DeKALB – Just shy of 20 years after premiering in theaters and becoming a cultural sensation, “Napoleon Dynamite” is still packing the house at the Egyptian Theatre in DeKalb.
Sunday night, more than 1,400 tickets were bought to see Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez and Jon Gries – the actors who played Napoleon Dynamite, Pedro Sánchez and Uncle Rico, respectively. The stars appeared after a showing of the 2004 cult classic MTV Films production on the historic theater’s projector in downtown DeKalb.
Set in Preston, Idaho, a dull location meant to complement the mellow plot and seemingly mundane characters, “Napoleon Dynamite” is perhaps an unlikely success story. That’s also part of its charm, Heder said.
“So over the last 20 years we’ve been approached by many fans who kind of told us the same story. ‘You know, when I saw your movie I didn’t like it,’” Heder said. “But they’re like, after the second or third viewing, ‘best movie ever.’ I’m like ‘What? Why would you watch a movie you didn’t like two more times?’ I mean, I went and saw the first ‘Twilight’ movie. I should have learned my lesson and saw the other movies, but that was enough.”
The first major event at the Egyptian Theatre in 2024, which is a presidential election year, featured numerous patrons wearing campaign shirts for their preferred candidate – albeit for class president at Preston High School.
Egyptian Theatre Marketing and Communications Director Jeanine Holcomb said the theater had a full house for the Sunday matinee.
“It is the kickoff for our touring season for the spring,” Holcomb said. “It doesn’t feel like spring outside, but it is our spring season, and this is a tremendous way to start our season. The fact that we have a headlining show, the fact that we have Jon Heder and Jon Griez and Efren Ramirez in the building, as well as over 1,000 happy customers, that is the best way to start our season.”
Sunday’s event, at times, mirrored other campaign events that have been hosted at the Egyptian Theatre. Ramirez, who played Pedro Sánchez, took to the stage playing a harmonica to the excitement of the dozens in the audience wearing the now famous “Vote for Pedro” T-shirts.
While Heder and Griez weren’t afraid to ham it up with the crowd during a post-film showing question and answer session, Ramirez would often slow the pace down and make sure some of the more insightful questions were answered.
Ramirez said he had to audition for his role – something Heder didn’t need to do considering he first helped director Jared Hess flesh out the project while in film school.
He also was offered a role in the 2004 remake of, “The Alamo,” but because it was going to be produced at the same time as “Napoleon Dynamite” (which ending up being shot in 22 days), Ramirez said he had a decision to make.
“I remember asking my father, ‘Like, what do I do?’ My father said, ‘Well, follow your heart. That’s what I would do.’ And I thought, ‘Wait a minute. That’s what Napoleon says to Pedro.’ Are you auditioning, too, Pop?” Ramirez joked.
Jason Davis of Plano attended Sunday’s event with a friend and said he seeks out unique events.
“I look for experiences like this, just fun things to do that you don’t really see around here very often,” Davis said. “There’s not too many that are around like this.”
Over the past two decades, Davis said he’s watched the “Napoleon Dynamite” many times and was excited to hear from the three actors during the live portion of Sunday’s show.
“I think they’ll be funny. We did the VIP meet-and-greet beforehand,” Davis said. “You just waited in line and took a picture with them, but they were super nice. I mean, they hugged you, and they were really welcoming.”