‘Napoleon Dynamite’ creators tell story behind character’s name

(KTVX) — Jon Heder will forever be known as Napoleon Dynamite after his debut playing the title character in the cult classic back in 2004.

Heder was one third of the trio that brought the comedy to life. In an interview with BYU Magazine, Heder, along with Jared Hess, the film’s writer and producer, and his wife Jerusha Hess came together to share the history of “Napoleon Dynamite.” The three were students at Brigham Young University’s film school.

Hess shared the motivation for the movie’s title came from his time as a Mormon missionary.

“On my mission in Chicago, an older Italian man said, ‘Hey, church people, I want to talk to you guys. Why do you have the name Elder?’” Heder said. “And we’re like, ‘Well, it’s a title we carry for two years. So what’s your name, sir?’ And he goes, ‘My name is Napoleon Dynamite.’

“My mind was blown. Clearly, it wasn’t his real name. But I remember writing down on a piece of paper: ‘Title of first movie must be Napoleon Dynamite.’”


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With a production team compiled almost entirely of BYU students, according to BYU magazine, and a single investment of $400,000 from Jeremy Coon, one of Hess’s old film school buddies as well as the movie’s producer and editor, “Napoleon Dynamite” was born. 

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Hess explained his inspiration for the film’s concept, saying, “Everything in the film is so autobiographical. I grew up in a family of six boys in Preston, Idaho (where the film was shot) and the character of Napoleon was a hybrid of all the most nerdy and awkward parts of me and my brothers growing up.”

After premiering at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, Napoleon Dynamite became an underdog success. As reported in BYU Magazine, the film soon sold to Fox Searchlight Studios for $4.75 million and grossed more than $46 million in the first year it was released.

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