To talk “Blades of Glory” and more
Jon Heder is living proof that if you decide you’re going to do something – you can accomplish that goal.
Just a few short years ago the L.A based-actor was an unemployed performer who offered to help out his filmmaking friend Jared Hess by playing the lead role in Hess’s ultra low-budget comedy “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004). Heder and Hess never expected anyone to see the movie, let alone it becoming one of the biggest films of the year. Now, the man behind one of cinema’s most amusing characters is riding the biggest of waves as every studio in town beseeches a piece of him. Heder’s latest film is the ice-skating comedy “Blades of Glory” co-starring Will Ferrell. CLINT MORRIS caught up with Heder in Australia. To discuss it… and more.
Thanks for chatting to us today, Jon.
Pleasure – I like print press much better than I like doing TV.
You definitely have to be a little more rehearsed and know-your-stuff for TV, don’t you? Though I guess they can still edit it down to make you look like a dunce if they wanted to anyway
Exactly. You can make me look good…
Which I will, of course. So tell me, ever been taken out of context before – in an interview?
No, I don’t think I’ve ever been taken out of context but what happens is that they’ll sometimes twist what I said to sound like I’m referring to something else… or something. That’s happened in the past. I guess it at least gives one an insight into that journalist or that publication. You learn for next time.
Look, most outlets are after a scoop and if you happen to say something that sounds juicy but would sound even juicier if they can put such-and-such spin on it, they will. I think that’s the game of journalism.
On the other end of the scale, I’ve read great articles about me. It’s weird – some will do, like, whatever, others will write good stuff. I like the guys that are on my side.
Well, here’s a compliment for you: I’ve got to say, after this movie [“Blades of Glory”] and [your last movie] “School for Scoundrels” you’ve finally shaken off the ‘Napoleon’ thing.
You think so?
Yeah I do. The character you played in “School for Scoundrels”, for example, was the total chalk to Napoleon’s cheese – you even had a few serious moments in there.
Thank You. That wasn’t even released here, was it? Have you seen it?
Yeah. Got the DVD. I thought it was good, and you didn’t play it too over-the-top.
It was a chance to do a role that was more of a natural everyday kinda guy. He was still a bit of a loser, but not so much, and he was much closer to myself.
I guess you could say the role I play in Blades of Glory is the one I’ve had the least in common with – he’s such a different character; he’s this amazing skater that almost has this feminine quality; an innocent child that has been sheltered from the world. He was so different.
So your goal was to play a character that was as far away from Napoleon Dynamite as possible?
There wasn’t a real goal… I mean, it’s not like I said to myself ‘you know what? I’m going to go and play an ice-skater!’ The pitch came to me. I was told that Ben Stiller – who was one of the producers – wanted to talk to me about a script and that it was about two guys inside the world of figure ice-skating who are forced to join together. Whether it had anything to do with a Napoleon-like character or not… I just ate it up.
Was Will Ferrell attached at that stage?
At that point he wasn’t onboard, no. They were just looking for the right people at that stage.
Did you have to test with any other actors, then?
Only with the girl actors. I’d like to say Will auditioned for the role and I had to give him the nod of approval like ‘Hmmm, Ok, fine. He’s the cheapest one, he’ll do’ but that wasn’t the case. Nah, I knew this would be an opportunity to work with someone great. I knew it would be a fun role and a fun project… and it was.
As soon as I read the film had been greenlight I knew it’d be a success – it’s one of those high-concept comedies that people love, isn’t it?
Yeah, I remember when I used to tell people ‘I’m doing an ice-skating movie with Will Ferrell’ and right away people would just start laughing. They’d say ‘I’ll see that movie. Definitely’.
So why do you think this has worked and ‘School for Scoundrels’ didn’t?
Yeah, ah, I dunno… I think maybe it was a timing thing. I mean it wasn’t a bad movie. I was happy with it. Ultimately you want the audience to be entertained – and the audiences I saw it with seemed to like it – but there’s nothing you can do about it if they aren’t. For whatever reason, I’m thinking it maybe needed more ice-skating in it. [Laughs]
I think it needed more of you doing ‘Napoleon’ and Billy Bob Thornton doing ‘Sling Blade’. That was classic. The extras on the DVD were great.
Oh you saw the extra? I wish the one on there was as good as the one we did there on set. That was pretty wild. They kept asking us to do it again.
How has life changed for you now compared to before you did “Napoleon Dynamite”? I assume you have a ‘bed’ now?
I’ve got a bed, yeah, and…. I mean it really was such a weird time. It happened at the right time, though. I was just finishing college and I was planning on moving down to L.A. I knew I wanted to do something different with that next phase of my life. I then ended up doing Napoleon, which just made my career. I started getting offers; I got an agent and a manager…
The offers that came in, were they very ‘Napoleon’ like?
Nothing was really Napoleon like because Napoleon was so bizarre and different. Sure, there were offers to play nerdy guys – but nobody could write a [nerd] script like Jared Hess. In other words most of them I didn’t like. They just weren’t on the same page as me.
What was the first one out of the gate for you after ‘Napoleon’?
The first one was Monster House, but the first live-action one was Just Like Heaven.
Reese [Witherspoon] is lovely isn’t she? Did you enjoy working with her?
