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Actor Jon Heder on the Geeky Role that Turned into a Cultural Icon 

  • Photo via Wikipedia, Jon Heder

He probably won’t get a chance to draw any ligers or hunt wolverines like his title character in the 2004 indie cult hit Napoleon Dynamite, but actor Jon Heder, 39, is ready to have a killer time nonetheless when he makes his first trip ever to San Antonio for the Alamo City Comic Con May 26-28. The Current caught up with Heder last week to talk about all things Napoleon, including his famous dance scene.

When you think of San Antonio, Texas, what comes to mind? I think of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and (sings) “Deep in the heart of Texas!” When you do something as memorable as that, it’s like a big commercial for San Antonio.

When did you realize Napoleon Dynamite was more than just a small indie film? We didn’t know when we were making it, but we certainly thought it had potential. We knew there were a lot of great one-liners in the movie. We would all sit around and daydream about the possibilities like, “They could make our characters into talking dolls or action figures!” I didn’t know it until after it came out on DVD, but even when it was out [at theaters], people were already quoting it.

If social media was around in 2004, do you think Napoleon would’ve had a Facebook account? Oh, no. If he had a phone, it would’ve been a flip phone or something Uncle Rico sold to him for $100. He would’ve saved up all his money and then been like (as Napoleon Dynamite), “What?! You can get these for free on eBay?! What a rip off!”

Do you consider it a blessing or a curse to be known for playing Napoleon? At the end of the day it’s a blessing. Because of it, I’ve been able to form a career. At the same time, when you do an iconic, cult film character, a lot of directors and producers are like, “Well, he’s that guy and it’s hard to see past that. It’s too distracting.” At the same time, it’s great to have something like that. I know actors who would kill for that. You are remembered for something—always.

Do you still know the choreography to your dance scene? It was all improv—off the cuff. The dance wasn’t something I poured over or tried to perfect every little nuance. It sounds cheesy, but to do the Napoleon dance, all you have to do is dance from your heart. It’s less about dancing and more about the randomness of it.

Have you ever tried to do the dance again in public? I tried to redo the dance, kind of, at my [10-year-old] daughter’s father-daughter dance at school earlier this year. I felt like a fool. I was trying to remember all these moves I came up with on the fly. Everyone was getting into it. She had fun—at least I hope so.

Thirteen years later, where do you think Napoleon would be? What’s his job? Is he married with kids? He wouldn’t be married, but he would have one or two kids. He’d be single-dadding it because it didn’t work out. He’d be working in the food services industry and maybe still going to school to get his degree in marine biology. He would want to train sea lions. He’s into certain animals like that. Llamas, not so much.

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