The actor discusses working on the film, Napoleon Dynamite 2, Monster House and School for Scoundrels

With a starmaking turn in the movie Napoleon Dynamite, Jon Heder has seemed to have turned playing this sort of character into it's own industry. With a role in the Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy Just Like Heaven, Heder has become a representation (at least in the eyes of studio execs) for a whole new generation of people. Not quite a kid, yet certainly not acting like a man, Heder seems to be obliviously existing in both spheres of development.

Sitting down to talk with us at The Benchwarmers press junket (held at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe, AZ during spring training) about his co-starring role in the film, it is clear that Napoleon Dynamite has informed Heder's character of Clark. Sharing the screen with Rob Schneider and David Spade, these three "men" set about righting the wrongs of their youth when they are asked to play baseball in a tournament against a bunch of little league teams. What begins as a joke ends up becoming an inspiration for misfit children and adults everywhere.

Do you think, like Sean Penn shook the whole Jeff Spicoli thing, you'll shake Napoleon Dynamite and do a serious drama someday?

Jon Heder: I would like to do something that's somewhat dramatic. I don't see myself ever becoming that serious, or it sounds weird, but I don't see myself doing something that's really dramatic but somewhat dramatic. I would like to do something that's more real and doesn't have to be laugh out loud funny. I always like whatever I'm involved in... whether it be funny or whether it be somewhat like... I'm not gonna try to get people to really cry.

What were you expectations for that movie coming out Sundance?

Jon Heder: You have no idea when you do something like that. It might do well, it might not. It might not be seen. Sundance was where we could really start using our imaginations. We were like, "This is the first time people are seeing it who are involved in the industry. That's our first kind of step into that world. It's gonna open up a lot of doors. So the chances of it being seen by a lot more people is better now." The way the reaction was at Sundance it's like, "Wow, I wonder if this mirrored through the rest of the country?"

It kind of became what was the ideal expectation. We all loved it and when we made the original short, college students loved it. It was like, "If this catches on in the same way...?"

Who do you play in the ice skating movie Blades of Glory?

Jon Heder: An Olympian. A gold medal winner. I get it for a second and then I get it taken away from me. It's singles and then it moves into pairs. I'm paired with Will Ferrell.

Were you a "benchwarmer" growing up?

Jon Heder: I was kind of in between. I was definitely never the best on the team. Middle School was kind of more of the turning point. Grade school I did soccer and basketball and baseball. Those were kind of the main sports I did every year at the local Boys & Girls Club, or those sports where you don't have to try out; every kid is given a chance. High school, when it got into that, I knew I would never make any sport if I tried out, so I did the sports you didn't have to try out for like cross country or track or swimming.

I was never the best and I was never the worst. I would have some time on the bench and some time on the court.

Dennis Dugan (The Benchwarmers director) said he was impressed with how you were able to still hit the baseball with your hands taped to the bat.

Jon Heder: Well, I didn't get a lot of chances to show... I remember thinking, when I read the script, "Oh cool, it'll be fun to go out there and play some baseball." Then I was thinking, "Well, my character stinks." Really, when we're shooting the film you thought, "Oh, we're gonna be hitting the ball around and this and that," but really, there's all these cameras and equipment out there and people... and it's too dangerous to do any of that. So I didn't get a lot of chances to play, but I really enjoyed hitting the ball... when I had to, I could whack it.

How did you get your costume for The Benchwarmers? Like your helmet for example?

Jon Heder: Well, it's funny, originally I was imagining this as a guy with really short hair. Then I mentioned to Adam Sandler, "This is kind of a geeky guy, who has a paper route, rides a bike and wears a helmet... he's the type to walk into the store and still wear his helmet." And I was thinking just for like a couple of times in the film he wears his helmet, and then Adam was like, "Oh, that's great. Lets have him wear the helmet the entire movie." And then they wanted to make wings. There wasn't a lot of roundtable discussions about that.

Is there any truth to the rumor that there might be a Napoleon Dynamite sequel at the end of the year?

Jon Heder: Right now, there's no plans. I read it on the internet sometimes... I don't know where they hear it from? Nothing's determined. There's no yes or no. I'd do another one if it involved a lot of the same people. Obviously, if Jared Hess was writing and directing it; and if it was a good script which I think it would be if he was writing it.

Is it weird seeing yourself on people's shirts now? And all the merchandise?

