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Interview: Jon Heder for "The Benchwarmers"

By Paul Fischer Wednesday April 5th 2006 02:20PM
Jon Heder for "The Benchwarmers"

The Napoleon Dynamite star may find it tough to escape his Napoleonic alter ego such as his portrayal of the dimwitted delivery boy and reluctant baseball player in the farcical new Benchwarmers comedy. But Heder doesn't mind. After all, Napoleon has turned him into one of Hollywood's most recognizable young actors. Wearing red t-shirt with a picture of an elephant on it and donning a scruffy light beard, with thick, Owen Wilson, fluffy, very blonde hair, Heder spoke to Paul Fischer in Arizona.

Question: How hard is it for you to find a character that isn't like your Napoleon Dynamite guy?

Heder: Did you see this movie? He's kind of a bit like him. It's kind of a watered down... no it's different because he actually smiles and you get to see his teeth. You see a little bit more different sides and he's a much nicer guy straight up than, I guess, Napoleon but it was nice to do something different I guess.

Question: Are you resigned to the fact that people are probably going to see you as Napoleon forever?

Heder: Yeah, I knew that basically at Sundance when we knew that something might happen, when we were first showing it to audiences, I knew that, if this goes anywhere, if this becomes a hit I'll probably be forever known as Napoleon but there's a lot of actors out there who are remembered for their famous roles and I don't think that's such a bad thing. It's kind of cool, making a little spot on the history map.

Question: Do you think you might do a Sean Penn though and totally shake things up....

Heder: And die? Oh Chris Penn. I thought you were talking about Chris Penn for a minute. I would like to do something that's somewhat dramatic but I don't see myself ever becoming that serious or doing stuff that's really dramatic, but somewhat dramatic. I'd like to do something that's more real and doesn't have to be laugh out loud funny. I'd always like whatever I'm involved in to be somewhat funny. I'm not ever going to get people to really cry or anything.

Question: Did you think that Napoleon would ever become this cult hit? Teenagers love that movie.

Heder: You have no idea when you do something like that. Hey, this might do well, this might not be seen. Really, Sundance was when we could start using our imaginations because it was the first time people were seeing it who were involved in the industry and that was our first step into that world. We thought 'it's going to open up a lot of doors. The chance for it to be seen by a lot more people is better now'. The way the reaction was at Sundance, it was like, 'wow, I wonder if this is mirrored though the rest of the country. Who knows?' It became the ideal expectation. We all loved it and when we made the original short in college, the college students loved it so it was kind of like if this catches on the same way, picture that! And it was exactly that and in some ways a little bit more.

Question: Is there a story behind your Owen Wilson do? It looks nice but it's kind of different for you?

Heder: Finally, someone said 'the Owen Wilson do'. Yeah, this is for a role that I start shooting next week. It's an ice skating movie Blades of Glory and I'm supposed to have blonde hair.

Question: How is your foot? [injured while shooting Benchwarmers].

Heder: It's healing. We don't skate for a while. We have to change the scheduling around. I'm an Olympian, Gold Medal winner. Well, kind of. I get it for a second then I get it taken away. It's singles then it moves into pairs.

Question: Who are you paired with?

Heder: Will Ferrell.

Question: What was your middle school experience like. Were you a benchwarmer?

Heder: I was kind of in between. I would say I was in the neutral zone. I was definitely never the best on the team but I did play a lot. Middle point was the turning point. Grade school, I did soccer, basketball, baseball. Those were the main sports I did every year at the local boys and girls' club. Those sports where you don't have to try out. Every kid is given a chance. Then, high school, when it got into that, I knew I would never make any sport if I tried out so I did sports where you didn't have to try out like cross country, or track or swimming. Middle school was a mix. I remember, actually trying out and making it onto the A team basketball but I was never the best but I wasn't the worst. So I would have some time on the bench and some on the court.

Question: Dennis [Dugan, director] was saying how impressed he was at what a good athlete you were and that you could still play with your hands taped to the bat.

Heder: I don't know why he said that. I didn't get a lot of chance to show... I remember thinking, 'oh cool', when I read the script. 'It will be fun to go out there and play some baseball but then I was thinking, 'well, my character stinks at it and I probably won't get a chance'. When you are shooting the film you think 'we'll be hitting the ball around' but really, there's all this camera equipment out there and set ups and it's too dangerous to do any of that. So, I didn't get a chance to play but I really enjoyed hitting the ball and, when I had to, I could whack it.

Question: Are you attracted to movies that involve sports?

Heder: Are you talking about this and this ice skating movie? Those are such different films. I don't think of ice skating as a sport as more of an art. It's so technical and it's not a team sport. It's not like you're scoring goals. I was attracted to the ice skating thing because I thought it was a funny script and I was like 'whoa, that would be awesome to learn ice skating and to really get into that'. I love it. With baseball, I was like, well, it's nice, it's outside, it's with kids. It's a fun, silly movie. It wasn't that I was thinking 'aw, I love sports'. Honestly, I'll say it here. I'm not a sports fan. I like to play now and then but I don't know who anybody is or what teams are playing. I'm out of my element in that world.

