It may seem like only yesterday that Napoleon Dynamite graced the world with a love for tater tots, nunchuku skills and the knowledge that ligers are bred for their skills in magic, but it's actually been a decade since all that went down.
To celebrate, the cast met up June 9 in honor of the film's 10th anniversary. Fox Searchlight Pictures brought together writer and director Jared Hess, Jon Heder, who played Napoleon, and other members of the cast to discuss the film and commemorate the anniversary with quesadillas, tots, 1-percent milk and the unveiling of a bronze Napoleon statue on the Fox lot in L.A.]
Napoleon Dynamite, which premiered at Sundance in 2004, took its name from the title character, who embodied the extreme awkwardness of adolescence. Filmed in Preston, Idaho, it was based on real experiences from writer Jared Hess' life. “I come from a family of six boys, and most of the stuff in the film ended up being direct transcripts of a lot of the more idiot dialogues me and my brothers had,” says Hess.
Shot in 22 days, the film was made for just $400,000, but has since grossed more than $44 million in the United States. Of the film's success, actor Efren Ramirez, who played Pedro, says, “It is great to see after 10 years that the movie is still going strong, and there's people my generation and younger generations who still rave about it. I'm just grateful about the fact that there is a statue of Napoleon Dynamite wearing a t-shirt that says 'Vote for Pedro.'”
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The colored bronze statue mirrors Napoleon, from the glasses to the Pedro t-shirt, and shows him posed with hands open ready for a game of tetherball. “It looks like he's perpetually complaining about something,” Heder says, “which captures Napoleon very well.”
Heder explains that he was able to understand his character so well because he felt he and Hess grew up in different versions of each other's lives. Heder was also born in a small town, in Oregon, and had a lot of brothers. “It was a little different but still kind of a small-town life,” Heder says. “We went to Scout camp and made homemade nunchukus.”
Up next, what the rest of the cast thinks of writer/director Jared Hess…
As for the other cast members, they commend Hess on his ability to “put it all on the page,” knowing exactly what he wanted and who his characters were. “I think the characters fit in so well together because they didn't fit in anywhere else, and they weren't that aware of it,” says Tina Majorino, who played Deb.
Hess even found a way to include one actress' whole family. Shondrella Avery, who played Lafawnduh, recalls a conversation she had with Hess. “He called me and said, 'You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?' and that's how it happened,” says Avery – and her real family ended up playing her family in the film. They also joined her at the reunion.
“It was great seeing everyone,” Avery says, “because then you remember. That's the one gift we have in this play-pretend world is remembrance. I remember things that matter so much, and this film was really made with such a mattering purpose. Anti-bullying, bringing together love, no racism, no discrimination, and no judgment.
“And that's really important to think, that as much as the film was funny, those small semblances made a big impact.”
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