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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

Cast of Napoleon Dynamite visits UB for screening and discussion

John Heder, Jon Gries and Efren Ramirez visit UB as the 20th anniversary of Napoleon dynamite approaches

“Napoleon Dynamite” super fans flooded the Center for the Arts (CFA) theater, almost all of them wearing “Vote for Pedro” T-shirts and eagerly awaited a screening of a movie they’ve seen dozens of times over. The faint scent of Labatt Blue wafted through the theater as the lights dimmed and the film’s beginning credits rolled.

Audience members applauded and cheered classic scenes such as “gimme your tots,” feeding Tina and the iconic “Vote for Pedro” dance. The lights turned on, revealing  a piñata of Summer Wheatly, Pedro’s presidential opponent, and a tetherball pole flanked the stage.Three couches occupied center stage next to a plate of tater tots and a “totally legit” time machine. 

This wasn’t just another screening. Fans went to the April 13 showing to witness John Heder (Napoleon), Jon Gries (Uncle Rico) and Effren Ramirez (Pedro) discuss their cult classic comedy, “Napoleon Dynamite.” 

As the audience waited for the actors to reveal themselves, acoustic guitar blared through the speakers. Jon Gries appeared on stage strumming his guitar and took a seat on one of the couches. As the acoustic riff continued, none other than Efren Ramirez waltzed onto the stage playing a harmonica, dazzling the crowd. Shortly after Gries and Ramirez’s jam session, rapid footsteps echoed from the back of the theater; John Heder jogged on stage to a round of applause, high-fiving audience members along the way. 

The audience’s varying ages evidently surprised Heder, as he began the show with “Ugh, you guys look older now” in his iconic Napoleon Dynamite voice. 

For the next 30 minutes, the actors regaled the audience with secrets from behind the scenes. The actors all shared a sheer doubt in how successful “Napoleon Dynamite” would become.

 After he was offered the role of Uncle Rico, Gries’ manager was skeptical.

 “He said, ‘You don’t want to do this movie. These guys are just from Utah.’ They have no track, right?” Gries said. 

Supposedly “a lot of [big] name actors” turned down roles in Napoleon Dynamite without giving the script a fair read. But the script alone piqued Gries’ interest, ultimately causing him to accept his now-famous role. 

“I said to my manager, ‘Let me read the script,” he said. “And of course, by page 15, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m doing this,’ because it was so original.”

Gries was further sold on the movie on the first day of filming. He showed up with his nylon wig in hand, and the first thing he saw was characters Lafonda and Kip playing footsie. 

“I literally walked off set and called my friend in distribution. I told him that he was going to want to buy this movie,” Gries said. “Of course, he never called me back.”

Heder, Aaron Rule (Kip) and director Jared Hess all attended Brigham Young University’s film school, where they came up with the idea for “Napoleon Dynamite.” The cult classic started as a short film called “Peluca.” The films were so similar that many scenes from “Peluca” ended up in the feature length film. 

On January 17, 2024, the film will turn 20 years old. And while “Napoleon Dynamite” hasn’t exactly maintained the fire it started in 2004, it has successfully become a cult classic with a dedicated fan base — one that is evidently strong at UB.

Dylan Greco is the opinion editor and can be reached at dylan.greco@ubspectrum.com

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