Fifteen years after the debut of cult classic “Napoleon Dynamite,” one thing appears certain: there won’t be a sequel. Well, probably.
Actor Jon Heder, who starred as the title character, delivered the bad news to The Item in advance of his appearance at the Lynn Memorial Auditorium on Sunday, Jan. 13 at 7 p.m.
“It’s really up to the director (Jared Hess) … and I get why he hasn’t done one because he said when sequels are an afterthought, they usually end up being bad,” Heder said. “But if he ever came to me and said ‘I’ve got a great idea for a sequel,’ I’d be very interested.”
The movie is the story of Napoleon, an awkward teen who has trouble fitting in at his small town Idaho high school. After his grandmother is injured while riding her ATV across a sand dune, his Uncle Rico arrives to babysit. As a distraction, Napoleon befriends the new kid in school, Pedro, an unhappy Hispanic boy who speaks little English. Together, they launch a campaign to run Pedro for class president.
The evening includes a full screening of “Napoleon Dynamite” followed by a freewheeling, moderated discussion with the cast Heder, Efren Ramirez, who portrayed Pedro, and Jon Gries, who played Uncle Rico.
Heder, 41, was a student in 2001 at Brigham Young University, a private university in Utah owned by The Church Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when he was approached by Hess, a classmate, to be in a short film titled “Peluca.”
“We shared some of the same film and acting classes and he thought I would be right for the leading role,” Heder said.
The short, black-and-white 16mm film starred Heder as Seth, the main character, and chronicles him and two friends as they skip school, try to buy a lottery ticket at a convenience store, and shop for a wig at a thrift store
It turned out “Peluca” was a prequel.
“We were 100 percent on the same page about the lead character,” he said. “We did the short film and a year and a half later we did the feature film.”
At the time, Heder said he never thought much about whether “Napoleon Dynamite,” made for a modest $400,000, would be a commercial success. The reviews at the time were mixed, mostly unflattering.
“I thought maybe it would make its money back,” he said. “But honestly, when we were making it, we had no idea if anyone would even see it. There was no promise of anything.”
When it was released, Heder said he thought if the film ever got wide distribution, it would appeal to moviegoers in their 20s and 30s.
“I didn’t see a huge window for an audience,” he said. “It’s not for kids. It’s slow-paced. There’s not a lot of action, and it’s not a comedy hour. It’s just weird.”
But when it was played at the Sundance Film Festival, things changed. Founded by Robert Redford in 1981, the Sundance mission is to encourage independence, risk-taking, and new voices in American film. Each year, hundreds of films are screened for large audiences.
“Sundance changed everything,” Heder said. “Just seeing the industry’s reaction, I realized this could be a career for me because studio reps came knocking on my door and that’s when I knew.”
Napoleon Dynamite would go on to earn $46 million, a huge amount, considering Heder was paid just $1,000 for his work.
“Now, 15 years later nothing surprises me anymore,” he said. “I hear kids from as young as 2 do the dance, and it’s big with high schoolers because it’s about being awkward, and teens are able to pull that out of it.”
Heder would go onto star in “Blades of Glory” with Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, about two rival Olympic ice skaters who are banned from men’s single competition but find a loophole that allows them to qualify as a pairs team.
Heder was also featured in “Benchwarmers”with David Spade, and Rob Schneider, about a trio who try to make up for missed opportunities in childhood by forming a three-player baseball team to compete against kids’ baseball squads.
On the memorabilia Heder kept from the movie: he’s got a handful of items taken from Napoleon’s room, including the Pegasus Crossing street sign, a wizard taming a dragon poster, a unicorn poster, and some Vote for Pedro T-shirts.
“Oh yeah, and those Hammer pants with the tater tots pocket,” he said.