Fed up with his fainting spells and shriveled-up self esteem, Roger ( Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder) ponies up the tuition and enrolls in a self-help class that is taught by the Grinch-like Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton) and his gargantuan teacher's aide Lesher (Michael Clarke Duncan). But the question, though, is whether Roger will get taken to the cleaners by a couple of savvy confidence men or learn to unleash his inner lion and win the heart of his beautiful neighbor across the hall.
Although he has a couple of films under his belt ( Napoleon and Benchwarmers ) by Hollywood standards, Heder's a new kid on the block – a statement which is in no way lost on the Oregon native, who describes his first real introduction into Tinsel Town:
“After we shot Napoleon and it got sent to Sundance, I remember [director] Jared Hess was like, ‘dude, it's going to be at Sundance and if this film is somewhat popular and people like it, you do know that agents are going to come up to you; the industry will come to you,'” he recollects. “I was like, ‘that's cool.' And it really was at Sundance when everything, my life, started to take a different turn. [That] was when I realized, ‘uh-oh, I'd better be prepared; some serious changes are about to happen,'” Heder adds with a wide grin.
Careful what you wish for because you might just get it, as the old adage goes. In Heder's case, the cult-like popularity of Napoleon Dynamite took him straight to the comedy dojo, “Saturday Night Live.”
“It was scary as crap,” he exclaims, “but I remembered I'd grown up watching that show. All I had left on my checklist was to do a voice-over on ‘The Simpsons.' And I've met Matt Groening, so I'm closer to it,” he says noting that he'd prefer to play a character on the animated series rather than himself. “I was like ‘just give me a role – I'll play a lamp, I don't care.'”
Heder's interest in “The Simpsons” is logical when one considers that he was deep into studying animation while attending Brigham Young University, where he took a sunnier version of Dr. P's class. “I took a marriage prep class in college, that's kind of a BYU thing. I never took a class on how to get [women, per se],” he says.
“I don't think I was engaged ... I can't remember. But all I know is, you can't take a ‘marriage prep class.' It can be called a marriage prep class but there's nothing that's going to prepare you for it. I don't even think my wife took it,” he laughs. “A lot of the time you'll get engaged couples who are like, ‘OK, what are we getting ourselves into?' and then you have a lot of lonely guys – our teacher was a lot nicer than Billy Bob [Thornton's Mr. P].”
Speaking of the Bad Santa , as it turns out, Oscar-winner Thornton had a few surprises for the younger thespian. “Billy Bob loved to tell stories, he was just a cool guy; he has a quiet approach but at the same time he's got a lot of these eccentric qualities,” Heder reveals. “We talked quite a bit and he was just telling me stories because he's been in the business so much longer than I have. It wasn't so much that he was showing me the ropes. I mean, he wasn't really ‘teaching' me anything as it was [tales of] some of the people he's worked with – it's just amazing.”
In Scoundrels , Australian actress Jacinda Barrett ( The Last Kiss ) plays Roger's love interest, Amanda. Heder expounds on playing a romantic role with a woman he'd never met: “Every time I do a new project with new faces, that's one of my favorite things. But, yeah, I didn't know her and working with Jacinda was kind of like a brother/ sister [dynamic] – I don't know if it's an Australian thing but she'd get down to [risqué] humor ... she'd punch me right before they said ‘action' – like in the gut,” he says and then postulates on her rationale.
“I guess she was keeping me on my toes. I felt it may have been her way of breaking the tension,” he admits. “I was very comfortable with her.”
Initially Heder tap-dances around the topic of whether there's a specific actor or actress he'd like to work with. “There's tons of people I'd love to work with but I can't say [who] because then I'd come off as one of those ‘work with me, work with me' [actors],” he says, feigning desperation before getting serious.
“It's hard to say, I can't really look at one person – there's a lot of people. I mean, most of your successful actors are actors who just make good choices,” he points out. “I have my own path that I want to take and each film is going to be completely different than what this other person wants to do, so it's really just trying to pattern what I want out of my career.”
With that covered, one might ask if Heder's going to stick with what's working: broad comedy. He might surprise some with his answer. “I think it'd be fun to do some dramatic stuff. I love watching sci-fi and fantasy, so maybe I'll have to dip into that, “ he says, adding (with a giggle), “I don't know if I can take myself seriously [while] wielding a sword or a laser gun. I don't know about an action flick – it sounds weird but I'd love to do something more physical.
“I don't know if it's action but I'd love to do a musical,” he adds before concluding, “I don't know if I could do the singing but I'd love the dancing!”
School for Scoundrels releases in theaters Sept. 29.