting skills, well then, we're just very different people.

Napoleon Dynamite Turns 18
Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures
You just know those pockets are filled with tots.

Source Weekly: So what do you think Napoleon would be doing at 40?

Jon Heder: Well, he'd probably be getting fitted for adult braces.

SW: Was the initial success of Napoleon Dynamite surprising to you or could you tell during filming you had something special? It seems rare that films so deeply idiosyncratic and specific find such a massive following.

JH: I really didn't think that many people would get its humor or enjoy it. I did think we were making something special, but its success really was a surprise!

SW: Was the amount your life changed after the film's release difficult to deal with? Did it feel like overnight success?

JH: Yes, it definitely felt like an overnight success, but more drawn out over a three-month period. That summer of 2004 was crazy. Adjusting was weird, though. I always dreamt of finding success in Hollywood, but not that quickly.

SW: One thing I've really admired about your work is how much you held your own on screen alongside acting and comedy legends, basically at the very beginning of your career. Working alongside Mark Ruffalo, Reese Witherspoon, David Spade, Billy Bob Thornton, Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Diane Keaton and tons more must be a fairly steep learning curve. Did you ever feel intimidated by your co-stars or was it fairly easy to sink into the tone of the project?

JH: I think intimidation or nervousness kind of washes away once you meet each other, knowing you've both agreed to the same project. I have been very fortunate to work with really stellar people who were nothing but kind, professional and very giving of their time and talents.

SW: You graduated from high school here in Oregon. Do you still spend much time in the state? Do you still consider yourself an Oregonian?

JH: Yes, I definitely consider myself a proud Oregonian. But having lived the last 16 years in Southern California and now having just moved back up here in Washington state, I am a full-blown West Coaster!

SW: You've also done a ton of voice work. Do you have a different approach to voice acting vs screen or stage acting? Do you have a preference?

JH: I guess I prefer live-action acting because I truly enjoy getting into character through make-up and wardrobe and sharing a set and scene with the other actors. But VO work is extremely rewarding in its own ways as well.

SW: I'm a huge fan of the criminally underrated "Ghost Team." Do you think we might ever get more stories set in that world with those characters? Is there a role you would love to revisit? Is there a character on your bucket list you'd love to play?

JH: So glad you're a fan of Ghost Team, had such a blast shooting that film. I really would love to revisit the role of Napoleon. I just think he's such an interesting character, and it would certainly be interesting to see what he's like now.

SW: What do you think you'd be doing if you weren't performing? You basically went straight from college into film, so is it something you've ever given much thought to?

JH: Yes, I studied film in college, so it was definitely the industry I wanted to join. But I graduated with a degree in fine arts studying animation, so I'd probably be working as an animator if I hadn't gotten into acting.

SW: Do you feel like as each new generation discovers "Napoleon Dynamite," that the things they love evolve as the years progress, or do you find that people's connection to the film and the character basically stays the same? Is it a timeless connection?

JH: I just think there is a timeless quality to it that people can enjoy throughout the decades and the themes within the film I believe resonate with any generation...themes of friendship, kindness, family, feeling like an outsider, bullying, etc. I think every one of our fans has felt a little like one of the characters in the film at some point in their life.

If there's something you want to know that I didn't ask, make sure to go to The Tower on Dec/ 28 and ask Jon yourself!

Napoleon Dynamite: A Conversation with Jon Heder
Wed., Dec. 28, 7:30pm
835 NW Wall St., Bend

Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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