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Just Asking: Interview with Movie Star Jon Heder

LDS Living - March 27, 2012

Courtesy of Jon Heder.

Known for his breakout role in Napolean Dynomite, Jon Heder continues to find roles in comedic films, but manages to stay true to his Mormon values. LDS Living recently caught up with him.

You’ve played characters with a wide variety of talents including dancing, ice skating, and street magic. What skill was the most fun to learn for a role?
I’d say ice-skating was definitely the most fun I had preparing for a role. I actually broke my ankle a few weeks into training, but after some rescheduling I was still given enough time to heal and train for a month or so before filming the skating routines. I had skated only a few times growing up, so it was pretty new to me, but I took to it pretty quickly and truly enjoyed it. The only problem is, it’s not the easiest pastime sport to keep up and practice at. You need an ice rink, and once you find one you have to share it with all these other strangers who are way better than you and you get a little self-conscious around when you try to get your freestyle-groove on.

What steps do you take while deciding how to portray a character?
Well, I read the script a few times to try and really understand the character first. I talk with the director and/or writer and discuss their vision of the character in terms of the character’s life experience, past relationships, attributes, goals, etc. I then take those aspects and mix them with my own attributes and point-of-view, and try to come up with a character whose shoes I understand and can fit into. Its also very physical to me. How the character walks and talks and moves and runs…all that stuff is very important to me in creating a character.

How does being a father influence the roles you choose to take? 
Being a father is a just a small part of everything that influences my decisions regarding my roles. Being a son, a husband, a father, a brother, a church member, a Scoutmaster, etc…everything I am influences my choices. Every job I take, I think about how it will affect my abilities to fulfill the duties required by each of these roles in my life.

What has been your favorite role thus far? 
I think its expected, but Napoleon Dynamite has still been my favorite role and movie to be in. It was my first film, an absolute labor of love made with a lot of my college buddies who weren’t making it by Hollywood standards, and the world we created was and still is just so funny and endearing to me. I love those characters so much, and they are so similar to the environment I was raised in. Way before it ever broke out in popularity, we (everybody involved in the making of the film) KNEW this was a funny world with funny people. But I had no idea if it would ever see the light of day. I just cared about having a copy of it on DVD for myself so that I could show it to friends and family.

Napoleon Dynamite struggled to fit in in high school. What were you like in high school?
Almost the same. I certainly wasn’t smooth with the ladies, and I only hung out with my brother and a few other friends on weekends making videos and exploring forests instead of going to the football games and parties. But at least I was aware of how awkward I was, unlike Napoleon.

You have an identical twin. Have you ever tried to switch lives?
Maybe not lives. But classrooms, yes. In 6th grade we switched class for an entire day. His teacher was in on it, but my teacher was an older lady who was a little “off.” But we paid the price because my teacher gave the kids a quiz which my brother obviously wasn’t prepared for. But what did it matter to him? It was my records the poor scores were put onto.

What projects do you have in the works right now? Are you planning on doing another movie soon? 
Well, I keep getting asked if I’m doing a Napoleon Dynamite 2…unfortunately no, but we ARE doing a Napoleon Dynamite animated series for Fox that premieres Jan. 8th, 2012. And we have the entire original cast doing the voices. I’m extremely proud of it and can’t wait to see how it turns out.

What are your favorite movies? What's funny to you? 
Hmmm . . . I think I’m more like Napoleon here. I love fantasy and sci-fi, tragic humor, poignant comedies, Pixar, zombies, creepy alien abduction films, Japanese anime and samurai films, and lots and lots of stuff.

You studied animation in college, and you’ve provided the voice for several animated characters. Did you intend to end up in front of the camera or do you miss working in animation?
I do miss working in animation. I really loved the creative process and bringing characters to life. But acting is also bringing characters to life. I acted more as a hobby, but when that took off I really fell in love with it. However, I plan on getting behind the camera more in my career and hope to produce and direct more projects in the future, both animated and live-action. While still acting as long as I can.

Do you ever find your values as a member in conflict with aspects of your career? How do you reconcile them?
I definitely try to direct my career down a path that won’t conflict with my values, and it can be very hard sometimes, especially when it limits your options and field of comfort, but the values and standards that I try to live by have been a part of my life since I was born, and I believe I will always receive blessings as long as I stick to my guns.

What is it like as a celebrity trying to raise your family? Are there difficult aspects of being famous? How do you deal with them?
It doesn’t really affect how I raise my family. My kids really have no idea what’s going on yet, so they’re not bothered by it. In fact, they like jumping in the middle of a fan picture. I guess when I’m at Disneyland, I get approached a lot and that keeps my kids from getting on the Dumbo ride all the sooner, so I suppose that affects my family experience, right?

Who do you consider your hero?
My father, my wife, my church leaders, and my mission president.

How often do people ask you to do the Napoleon dance? Can you still do it?
All the time. And “can I still do it,” really isn’t the right question. I never learned it. It was all spur of the moment, made-up right there on the stage…lightning doesn’t strike twice!

© LDS Living, March/April 2012.
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