I love her. She was great.
Did I read correctly that you’re getting into producing your own films?
Yep. Hopefully I’ll be writing sometime soon. I have a production company and yeah, we’re hoping to make some movies.
Anything on the slate at the moment?
Nothing really. We’re working our way up still so everything is still in early, early development. It goes slower than you think – either that’s because I’m just starting out in producing or making movies in general takes a long time. It’s such a long process; you have to find an idea; find a writer that matches that idea… there’s just so many things. It’s challenging and harder than I thought.
You just did a film with Diane Keaton didn’t you?
That was great. Mama’s Boy is a character piece; I play a 29-year-old guy who still lives with his Mum. He’s not your typical guy – he’s a jerk to her and he takes her for granted. He’s just so comfortable at home that he doesn’t want to go. Of course, a series of events changes all that. He has to get out of his comfort zone and deal with the real world. He’s a pseudo intellectual guy that thinks he’s better and smarter than anyone else.
Will [Ferrell] was telling me last year that he sat through a heap of car racing movies in preparation for “Talladega Nights” – did you guys have to watch a heap of ice-skating movies before doing “Blades of Glory”? “Ice Castles”?
I actually just watched Ice Castles for the first time last week. I didn’t watch it for research, it was mainly just out of interest. The one I’m a really big fan of is The Cutting Edge. There are not a lot of good ice-skating movies out there. I did watch – and I guess you could say it’s for research but the truth is I just like watching movies – Ice Princess.
Michelle Trachtenberg, right? Kids movie?
Yeah. [Groan]. Lets just say I was glad I was making our movie – we had to bring sexy back to ice-skating.
You didn’t rent out “Cutting Edge 2: Going for Gold” though did you?
No, heard about it though. I actually worked with someone who was on that movie, so I should’ve.
You’re right though; there are not a lot of good ice-skating movies out there. “Cutting Edge” probably is the best one.
Yeah, I always liked that one.
Yeah, I always liked it too. It was cheesy but it was fun.
Will thought it was funny that I liked it – and he just watched it too; I saw it when it came out years ago!
He wasn’t doing his research, then?
No. He wasn’t prepared for it! [Laugh]
So you should’ve gone with Andrew Dice Clay after all!
[Laughs] Andrew Dice Clay! Yeah!
You seem like a very different guy off-screen. That’s something that surprised me about Will, too – he’s such a reserved fellow in real life.
Oh yeah. It was so interesting to meet him because although I’d seen all his work and I had no idea what he was really like. It was cool… we met on the ice.
Can I put that in bold- ‘We met on the ice’?
Yeah, ‘We Met on the Ice’ [Laughs]. It was quite an intimidating setting for us because both of us were excited about working together but we could only guess what we were in store for for the next six months. Ice is scary. I love it now, but its still a very humbling sport.
I remember as a youngster, going away on camp, and we were all taken to an ice-skating rink. One of the kids cut his arm, or something, and there was this huge blood trail across the ice. It kinda put me off ice-skating forever.
As the blood froze into the ice… ouch! Yeah, [Ice-Skating] really does command respect. We can make a movie that makes fun of it, but man, these people are hardcore athletes. To hold your leg above your head like that or to do spins… the precision…. Wow. It’s insane. Will actually did his research and discovered that ice-skating started with some guy developing an ice-skate as a mode of transportation – it was basically just two blades of steel slapped together. Why would anyone do that?!
Ha. So you could skate now if you went on the ice?
Oh yeah. Totally. I really took to it. I’m not a professional – though I was paid to skate so you could say I’m a professional – but I felt myself getting better at it every day. I really enjoy it. I’d like to try and continue it as a hobby.
Talking of continuing something, how much pressure is there on you to do a ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ sequel?
Now its just pressure from the fans, but originally it was just from the studio. They gave up asking. Maybe it’ll happen… I don’t know. I guess everyone’s kinda doing his or her own thing – Jared’s doing his own thing.
It is surprising that there isn’t one, because they’ll do sequels to anything these days!
Usually though its sequels to movies that you expect to have a sequel. We had no idea anyone was even going to see Napoleon Dynamite, let alone that we’d have to think about a sequel. When they mentioned sequel, we had no idea how to do one, so we haven’t. We’d always joked about doing one but we never took it seriously, we were just like ‘let’s do Napoleon in Space!’ Something crazy like that [Laughs]
I guess you couldgo the Robert Rodriguez route – ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ is the El Mariachi, and the sequel could be the ‘Desperado’. Though, I don’t know how you’d feel about Antonio Banderas replacing you as Napoleon?
No… Banderas would be playing Pedro! They’d all be grown up, so we’d recast! Matthew McConaughey might be a good Napoleon?
Are you bowled over by how popular that movie is? I mean there’s merchandise galore!
I think it’s outstanding that I can be here on the other side of the earth – the other side of the earth!! – and people are quoting lines from it and wearing T-Shirts with Napoleon on them! We just did it for fun.
Obviously there was less pressure doing that film than there is now for you?
Yeah, there was no pressure back then. I had nothing to lose.
So it was just for kicks?
Yeah it was.
And it paid off.
BLADES OF GLORY commences June 21