If you find yourself at F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, Jan. 12, all of your wildest dreams will come true.
At 7 p.m. that night, the downtown Wilkes-Barre venue will welcome the leads from cult classic film “Napoleon Dynamite” for a special screening and question-and-answer session.
Jon Heder, who played the title character in the 2004 indie hit, will be joined live in conversation with supporting cast members Jon Gries, who played his Uncle Rico in the film, and Efren Ramirez, who was unforgettable as new student Pedro Sánchez, who becomes Napoleon’s best friend and (spoiler alert) successfully runs for class president thanks to some sweet dance moves.
Before the trio of actors hits the stage, Weekend Times spoke with Ramirez by phone from his hometown of Los Angeles (where we caught him in the middle of “eating Frosted Mini-Wheats,” he admitted) and got answers to a few questions about how being part of “Napoleon” changed the course of his career.
Q: Tell me about how this role changed your life.
A: You study and you train and you do the work as an actor. I was born and raised in Los Angeles. In high school, I would do a lot of plays, and in college, I studied theater. For a number of years, I did TV shows and commercials. When I did “Napoleon Dynamite,” everything changed. You play such a unique character. When you do a movie, you have no idea the results. You read a script and you go, “This is really cool,” and you do it. It just so happened to fit. You go out and see all these “Vote for Pedro” T-shirts, and then you see bobbleheads and action figures. You would never think that would actually happen. Some of the perks are sometimes I go into places for free, but the other thing is I do get mobbed.
Q: What do you wish fans knew about the movie and what your character meant to you?
A: Two things, the first: sometimes people forget that the movie was made by students at (Brigham Young University). They were film students, and it was their very first film. It was shot at the very moment when movies went from film to digital, and it was hard for them. When they marketed it, nobody wanted to produce it. When I read it, I said, “What is it? Who is this Pedro guy?” But they took a chance and raised half a million dollars altogether. I remember them telling me their struggles just to make that happen. When I came onboard, I wasn’t so sure myself. I was working on a Fox show called “Boston Public” and a Disney show, “Even Stevens,” where I played a bully. When I got “Napoleon Dynamite,” I was making choices as Pedro, because you start to create a character and you hope it works. We hoped to have a great time telling the story. First time I met Jon Heder was in wardrobe, and he was dressed up as Napoleon and he said, “Are you Pedro?” (in the character’s voice). We just knew that we loved what we were doing. We enjoyed it, no matter how low the budget was. It was difficult, but we made it happen. Once you put it together and it got in several film festivals and from there was bought up (by major studios), and we had no idea (that would happen), but what I can say is, we all took a risk in something we love to do and trusted that what we were creating, that something was going to occur out of that.
Q: Do you have any regrets about how “Vote for Pedro” T-shirts or some of your most quotable lines have become huge pieces of pop culture?
A: No, there are no regrets. I met actors who have played (iconic) roles, and all I could tell you is, I’m grateful. Because of “Napoleon Dynamite,” I bought my parents a house, I got my own house, I get to live a life where I can choose different projects to work on, I get to play different characters. I was able to travel around the world. It’s an interesting life, living as an actor. I used to DJ at raves to pay for studying acting and writing. I did it to survive, because it was a way I could use my voice. I was very shy, very quiet, when I was younger. I was the nerd. I’m still a nerd. But now because of involvement in “Napoleon Dynamite,” I’m able to use my voice and really select how I can go and change with different characters. One thing that I know is that you never want to play the villain in a movie, because then when people see you, they kind of hate you. (Laughs) But Pedro is somebody that a lot of people loved because he’s somebody you would never think would want to become (class) president. Every character in “Napoleon Dynamite” is so relatable because they come from a small town where nothing much happens, and they’re really trying to figure life out.
Q: You’ll be appearing with Jon Gries and Jon Heder. Have you all maintained relationships since the movie?
A: Working as an actor, when you start working on production, you immediately become family. “Napoleon Dynamite” was very unique because it was extremely low-budget, and you get to know who everyone really is. I still talk to everyone. Jon Gries is a director, and his father was a director, and because of him I learned a lot about working as an actor and writer and how directors really tell a story with movies. I would do Comic-Cons with Jon (Heder) as well, and people went bananas to see us as Napoleon and Pedro together. We’re all living different lives, but reach out to each other. We’re constantly surprised and constantly grateful.
If you go
What: “Napoleon Dynamite”: A Conversation with Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez and Jon Gries
When: Saturday, Jan. 12, 7 p.m.; doors open at 5:30
Where: F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, 71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre
Details: Tickets cost $25, $35 and $55 for general admission and $99 for VIP meet-and-greet, plus fees, available through the box office, online at kirbycenter.org and by calling 570-826-1100.