Don’t Be Jealous! ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ stars heading to Tucson

Jon Heder, who played cult hero Napoleon Dynamite, teamed up with filmmaker/Glendale native Jared Hess for “Napoleon Dynamite” after meeting at BYU. (Photo courtesy Fox Tucson Theatre)

When Jon Gries was cast as “Uncle Rico” in a little film called “Napoleon Dynamite,” he couldn’t have predicted the response.

“I don’t think we knew the film was going to be bought, much less popular,” Gries says with a laugh. “The film was really well directed by Jared Hess, even though he had his 23rd birthday while we were filming it. Because of that we were going to really going to give it our all.

“It was an incredible situation where you do the preparation and the work is almost effortless and so comfortable. I felt some kind of kismet there. I tried to reach out to people in distribution in L.A. saying, ‘I think I’m in a film that’s a hit. Being typical, I think cynicism is the first order of business in Hollywood. Those who rolled their eyes, kicked themselves afterward.”

In the 2004 movie, Jon Heder plays the title character, a socially awkward 16-year-old boy from Idaho and his escapades with friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) and the shy Deborah “Deb” Bradshaw (Tina Majorino). The film with the budget of $400,000 made $46.1 million.

Heder, Ramirez and Gries are hosting “Napoleon Dynamite: A Conversation With …” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, September 6, at the Fox Tucson Theatre. The evening includes a full screening of “Napoleon Dynamite,” followed by the moderated discussion.

“‘Napoleon Dynamite’ is as culturally relevant today as it was when it came out,” he says. “The newer generation is just finding it. I’m so proud to be a part of it because so many people I’ve known through the years who have kids have all said to me, ‘When the family hangs out, we watch movies my spouse and I want to watch or the kids want to watch. This is the first film we all want to watch.’

“That always makes me happy.”

Gries is keeping busy, as he stars as Dr. Roberts in Adult Swim’s “Dream Corp LLC.” He’s still able to make appearances on behalf of “Napoleon Dynamite,” though, because of the flexibility of the “Dream Corp LLC” shooting schedule.

“The show happens so quickly,” he says. “We shoot over a nine- or seven-week period and then it’s done. I have time afterward. After we finished season two of ‘Dream Corp LLC,’ I decided to turn everything down that had been offered to me. I wanted to stay home and relax and take it easy.

“But these little dates popped up. It’s fun and it’s nice to visit with the guys. Everybody has a great time.”

He’s visited Arizona a few times, the first of which was for “September Gun,” a 1983 movie he did with Robert Preston and Christopher Lloyd.

“It was a movie of the week for CBS that was filmed at Old Tucson,” says Gries, who also appeared in the 2016 Phoenix-centric film “Durant’s Never Closes.” He’s also visited Chinle and Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

“I was also a huge John McCain fan,” he says. “Arizona is a great place. I love it for its culture, especially the indigenous culture.”

When he returns to Tucson, he’s looking forward to being reunited with Heder and Ramirez, as well as fans. After all, everyone can relate to Napoleon Dynamite.

“I think no matter how people feel about their lives, we all have a little Napoleon Dynamite in us. People tend to feel they’re a breath away from being an outcast, so a lot of people can relate to it. We all felt like him.”