Question: What kind of input did you have into your costume for this? The flipped up hair under the helmet was hilarious.

Heder: Originally, I was imagining this guy with really short hair and then I mentioned to Adam Sandler, 'well, what if we did this kind of geeky guy who has a paper route, rides a bike and has a helmet and he's the type who would walk into a store and still wear his helmet. I was thinking more like, just a couple of times in the film, he'd wear his helmet and then Adam was like 'oh, that's great. Let's have him wear the helmet the entire movie'. Then they wanted to make wings [referring to the hair]. There wasn't a lot of round table discussion on it.

Question: Could there be a Napoleon Dynamite sequel at the end of the year?

Heder: Right now, there are no plans. I read it on the internet sometimes. I don't know where they hear it from. Obviously, everybody will mention it but nothing is determined. There's no yes or no.

Question: Would you do another one?

Heder: I'd do another one if it involved a lot of the same people. Obviously if Jared Hess was writing and directing it and it was a good script, which I think it would be if he was writing it.

Question: Are there any Napoleon Dynamite groupies now?

Heder: Well, if there are, they don't hang out with me. I think so. Just yesterday, we were driving in town and we saw these two girls riding bikes who looked like they were all dressed up in all this classic '80's stuff, like headbands and knee-high sox, like they were doing it for show and one of them was wearing a Napoleon shirt. That was kind of fun.

Question: Is it weird seeing yourself on shirts and on all the merchandise?

Heder: I'm getting a little more used to it but it's still weird when you see it like I had my first bus experience. I know a lot of people do that but I was riding on the way to the airport and I looked at the bus right next to me and it had a Benchwarmers thing on it. I know everybody has that first experience.... Well, not everybody...those who are in the acting world. I thought 'oh, that's weird'. I can mark that off on my 'to do' list.

Question: What about getting your own action figure?

Heder: That's another thing I got to mark off on the list. I don't feel like it's yet fully an action figure. It's a figurine. Unless it has moving parts or a shooting net or something like that. This costs about 20 bucks. It's more like a collectable piece. You just stand it up. But, once you are a toy, where kids are going like..[makes gun shooting noises], that's cool. But, I'm almost there. I'm not complaining.

Question: How long was Rachel Hunter on set and how was that scene?

Heder: It was funny. When I read the script, it wasn't a name. Just oh, Clark is sitting in the back kissing one of the kids' moms and that was it. I didn't know it was supposed to be a hot soccer mom. It was just supposed to be a mother. So, when I found out they were trying to get a name, oh good. Then they told me Rachel Hunter and I was like 'oh, nice!' Then it wasn't working out and when we were shooting all the stuff at the pizza hut, they had different women coming in for him [assume the director] to look at. I was like ewww. Anyway, I don't want to say anything but it ended up working out with Rachel and I was like 'yesss!' She wasn't on set very long. She did hair and make up and then she was on set probably about an hour.

Question: How many takes did you insist on?

Heder: I told Dennis, once you get the shot, just keep on. Do whatever it takes to get the shot. If I'm bad at it just keep going. Work with me and let me know. We did like five takes.

Question: Is there kind of a Saturday Night Live players club that you aren't a part of on this?

Heder: And they'd play poker at night? No, I think they've all sort of faded off into their own lives now. It was really mostly Lovitz and Schneider and Space. Schneider had to train for baseball so he'd be doing his thing most of the day. If he ever had breaks or if wasn't on set, he would be in his little workout trailer hitting balls or whatever. Spade and I would hang out at lunch and play Hackysack and eat fattening food and Lovitz would do the same. That's how it played out.

Question: Anything after the ice skating movie?

Heder: I'm doing another movie "Mamma's Boy" with Diane Keaton. I play the mamma's boy.

Question: Did the success of "Failure to Launch" help or hurt that project? It's also about a guy who doesn't leave home.

Heder: Oh, no. I got this script almost a year ago and I just heard about Failure to Launch a couple of weeks ago. I think they are pretty different movies.

Question: Is it a romantic comedy or just a comedy?

Heder: I guess there's some romance in it but it has more of an Indie feel. It's a pretty simple movie but it's just different because it's a pretty funny character but it is kind of the same story about a guy who lives at home with his mom and he's got to get out of the house. I didn't see Failure to Launch but I'm guess they're pretty different.

Question: Have you met with Diane yet?

Heder: Oh yeah, she's great. Really awesome.

Question: How was doing the motion capture stuff for "Monster House"?

Heder: Pretty cool. It's nothing I've ever done before but the weirdest thing is getting all the dots glued on your face and trying to eat food when it feels like you've got huge zits all over the place. You just want to get them off but it was fun. It was a challenge. I love being in costume and hair and make up. It helps me so much to look like the character but you're not at all when you've got this wetsuit on with all these dots. You don't feel like your character. You're with all these cameras around you and this high tech stuff so it was a challenge.

