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Jon Heder Shows Off His Skills in 'The Benchwarmers'

Heder Talks About Following Up 'Napoleon Dynamite' with 'The Benchwarmers'

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Jon Heder in The Benchwarmers

Jon Heder in The Benchwarmers.

© Columbia Pictures
Jon Heder's got a bunch of films in various stages of production however it's the baseball comedy The Benchwarmers that marks Heder's first starring role since breaking out in Napoleon Dynamite. Heder had a bit part in the romantic comedy Just Like Heaven with Mark Ruffalo and Reese Witherspoon, but that role was so small it definitely shouldn't be counted as his first major follow-up project to the indie fav, Napoleon Dynamite.

Based on an idea of Adam Sandler's, The Benchwarmers is the story of three guys - played by Heder, David Spade, and Rob Schneider - who, as kids, were always picked on and left out when it came to playing sports. Now adults, the three band together to form a baseball and get revenge by taking on full squads of elementary school bullies.

Jon Heder Can Actually Play Baseball: Director Dennis Dugan said he was impressed with how good of an athlete Heder is and with the fact he could play ball with his hands taped to the bat. Dugan’s comment took Heder by surprise. “I don’t know why he said that. I didn’t get a lot of chance to show [any skills]. I remember thinking, ‘Oh cool,’ when I read the script. ‘It will be fun to go out there and play some baseball.’ But then I was thinking, ‘Well, my character stinks at it and I probably won’t get a chance.’

When you are shooting the film you think, ‘We’ll be hitting the ball around.’ But, really, there’s all this camera equipment out there and set ups and it’s too dangerous to do any of that. So I didn’t get a chance to play but I really enjoyed hitting the ball and, when I had to, I could whack it.”

Deciding on the Right Look for The Benchwarmers: “Originally, I was imagining this guy with really short hair. Then I mentioned to Adam Sandler, ‘Well, what if we did this kind of geeky guy who has a paper route, rides a bike and has a helmet and he’s the type who would walk into a store and still wear his helmet?’ I was thinking more like just a couple of times in the film he’d wear his helmet and then Adam was like, ‘Oh, that’s great. Let’s have him wear the helmet the entire movie.’ Then they wanted to make wings [referring to his hair]. There wasn’t a lot of round table discussion on it.”

Making Out with Rachel Hunter: “It was funny. When I read the script, it wasn’t a name. Just Clark is sitting in the back kissing one of the kids’ moms and that was it. I didn’t know it was supposed to be a hot soccer mom. It was just supposed to be a mother. So when I found out they were trying to get a name. Then they told me Rachel Hunter and I was like, ‘Oh, nice!’ Then it wasn’t working out and when we were shooting all the stuff at the Pizza Hut, they had different women coming in for [the director] to look at. I was like, ‘Ewww!’ Anyway, I don’t want to say anything but it ended up working out with Rachel and I was like, ‘Yesss!’ She wasn’t on set very long. She did hair and make up and then she was on set probably about an hour.”

Did Heder insist on lots of takes of that particular scene? “I told Dennis, ‘Once you get the shot, just keep on. Do whatever it takes to get the shot. If I’m bad at it just keep going. Work with me and let me know.’ We did like five takes.”

Finding a Character That’s Not Like Napoleon Dynamite: Heder admits this character is similar to Napoleon but there are subtle differences. “He’s kind of a bit like him. It’s kind of watered down… No, it’s different because he actually smiles and you get to see his teeth. You see a little bit more different sides and he’s a much nicer guy straight up than, I guess, Napoleon. But it was nice to do something different, I guess.”

Heder says he’s resigned to the fact people will probably always see him as Napoleon. “Yeah, I knew that basically at Sundance when we knew that something might happen, when we were first showing it to audiences. I knew that, if this goes anywhere, if this becomes a hit, I’ll probably be forever known as Napoleon. But there’s a lot of actors out there who are remembered for their famous roles and I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. It’s kind of cool, making a little spot on the history map.”

Heder continued. “You have no idea when you do something like that. ‘Hey, this might do well. This might not be seen.’ Really, Sundance was when we could start using our imaginations because it was the first time people were seeing it who were involved in the industry, and that was our first step into that world. We thought, ‘It’s going to open up a lot of doors. The chance for it to be seen by a lot more people is better now.’

The way the reaction was at Sundance, it was like, ‘Wow, I wonder if this is mirrored though the rest of the country? Who knows?’ It became the ideal expectation. We all loved it and when we made the original short in college, the college students loved it so it was kind of like, ‘If this catches on the same way, picture that!’ And it was exactly that and in some ways a little bit more.”

Page 2: Jon Heder on Sports-Oriented Movies and His Upcoming Projects

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