“Napoleon Dynamite: A conversation with Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez & Jon Gries” was surprisingly inspirational, irresistibly fun


Photo courtesy of Victory Theatre

“Napoleon Dynamite: A conversation with Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez & Jon Gries” came to Victory Theatre in Evansville Friday. It was an experience I will never forget.

Tegan Ruhl, Assistant Lifestyle Editor

If you’ve been alive in the past 18 years, more than likely, you’ve heard of the classic film “Napoleon Dynamite.” It’s a film that stamped many of our childhoods with awkward teenagers, tater tots and the desire to make one’s individuality known. “Napoleon Dynamite” has stupid humor and amazing characters which have stayed in our minds for years on end. 

Despite the movie’s release 18 years ago, “Napoleon Dynamite” still has a strong following in 2022. From children who are younger than the movie itself to adults who watched their kids watch the movie as they grew up, there’s something indescribably special about “Napoleon Dynamite.” Many fans of the movie have had burning questions about the movie for years, and they were finally granted the opportunity for their questions to be heard. 

Jon Heder (Napoleon), Efren Ramirez (Pedro) and Jon Gries (Uncle Rico) held a Q&A session with fans about “Napoleon Dynamite” at the Victory Theatre in downtown Evansville Friday. The event began at 6 p.m. with a showing of the film and the  Q&A followed afterward. 

“Napoleon Dynamite” is one of my favorite films. I share all of my thoughts on it in one of my Throwback Thursday Reviews. If you haven’t seen the film, I can’t recommend it enough.

Walking through the doors of Victory Theatre was exciting. Attendees who had gone to the VIP meet and greet were holding autographs and were talking about their experience meeting the actors. As more people arrived, I saw a vast array of “Vote for Pedro” shirts in the audience. Other notable shirts I saw included one that said “Make yourself a dang quesadilla,” and “Tina, you fat lard.” Some of the audience members even dressed as characters from the movie, most notably Deb. 

Through the constant chatter all around me in the auditorium, I could quickly tell the crowd was excited to meet the cast. 

The audience stands for a standing ovation as Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez and Jon Gries leave the stage Friday. (Photo by Quinton Watt)

The screening of “Napoleon Dynamite” was incomparable to anything I’ve ever experienced before. I felt like I was watching the movie with friends I’d never met. Everyone cheered when the opening credits began and wouldn’t stop throughout the entire movie. Attendees had the same reactions to every scene as if they had rehearsed it beforehand. 

It was simply astounding to see a room full of “Napoleon Dynamite” fans all watching the movie together. Never in my life did I think I would ever live to experience a moment like this. 

When the end credits rolled and the crowd roared with applause, the actors appeared on stage.  Heder, Ramirez and Gries standing in the Victory Theatre in Evansville, Indiana, who would’ve thought? It blew my mind that I was actually seeing them in person, and I could tell the audience felt the same way. 

The three walked onto the stage one at a time, speaking as their characters when they were introduced. I knew from the get-go there was something indescribably special about the three of them. Whether it be their personalities or connection with one another, they were put together for a reason. 

The first question they asked the audience, besides how they were doing, was if anyone had any tots. Multiple hands shot up in the crowd with brown paper or plastic bags filled with tater tots. One of the audience members even offered them some of their tater tots, and the cast attempted to catch tots in their mouths for the next two minutes. I should’ve expected nothing less. 

Heder, Ramirez and Gries interacted with the crowd heavily. The point of a Q&A is to make a connection to the crowd, but it felt very intimate. The three weren’t afraid to be silly and serious at the same time. One moment Heder would be joking about his perm in the movie, and the next the three of them would be encouraging artists to tell their story because it needs to be heard. 

Unfortunately, I don’t have time to explain everything that was discussed, but I will go over some highlights that stuck with me after the event was over. 

“Napoleon Dynamite” took 22 days to film, and the actors were paid $75 a day. 

In the scene where Uncle Rico hits Napoleon with a steak while riding Pedro’s bike, Gries hit Heder on the first try. Gries also bloodied Heder’s nose, and Ramirez had to quickly exit the shot before he broke character. 

After filming was completed, Heder took home most of the items from the set. He said he keeps most of it in his room, including the fleece boots he wore the entire movie. 

A fan bought Pedro’s bike from a girl in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and brought it to the event. Heder said he hadn’t seen the bike since 2005. He once used it to get from place to place in Preston, Idaho. 

The director of the film, Jared Hess, filmed the movie when he was 22. “Napoleon Dynamite” is actually based on his experiences growing up as an awkward teenager in Preston. 

What stuck with me the most was the advice the actors gave to the audience members who aspired to be creators. I remember a vlogger and screenwriter asking them what they would say to someone who was just starting up in the scene, and the response was surprisingly inspirational. 

“Just keep doing what you’re doing,” Ramirez said. “You become really good at whatever you practice. You’re going to make mistakes, but you’re going to get better. For us, this is who we are. This is what we do. We are artists. This town needs to be heard through your eyes, through your voice.” 

“There’s a lot of darkness right now, and that’s the truth,” Ramirez said. “But there is light and the light starts with you. Tell it. Share it. Give it.” 

Moderator Travis Sams from 99.5 WKDQ asks Heder, Ramirez and Gries questions about “Napoleon Dynamite” Friday. (Can add info on the event here like a quote or something) (Photo by Quinton Watt)

I did not expect to be inspired at all by this event. I just came for the stupid humor. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by how the actors cared for their fans and how many people loved the movie as much as I did. 

To hear how “Napoleon Dynamite” has impacted people’s lives was simply humbling. I heard a school teacher say she shows the film to her students every year, a young woman talk about how her father enjoyed watching her watch the movie growing up and so many testimonies about how the film has importance in different people’s lives. The word “incredible” isn’t enough to describe the event. My experience was easily a 10 out of 10. To be in a room surrounded by people who love “Napoleon Dynamite” was never something I intended to do, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I’m glad I didn’t pass up on.