ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Jared and Jerusha Hess are not your typical Hollywood power couple. The young filmmakers are known for their cult hit "Napoleon Dynamite." They are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They're happily married with two kids, and they live in Utah. That's where they shot their latest movie, "Gentlemen Broncos." It opens this weekend.
From member station KPCC, Alex Cohen has this profile.
ALEX COHEN: Jerusha and Jared Hess were first introduced by their mutual friend Aaron Ruell when they were students at Brigham Young University.
Ms. JERUSHA HESS (Filmmaker): And he said, Jerusha, I've got this perfect boy for you. He's so, so hairy, but he's going to make a million dollars some day. And then we met, and we fell in love quickly. I fell in love with that hair.
COHEN: Jared Hess does have a bushy beard and mustache. Ever since he was a kid, he says, he knew he wanted to be in the film industry. Jerusha needed a little bit of convincing.
Mr. JARED HESS (Filmmaker): She was an English major. And I told her to come join the film program because you didn't have to read long books, but you could watch movies and write about them, and it was easier.
COHEN: And so, she did. The couple's first project was a screenplay they wrote as newlyweds. Jerusha recalls being so poor at the time, they had to share one chair as they wrote.
Ms. HESS: There was a lot of tears. Every time he was like, I'm going to make movies, baby, I think I would just cry and be like, how are we going to afford to eat?
COHEN: The couple scraped together $400,000 to make their film "Napoleon Dynamite," about a nerdy high school kid played by Jon Heder, whose hobbies include singing in sign language and sketching mythical creatures.
(Soundbite of movie, "Napoleon Dynamite")
Ms. TINA MAJORINO (Actress): (As Deb) What are you drawing?
Mr. JON HEDER (Actor): (As Napoleon Dynamite) A liger.
Ms. MAJORINO: (As Deb) What's a liger?
Mr. HEDER: (As Napoleon Dynamite) It's pretty much my favorite animal. It's like a lion and a tiger mixed, bred for its skills in magic.
COHEN: "Napoleon Dynamite" wound up making more than $44 million at the box office, not bad for a film that Jared Hess says was based on his own adolescence in rural Idaho.
Mr. HESS: After my mom saw "Napoleon Dynamite" for the first time, she was like well, that was a lot of embarrassing family material. But she, at the same time, was kind of flattered that it had made into a movie.
COHEN: The Hess's new film, "Gentlemen Broncos," is based loosely on a cousin of Jerusha's. The comedy revolves around Benjamin Purvis, a home-schooled teen who writes a disturbing science fiction story called "Yeast Lords." Benjamin winds up meeting his literary hero, a famous science fiction author named Ronald Chevalier. His trademark accessories are his Bluetooth earpiece and elaborate turquoise jewelry. In this scene, Chevalier explains to Benjamin how to improve sci-fi character names.
(Soundbite of movie, "Gentlemen Broncos")
Mr. JEMAINE CLEMENT (Actor): (as Dr. Ronald Chevalier) We can add onious, inous or anus to just about anything, and it becomes magical. You, give me the name of one of your central protags.
Mr. MICHAEL ANGARANO (Actor): (as Benjamin Purvis) Bronco.
Mr. CLEMENT: (as Dr. Ronald Chevalier) I would lose the C immediately, and I would replace it with an L: Bronlonious.
COHEN: Chevalier winds up stealing "Yeast Lords" and publishing it as his own. To make matters worse, local filmmakers turn it into a truly dreadful movie shot on VHS tape with cheesy effects. Once again, Jared Hess wrote what he knows.
Mr. HESS: A lot of my early film experiments were really lame videos of like, I'd get a piece of Plexiglas and paint various moons on it and have my brothers, you know, run through the shot with laser guns and - lame things like that.
COHEN: The Hesses still feature plenty of non-actors in their films. They send their casting director out to local Wal-Marts in Utah. But for the role of Dr. Ronald Chevalier, they went with Jemaine Clement of "Flight of the Conchords" fame.
Mr. CLEMENT: I'll tell you a secret about anyone who makes comedy: They are nerds. They're all nerds.
COHEN: Clement says Jared and Jerusha Hess understand the humor of situations where people don't quite fit in.
Mr. CLEMENT: When I read reviews of their movies, if it's a good review, people will often say: The Hesses have an obvious affection for their characters. And some bad reviews will say: The Hesses have an obvious contempt for their characters.
COHEN: He says the filmmakers have nothing but love for their misfits, nerds and even the pompous, story-stealing Dr. Chevalier.
For NPR News, I'm Alex Cohen.
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