From Napoleon Dynamite To Roy Disney, And The 11 Years In Between

17 November 2015 | 1:08 pm | Mitch Knox

"It's still kind of my favourite film that I've done yet, and nothing can beat that... It's a memory that will never be beaten."

At 38, with a wife, children, and 11 years between now and when he first caught our attention as loveable misfit Napoleon Dynamite, Jon Heder is "content". Even having revisited his breakthrough role in 2012 for a brief animated stint, Heder has kept busy over the years with a breadth of projects on screens large and small, in the flesh and as a voice.

In particular, 2015 has shaped up to be a banner year on the actor's calendar, with new film Walt Before Mickey - a biopic detailing the early years of Walt Disney (Thomas Ian Nicholas), along with brother and business partner Roy (Heder) - given wide release overseas earlier this year, plus a handful of projects either already out, pending release or still in post-production.

For Heder, the opportunity to be a part of examining the nascent years of someone such as Disney — "a national icon; you know, international, a global icon" — was too good to pass up.

"For quite a while, I was not receiving dramatic scripts; I was receiving a lot of comedy stuff."

Describing his time on the film as "brief" but enjoyable, Heder explains that, as a result of Roy Disney having been a private person in life (he died in 1971), he wasn't left with much in the way of preparation material for the role, although he does concede that could have been a blessing in disguise, since nobody else knows what Roy was like either.

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"A lot of it was guesswork," Heder laughs. "There's not a lot on Roy as far as I was able to find, so yeah, I had to kind of go off what was just was in the book that the script was based on [2011's Walt Before Mickey], and it didn't get a ton into his character - just that he was always there to support his brother, a little bit more of the level-headed one... but it was great."

His role in Walt Before Mickey — brief however it may have been — marks another dramatic dabbling for Heder, who obviously made his mark early on with a string of comedic flicks in the wake of Napoleon Dynamite. Although he's found a good balance now, he says he found it difficult to break free from the comedic mould mid-last decade.

"It's hard to say if I like one over the other," he explains. "I think a good blend - you know, do some comedy, and do something a little heavier, and something lighter ... I certainly wouldn't want to stick to one for the rest of my life. I enjoy kind of going back and forth.

"Certainly, in the beginning, for quite a while, I was not receiving dramatic scripts; I was receiving a lot of comedy stuff," he continues. "So it does not come easy - I definitely have to work a little bit more for it and do a little bit more searching and digging for that kind of stuff, but it's definitely rewarding and I enjoy it quite a bit."

Despite the obvious impact Napoleon Dynamite and its titular character had on his career — or perhaps precisely because of it — Heder retains a deep affection for the character and his legacy in the annals of 21st century pop culture.

"I think he's great," Heder says after some consideration. Despite the hesitation, it's clear he means it. "I think it's cool that still, to this day, people really respond to him, and to the character and love the movie, and I... you know, I'm proud of my work. I love the film, it's still kind of my favourite film that I've done yet, and nothing can beat that... It's a memory that will never be beaten. It was my first project; it was so memorable in that it was so close and personal to me, and you always hope to do projects that you enjoy throughout the years and throughout the rest of my life, and maybe I will; who knows?  But I'm certainly glad and, like I said, proud of my work on that film, and hope that it will continue to last through the generations."

And, with everything he's learnt over the past decade behind him, Heder knows better than to totally shut the door on the potential of revisiting the role that set him on the long and winding path to Roy Disney, however unlikely a prospect that might be (sorry, everyone).

"If all the right ducks were in a row, as they say... if everybody got involved, then yeah, I would definitely be up for it," Heder says of a Napoleon Dynamite sequel. "I think it'd be fun. I just don't think that it will happen.

"If it does, I mean, who knows? But it's all about the director, you know, Jared Hess, the guy who wrote and directed the film — it's kind of his call. And if he came to me and said, 'Hey, I have a vision, I have a good idea; I think there's something we could do here,' then yeah, I would definitely at least strongly consider it, if not do it."