Over the weekend, USA Today released a story on Jon Heder, the star of Napoleon Dynamite: "Jon Heder gets off the bench." What I found most interesting about this article was learning more about Heder's Mormonism and how other Latter-day Saints have responded to Napoleon Dynamite. Here's some information about Heder:
Movie stardom is an unlikely arc for a Mormon kid from Oregon, who started studying film to become an animator, not a leading man. Napoleon Dynamite is no pin-up material, with his throaty Beavis and Butt-Head voice and donkey-sized choppers, but Heder is far more handsome, though more Tom Hanks than Tom Cruise.
He and his wife, Kirsten, have been married for three years, and he spent two years in Japan on the traditional proselytizing mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He's a twin from a family of six children, though he doesn't have any kids yet.
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Heder says that because of his religious beliefs he won't take roles that have cursing, excessive sexuality or violence. In Benchwarmers, he says he tried to make his role more kid-friendly, though there are still plenty of gross-out gags.
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He makes it clear that he's a comedian, not a preacher. "It's tough now, because am I like an ambassador (for Mormonism) now? I was representing the church on my mission, and now I'm representing the church again in some ways," Heder says. "Sometimes I downplay it. 'I'm a Mormon. This is what Mormons do.' — That's not my thing. I want to get up there and tell entertaining stories but that are also to a certain extent clean."
And here is what some Mormons think about Napoleon Dynamite:
But there's more to his success than slapstick. Heder and Hess (who directs Jack Black in the upcoming wrestling comedy Nacho Libre) presented a slice of life in Napoleon that is unique to rural Mormon culture in states like Utah and Idaho.
"I think that (Mormons) definitely see some correlation between the Napoleon character coming up with creative alternatives to swear words" like "Gosh!" "Dang!" and "Frickin' idiot!" Hess says. "In Mormon households, that's what kids have to do."
Robert Kirby, a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune, has seen Napoleon many times and has some lines of dialogue as his cellphone ringtones. He says Heder provides Mormons with a cultural caricature they can embrace.
"If you weren't (Napoleon), you at least knew him, these hicks who thought they were really with-it but were about two years behind the times," says Kirby, a Mormon humorist who has written the books Sunday of the Living Dead and Wake Me for the Resurrection. "(Heder) promises real hope for the way Mormons are regarded in film. What we're looking for is our own stereotype. And without doing it in an overt or in-your-face way, he brings the Mormon character to the screen."