With Judd Apatow comedies raking in hundreds of millions of dollars and traditional leading-man vehicles floundering, a pretty face no longer automatically equals a big opening weekend. Suddenly the nerdy boys next door are wielding a whole lot of clout.
As the star of the 2004 film Napoleon Dynamite, Jon Heder is best known for donning moon boots and a hideous perm, keeping handfuls of Tater Tots in his pockets and bringing back “Gosh!” as an expression of teen angst. So it is a bit disconcerting to discover that, in the flesh, he’s actually quite the heartthrob. Sure, he’s talking about being up all night with his flu-ridden infant daughter—hardly Hollywood bad-boy territory—but in his cool aviator shades and distressed denim, he clearly isn’t the type who lacked for popularity in school, unlike his alter ego. “They originally cast a different kid as Napoleon, a guy who was the real deal,” says Heder. “He was weird—he could have just acted like himself. But then they cast me, and I had to really get into a character.”
Since his turn as an Idaho high school outcast in a film that cost $400,000 to make and grossed $44.5 million, Heder, 30, has shown up as Will Ferrell’s ice-skating nemesis in Blades of Glory and as Billy Bob Thornton’s romantic competition in School for Scoundrels. He seeks out “odd characters,” but he’s had to pass on some attractive roles because of his Mormon faith, which prevents him from drinking, drugging or portraying sex on camera. “There have been one or two really great characters that I’ve had to turn down because I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing this or that,” he says. “It’s not such a hardship; I have standards and rules I live by. I always just hope they get someone else great to do it.”
Right now, rather than filming any new projects, Heder is focused on acquiring material—he’s particularly interested in animation and sci-fi—for Greasy Entertainment, the production company he runs with his older brother, Doug, and his identical twin, Dan. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘Dan might be just a tidbit better-looking,’” Heder remembers, wincing. “‘But don’t worry,’ they’d say, ‘you’re better with the ladies, more polite.’” Heder says he and Dan basically share a brain, including the knowledge of what it’s like to be a pop culture antihero. “Dan gets fans coming up to him,” says Heder, “and when he tries to explain who he is, they don’t believe him—they think he’s being rude!—and they’ll take the picture anyway. So most of the time he just pretends he’s me.”