Jon Heder: I'm getting a little bit more used to it. I had my first bus experience. I was riding on the way to the airport and I looked and the bus right next to me had a Benchwarmers thing on it.

How was your kissing scene inThe Benchwarmers with Rachel Hunter?

Jon Heder: It was funny because when I read the script it wasn't a name. It was like, "Clark is in the back kissing one of the kid's moms." And that's it. I didn't know it was supposed to be like a hot soccer mom... it was just supposed to be a mother. When I found out that they were trying to get a name, I was like, "Oh, cool." Then they told me it was Rachel Hunter and I was like, "Nice."

Then, it wasn't working out and they had, when we were shooting, all this stuff at the Pizza Hut, they had different woman coming in for him to look at... but it ended up working out with Rachel and I was like, "Yeah, cool." She wasn't on the set for very long. She came, did the hair and make-up, and then she was on set... it was probably about an hour.

How many takes did you insist on?

Jon Heder: I told Dennis, once you get the shot just keep... just do whatever it takes to get the shot. If I'm really bad at it just keep going and work with me. Let me know if it's bad or good. So, we had to do it... I think it was five takes.

Was there a whole Saturday Night Live club on the set that you weren't a part of?

Jon Heder: Not really, I think they're all into their own lives now. It was really mostly just like Jon Lovitz, Schneider and Spade. It was more like Schneider had to train for baseball, so he'd be doing his thing most of the day, if we ever had breaks or we weren't on set he'd be in his workout trailer hitting balls or whatever. While Spade and I would hang out at lunch and play hacky sack and eat fattening food and Lovitz would do the same. That's kinda how it played out.

Do you think the success of Failure to Launch helped or hurt your upcoming film Mama's Boy with Diane Keaton?

Jon Heder: I got the script a long time ago... almost a year ago. I just heard about Failure to Launch a couple of weeks ago. I think they're pretty different movies.

Is it a romantic comedy?

Jon Heder: No... there's some romance in it, but it has a bit more of an indie feel. It's kind of more of a weird... it's a pretty simple movie but it's just different because it's a pretty funny character. It is kind of the same story where this guy who lives at home with his Mom, he's got to get out of the house, but I didn't see Failure to Launch, but I'm guessing they're pretty different.

How has it been doing the motion capture stuff for Monster House?

Jon Heder: It's pretty cool. It's nothing I've ever done before. I think the weirdest thing is getting all those dots glued on your face, and trying to eat food when you've got... it feels like you've just got huge zits all over the place. It was fun. It was a challenge because... I love being in costume and hair and makeup, you know? To help me so much with the character. It helps so much to be looking like the character. And you're not at all when you've got this wetsuit on with all these dots, and you don't feel like your character and you're not on location... with all these cameras around you and this hi-tech stuff. It was a challenge.

What character to do you play in School for Scoundrels?

Jon Heder: I play the main guy, Roger, he's a meter maid, parking enforcer, if you will. It's a guy who just really doesn't have any backbone. Everybody steps on him and he's just a really kind of nice, pushover guy. He starts to enroll in the class because there's this girl that he likes, and he's just like, "I've got to get her." So he enrolls in this class taught by Billy Bob Thornton's character that teaches guys how to be tougher. To get what they want out of life, but he's kind of a hardcore guy who kind of does things illegally and he's kind of rough on the guys. So, it turns into my character and him going after the same girl.

You also did a voice for Surf's Up?

Jon Heder: We're still doing it. When you do a voice for animation it's always dispersed throughout the year or years. Like Monster House, I first started working on that back in 2004. Surf's Up started... I started a little bit last year.

With Monster House how long did the motion capture take?

Jon Heder: Motion capture was just a couple of days. I'm mostly just in one scene so just a couple of days.

If you're out in public, in a typical day how many people come up to you and quote Napoleon Dynamite?

Jon Heder: I don't go out in public anymore. (Laughs) On average, maybe a couple of people a day. Everyday is different. It really depends on where I go. My number one question is, "When you're walking down the street...?" How often am I walking down the street? Just strutting along? (Laughs). Maybe to get to my car? Going out of the doctor's office? It just depends on where I go.

The Benchwarmers opens nationwide on April 7th, 2006 through Columbia Pictures.

Evan Jacobs at Movieweb
Evan Jacobs