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Stars share 'Dynamite' success

August 29, 2005

From the Columbus Dispatch

DELAWARE, OHIO - Freshman Zac Salamon won't forget the evening before classes began at Ohio Wesleyan University.

"College is pretty flippin' sweet," said the 19-year-old New Yorker. "Classes haven't started and we haven't finished unpacking, but I love it."

Napoleon & Kip On StageHis excitement stemmed from a visit last night by the stars of the low-budget hit Napoleon Dynamite.

Salamon was among 1,100 people who filled Gray Chapel on the Delaware campus to hear Jon Heder (Napoleon) and Aaron Ruell (Kip) talk about the film.

The stop was part of a sevencollege tour this fall by Heder, 27, and Ruell, 29.

Jessica Lawrence, a Wesleyan senior and president of the Campus Programming Board — which paid more than $10,000 for the discussion with the actors — said she couldn't pass up the opportunity.

"We are huge Napoleon Dyamite fans here," she said. "You can't walk around campus without hearing someone say ‘Heck, yes!' or ‘Gosh!' in Napoleon's voice."

Or flippin' sweet.

Directed and co-written by the husband-and-wife team of Jared and Jerusha Yates, the movie _ largely plotless _ follows Idaho outcasts trying to find their place in the world.

It is somewhat autobiographical, Heder said.

"We created Kip and Napoleon from ourselves and from people we knew and experiences we had," he said. "It was fun to celebrate the nerd within me."

Made in 22 days for an estimated $400,000, Napoleon Dynamite was released in theaters in June 2004 after its debut at Utah's Sundance Film Festival. It grossed more than $45 million at the box office and, as of late July, had rung up $104 million in DVD sales.

Its cult status mystifies the actors.

"I think it has something to do with people being able to relate to one or some of the characters," Ruell said. "If you weren't them, you knew someone like them. And when you're able to relate to a movie, it touches you in a different way."

Heder, who at the request of the audience performed his "Vote for Pedro" skit, said he wasn't prepared for the "dang success."

"I'm still trying to deal with it every time someone stops me on the street."

With little money for filming, Ruell said, the cast and crew improvised.

"All of our clothing came from thrift stores or Wal-Mart, and we did our own stunts," he said. "We couldn't hire anyone to shoot the opening scene, so I did it myself."

Heder and Ruell, both Mormons who met while attending film school at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, have received many offers to play similar characters.

For now, Ruell is working on an untitled feature film that he wrote and will direct; Heder is awaiting the Sept. 16 release of Just Like Heaven, in which he stars alongside Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo.

Asked for some closing thoughts, Heder offered a Napoleon philosophy: "Just follow your heart. That's what I did."

Lori Geller