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A Minute With: Jon Heder brings Napoleon Dynamite to TV

By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Geek chic will soon be back when Napoleon Dynamite returns in an animated TV show and joins "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons" on the Fox network's "Animation Domination" night.

"Napoleon Dynamite," the 2004 independent film about a socially awkward teenager in a small town, directed by Jared Hess and starring Jon Heder, became a hit and received praise for bringing something fresh to the teen comedy genre.

The film is about a high-school loser, Napoleon, who becomes a bit of a winner while retaining his geekiness. The original cast is voicing their animated characters in the TV shows that debuts on January 15.

They are joined by new characters and guest stars including Amy Poehler, Sam Rockwell and Jemaine Clement.

Heder, 34, talked to Reuters about returning to play Napoleon and working in animation.

Q: Napoleon is back! Why now?

A: "We played around with the idea of an animated series or live-action series for a sequel, but we never played around seriously because we made this with a bunch of friends, so we weren't thinking cash franchise. But it came out and became a success, and I think all these years later, when Fox came to us, we said, 'Hey, we'd talked about it. We think the time is right, let's do it,' and we were all on board."

Q: Why animation over live action, especially with the original cast?

A: "Honestly, because it's probably cheaper and we're probably all old and flabby now! A live-action show still has a certain lifespan, but with shows like "Family Guy" and "King of the Hill," successful animated shows can go on forever."

Q: Where does the new series pick up from after the film?

A: "Napoleon is already friends with Pedro and Deb, and he still has a rivalry going with Summer and Don, but Kip really hasn't met LaFawnduh yet. The idea was that Kip might have lots of potential female romantic interests. It's kind of a prequel, in between the end of the movie and the wedding (between Kip and LaFawnduh), because the wedding at the end of the movie, that could have been much later, even years later, so maybe they took some time apart to try out some different mates."

Q: What can we expect from Kip's online dating adventures?

A: "We just like the idea that Kip is always online, especially because he doesn't really know what he's getting into. In one of the episodes, he'll be talking to Tatiana from Russia, and he has no idea who she is, she could be a man, so we're playing with the idea that Kip is clueless. It also lends itself to stories where Kip and Napoleon are going after the same girl, some sibling rivalry there."

Q: Do you ever feel pigeonholed by playing Napoleon?

A: "He's very much like me. He's not pretentious. He was raised in a small town, and he's an outsider. So, I relate a ton to the character. It is kind of a part of me and it probably will be for the rest of my life. That's why I have no problem coming back and doing Napoleon again."

Q: How do you think fans will respond?

A: "... I think true fans will like it, hopefully. It's animated but it's trying to capture the feeling and the integrity of the movie. There's an innocence that's still there and the naivety of the characters and there's such a lovability about them."

Q: Does Napoleon's iconic dance to Jamiroquai's "Canned Heat" make an appearance?

A: "Sadly, because it's animated, unless they do some motion-capture on me, that was the only thing I was a little bit bummed about. I'm playing the part, but it's only the voice, and so much of the Napoleon character is capturing the image and the physical movements. But from what I've seen, the animators are doing a pretty funny job."

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Patricia Reaney)

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