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Heder aims to build dynamite career after 'Napoleon'

By David Germain

Associated Press

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Jon Heder is not uber-geek Napoleon Dynamite. He does relate to the triumph-over-your-own-inner-loser tenacity for which Napoleon stands, though.

Heder so far has stuck closely to that theme in the handful of characters he's played since becoming an icon for outsiders with the title role in the low-budget sensation "Napoleon Dynamite."

His latest: "School for Scoundrels," with Heder as Roger, a pathetically meek parking meter man summoning the fortitude to battle a con man (Billy Bob Thornton) who teaches a guerrilla course in confidence building for nerds.

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Though he does not share Napoleon's outrageously frizzy hair or Roger the meter man's submissive demeanor, Heder empathizes with such fringe characters.

"I relate to most of the characters I play, because I do feel like an outsider," Heder said, noting that growing up a Mormon who has an identical twin brother set him apart. "And I wasn't into sports like all my friends were. I was into art and drawing and making movies."

"Coming to Hollywood, I definitely feel like an outsider. I know at some point I would like to take on more dramatic roles. OK, here's a character I don't know or relate with at all. Here's this person doing something different from what I know."

Heder, 28, is one of the great outsider success stories in modern Hollywood. An unknown less than three years ago, Heder trudged to the ski-resort town of Park City, Utah, in January 2004 for the premiere of "Napoleon Dynamite," directed by his Brigham Young University film school classmate Jared Hess.

Amid bleak, sober dramas about adultery, drug abuse and pedophilia, "Napoleon Dynamite" was a blast of sweet, giddy fun, a tale of misfits finding kinship and acceptance. Heder's Napoleon was a prince among geeks with his breathy, exasperated exclamations of "Gosh!" and quirky dialogue such as "Tina, you fat lard, come get some dinner" and "I caught you a delicious bass."

Agents and managers courted Heder, scripts came his way, and he followed with roles as a spacy occult bookstore clerk in Reese Witherspoon's "Just Like Heaven" and as Rob Schneider and David Spade's teammate in the baseball comedy "The Benchwarmers."

Along with Thornton in "School for Scoundrels," Heder's upcoming co-stars include Will Ferrell in "Blades of Glory," the two playing rival ice skaters who team up as the first competitive men's pair, and Diane Keaton in "Mama's Boy," in which he plays a slacker whose cozy home life is threatened by his mother's new romance.

Heder still marvels over his progression of cast mates.

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"I was like, ooh, Billy Bob. Then it was like, wow, Diane Keaton. Then I was like, Will Ferrell? Me and Will Ferrell?" Heder said. "No, no, no, no. You've got to pinch me. This is not fair. I've done something, I feel like a fraud in some ways, and I'm going to be exposed at some point."

His co-stars say Heder's no fraud. Though a newcomer with little training or experience, Heder already has the goods to make it in Hollywood, Ferrell said.

"He just kind of has everything," Ferrell said. "He has this persona that comes through that's extremely likable, and it's really funny the different ways he observes the world through his characters."

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