Before the word neurodivergent became commonplace, two characters lit up the silver screen with what can only be described as awkward personalities. Of course, I’m talking about Pedro and Napoleon Dynamite in the eponymous, iconic, film.
In 2004, Pedro and Napoleon appeared as if out of the blue. Yet, they were highly relatable and hilarious to quote. Their deadpan, quirky way of talking was immediately addictive and a cultural sensation.
In the early 2000’s, actor Efren Ramirez (Pedro), had an opportunity to get a small role in the film, The Alamo with Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton, but instead, took a huge leap-of-faith for a bigger role in a low-budget film with no star power. This decision was informed by his childhood growing up in Los Angeles and doing theater.
“My dad was the one who said to me, ‘Go with your heart,’” says Ramirez from his home in LA. “Funny enough, that’s what Napoleon says to Pedro, ‘Just follow your heart. That’s what I do.’”
But, it wasn’t a decision grounded in confidence. “I wasn’t so sure, I was full of doubt. As a theater actor, the stage was all I had experienced, but to work on this film I had to deal with all the stress of the unknowns. The first day we filmed I saw all the actors like Jon Gries, Shondrella Avery and even Aaron Ruell, and seeing them as characters, I thought to myself, ‘Oh wow, I can work in this environment and create something really creative that will work.’ I was so lucky.”
Now almost 20 years later, Efren’s philosophy is wide and deep about the rare opportunity he was part of. “It’s funny that as an actor you try to target a specific style but you forget the human condition that none of us really know what life is about. As an actor I think it’s important to recognize all the stuff we just don’t know. And within confusion, that’s where you have comedy, sometimes. Comedy and drama both explore the pain of not knowing.”
Efren grew up with four other brothers all over LA. “I grew up in Lincoln Heights and that is the first town east of downtown Los Angeles. I also lived in Royal Heights, Eagle Rock and Glendale, I lived in a lot of places. All of my brothers had a different dream. Some of us went into the military and the others went to college. I was a big nerd. I was part of the Christian Service Club, the Drama Club, the Book Club, the Theatre Club and the Chess Club,” says Ramirez.
According to Ramirez, Napoleon Dynamite was born out of the vision of director Jared Hess and his wife Jersuha who co-wrote not only the short film Peluca while students at Brigham Young University, but also, the feature length film Napoleon Dynamite.
“Jared grew up in Preston, Idaho, so that’s what he knew,” says Ramirez. “Some of the characters and some of the same situations were exactly things they went through. Aaron Ruell who plays Kip, [Napoleon’s] older brother, actually did order a time machine online. They totally believed that you could go back in time.
“The director’s younger brothers were getting bullied by this guy named Dragon,” Ramirez continues, “so when they were casting for the bully Don, for the film, they decided just to hire Dragon. And they did!”
If you ever wondered how it was that two distinct personalities merged into a unique comedy duo that wouldn’t be the same without the other, the answer might surprise you. “I have to tell you, John Heder and I, we’re both twins. And the way of the universe, we both had the same vision and it just happened to all fall right in place. When you see me, John and Gries on tour with these screenings, it’s apparent and confirmed that we genuinely love each other. We are all also big fans of the movie itself, because we love the characters and we understand the nuances that happen. It’s a movie about characters trying to figure life out and when you have a buddy along with you on that journey it makes it more fun,” says Ramirez.
There will be an immersive experience at the Campbell Heritage Theatre on November 2 that will be celebrating all things Napoleon Dynamite. There will be a screening of the film, a Q&A with actors Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), Efren Ramirez (Pedro) and Jon Gries (Uncle Rico). Attendees can dress up and pose outside with Tina the Llama’s cousin Varekai. And of course, tots will be served!
Special screening of Napoleon Dynamite on Nov. 2 at Campbell’s Historic Heritage Theatre. Please visit heritagetheatre.org for tickets and more info.