Question: How long did they bring you in to do the motion capture?

Heder: It was just a couple of days. I'm mostly in just one scene.

Question: Do you still have time to do your drawing?

Heder: The drawing, the animation side I'm keeping up because I have a production company with my brothers now and one of our goals is to make animated films. I think we're going to start out doing more live action stuff first but we want to get, at some point, maybe when we have more resource into the animation world. It's a lot harder making animation especially when you're starting out. I'm not doing a lot of hands on stuff right now but I still doodle. Mostly 3-D. We really like 2-D a lot but it would be cool to find a mix of the two. I love 3-D a lot and I really enjoying doing that hands on. I think we'll start out 3-D.

Question: What character do you play in School for Scoundrels?

Heder: I play the main guy. Roger is his name and he is like a meter maid, a parking enforcer. It's a guy who doesn't really have any backbone. Everybody steps on him and he's really just a nice pushover guy. He starts to enroll in this class because there is this girl he likes and he's like 'I've got to get her'. He enrolls in this class taught by Billy Bob Thornton's character that teaches guys how to be tougher and get what they want out of life but he's kind of a hardcore guy who does things illegally and is kind of rough on the guys. It turns into my character and him going after the same girl. The girl is Jacinta Barrett. It's a great cast. The smaller roles are filled with Michael Clarke Duncan, Luiz Guzman, David Cross, Ben Stiller has a cameo. Sarah Silverman. It was a lot of fun. I think it comes out in the fall.

Question: You also did a voice for "Surf's Up"?

Heder: Yeah, we're still doing it. When you are doing a voice for animation, it's always kind of dispersed throughout the year or years. I first started working on that in 2004. I did a little bit last year and we're still doing it.

Question: When you are walking down the street on any given day, how many people come up to you and go 'it's Napoleon Dynamite"?

heder: I don 't go out anymore. [laughs]. On average, maybe a couple of people a day. Every day is different and it really depends on where I go. How often am I walking, just strutting, 'hey what's goin' on?' Maybe to get to my car or going out of the doctor's office. It just depends on where I go. It's a lot more often than it used to be.

Question: Did you expect this kind of career after Napoleon?

Heder: Obviously it will be hard to top Napoleon, not just performance wise but I want to do different performances and there are a lot of other things to do. To make another film that is as kind of culty, the way it's been described. It's got a lot of good lines and that phenomenon might not be topped again which is fine. We all get one of those in our lives. I hope with, with the mix, of different kinds of films, and I definitely want to get behind the camera. Like with this production company, I want to be involved in writing and directing. Originally, that's why I went to college and got into the film program, I wanted to be a filmmaker whether on the screen or behind it. I'd love to do all that.

Question: You're wife is not in the industry, right?

Heder: Yes she is kind of. She an aspiring documentary filmmaker. She made some in college so that's good enough to make her a documentary filmmaker.

Question: How has this success been for her?

Heder: She's just been along with me on the ride, all the same reactions. She's trying to take it very realistically. She thinks it great and helps me make all my decisions for each film. She's handling it well.

Question: Are young teenagers in awe of you when they meet you?

Heder: If that's what you call awe.. like 'oh my gosh.. cellphone' [indicates whipping out a cellphone and taking a picture]. I don't know. It's just different. It's definitely big with teenagers. When we originally made the movie, we didn't think it would be so big with younger people. We didn't know. We didn't do test screenings. We just knew that college students liked it.

Question: Did you even have to deal with a bully or just an annoying person?

Heder: Yeah, I've dealt with annoying people. Growing up for me was different because I had a twin brother and I think that changes so much of your childhood in a lot of good ways. I loved it. It's like you are backed up constantly. Although we were definitely kind of nerdy guys, but when you're nerdy together you kind of have your own thing going, especially in school, we were known as the artists. We loved to draw. We were pretty good at it and I think people respected that. It was like 'okay, you can do something'. All the more bully type guys at school kind of thought that was cool. They love art, despite their mean looks, they like art! Getting a little bit older into middle school and into high school it was the same thing. We did our own thing. We did a lot of nerdy, creative stuff. We were friends with a lot of the jocks and friends with the nerds, kind of a mix.

Question: How were you nerdy?

Heder: Not that making videos were nerdy but you considered nerdy back then not doing the sports kind of thing. We weren't that athletically inclined. We were making videos with our Ninja Turtle toys and I was kind of nerdy and we were making up languages and we watched Star Trek but we did it all with a cool sense of humor. We knew how to blend it into the regular lifestyle and make it cool I guess.

Question: Can you still speak the secret language?

Heder: It faded away after a bully made fun of us. That was my only bully experience. This big jock in high school saw us doing it and I can't remember what he said but it was making fun of us and it was right then I knew, 'yeah this is kind of nerdy'.

Question: Did you ever switch with your brother and not tell anyone?

Heder: When we were much younger.

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