A Chat with Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite”)

Although Jon Heder has rarely been without work since making his cinematic breakthrough in 2004, it would be fair to say that, no matter how many films or television appearances he may have made, people’s first thought when they see him remains “Napoleon Dynamite.” And, really, why wouldn’t it be? Even Heder himself admits that the distance between himself and Mr. Dynamite isn’t exactly the longest trek in the world. Still, if you thought he’d be hesitant to reprise his role for Fox’s upcoming series based on the the character and his adventures, you would be wrong. Heder doesn’t consider Napoleon to be an albatross around his neck. To the contrary, in fact, he’s loving every minute of his prime-time experience, which begins this Sunday evening with two episodes: one at 7:30 PM, one at 8:30 PM.

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Bullz-Eye: So this is a pretty sweet gig you’ve got here.

Jon Heder: Uh…doing all these interviews? [Laughs.]

BE: Well, not necessarily that. I really meant you’ve got a gig where you don’t even necessarily have to wear pants.

JH: Oh, right! Which is appropriate, since Napoleon hardly ever wears pants on the show, either. [Laughs.] But, no, you’re right: this is a sweet gig. And I’m hoping that it continues and finds success. That’d be awesome.

BE: Well, I watched the first two episodes, and they were fun.

JH: I mean, it could possibly be the best job ever, because I love the work, I love the material, it’s, not, like, “Oh, all right.” I love “Napoleon.” And you’re going in, you’re recording, it’s easy scheduling…it could be the best job ever.

BE: Obviously you know the character pretty well. How much in terms of voice acting did you learn from doing films like “Surf’s Up” and “Monster House”?

JH: I’ve learned a lot, but…I don’t know if they necessarily prepped me for this, because…I was trying to create new, different voices and things for “Surf’s Up” and “Monster House.” This was a character I already knew and I knew what I was doing. I suppose doing all of those days of ADR on those films helped.

BE: Was it any trouble to find the Napoleon voice again?

JH: It took maybe five seconds. [Laughs.] It wasn’t too bad. I mean, at first, I definitely felt like one of the many college students who’ve done impersonations that I’ve seen on YouTube or whatever. Or just heard. Like, “Eat your freaking tots!” And as soon as I said it, it was, like, “Oh, uh…” And then I went, “No, no, no, I can own this. I mean, this is me! I am him!” [Laughs.] So it wasn’t too bad.

BE: How many horrible impressions of Napoleon have you heard over the years?

JH: Well, I was telling my wife the other day, “Is this horrible to say?” And it must be because it’s me, because it’s my voice, but…they’re all horrible. [Laughs.] I mean, it’s funny, but if you’re talking in terms of how good they are, none of them come close. And I would know, because it’s me! [Laughs.] But if I tried to take a more objective point of view, then, yes, I’ve probably heard a lot of good ones, too.

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The Light from the TV Shows: 12 Shows to Look Forward to in 2012

Just as 2011 is sure to end in a few days, 2012 is equally likely to follow on its heels, which means that the January TCA tour is right around the corner. As such, yours truly is about to be bombarded with the best and worst that the midseason has to offer…and, fortunately, there’s a lot more of the former than the latter. Indeed, there are a couple of shows that the broadcast networks have been unjustly sitting on for almost six months, even though they’re a damned sight better than most of the dreck we got back in September. (Stand up, please, “The Playboy Club.” Or, you know, pick the program of your choice. That one’s just easiest ’cause it was the first to go.) Much as last week found me offering up 11 shows, give or take, that I was sorry to bid adieu to in 2011, this week I’ve pulled together a list of 12 shows that I’m looking forward to checking out in 2012. Keep in mind, however, that I’m basing my excitement either on a rough cut of a pilot or, in some cases, merely on the hopefulness I get when I read about the show. Yes, this does often come back to bite me in the ass, but such is the life of a TV critic. If I’m wrong, I’ll roll with the punches. In the meantime, though, these are my personal picks for what’s looking good in the new year…

The Firm (NBC)

So sayeth the network: Based on the best-selling novel by world-renowned author John Grisham, “The Firm” is a new drama series that continues the story of attorney Mitchell McDeere (Josh Lucas), who, as a young associate 10 years earlier, had brought down the prestigious Memphis law firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke, which had been operating as a front for the Chicago mob. After a difficult decade, which included a stay in the Federal Witness Protection Program, McDeere and his family now emerge from isolation to reclaim their lives and their future — only to find that past dangers are still lurking and new threats are everywhere. Abby McDeere (Molly Parker), Mitch’s supportive, smart and resourceful wife, who had helped her husband expose Bendini, Lambert & Locke, is excited to start a new life in Washington, D.C., as a school teacher and mom to their daughter, Claire (Natasha Calis). Ray McDeere (Callum Keith Rennie) is Mitch’s charming, yet volatile, older brother whose work as an investigator in Mitch’s office is uniquely informed by his past stretch in prison for manslaughter. Despite a gritty past that stands in stark contrast to that of his Harvard-grad brother, Ray shares one key quality with Mitch – a loyalty that is unbreakable. Tammy Hemphill (Juliette Lewis) is Mitch’s feisty, sexy receptionist whose work life is made all the more tumultuous by her on-again, off-again relationship with Ray. With a personality as arresting as her ever-changing hair color, Tammy is leery when Mitch accepts a deal to partner with a top law practice, as she’s not cut out for the conservative culture of a white-shoe firm.

My take: I literally only just got the pilot episode this morning, so I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, but the combination of Lucas, Parker, and Lewis has me very intrigued, and the fact that Grisham himself is part of the mix makes me hopeful about the possibilities of where this series could go if it’s given the chance. That’s a big “if,” though, because this isn’t the first time a Grisham novel has made the jump to the small screen. Anyone remember “The Client,” with JoBeth Williams and John Heard? It’s become so obscure that there’s neither a Wikipedia page for it nor even a clip from it on YouTube. Let’s hope “The Firm” gets a better go of it than that.

(Premiere date: January 8, 9 PM; regular 10 PM timeslot begins January 12)

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