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INT: Jared Hess


Just like the mavericks from NYU and USC who revolutionized the world of cinema in the 1970s and 80s, Jared Hess is part of a cadre of BYU grads who are taking Hollywood by storm today. Ok, not quite. Hess’s first film, NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, was a breath of fresh air though – providing a much-needed reminder that not all independent films are art-school circle jerks or b-list actor vanity projects. Though Hess’s latest project, NACHO LIBRE, is his first with a studio ( Paramount ) and a name actor (Jack Black), it still features the oddball sense of humor that made Dynamite a cult sensation.

Last week Hess talked about his experience making NACHO LIBRE in Mexico . The film opens this week. Check it out.

Jared Hess

What got you interesting in making a film about Mexican wrestling?

I’d been a fan of Lucha Libre for quite a while. My first exposure to it, I saw a movie by Santo on TV late one night. Santo was like the Muhammad Ali of the wrestling world, and he was beating up the daughter of Frankenstein or something. [laughs] But I hadn’t seen anything like it before. Later I was able to go to Wal-mart and they had some of his videos there, and I just became a big fan of Lucha Libre. Anyway, Nickelodeon had the rights to an article based on a true story of a wrestler named Fray Tormenta down in Mexico. He was a Mexican wrestler who wrestled kind of secretly for a couple of years to make a little extra money for this orphanage. I first learned about it and came to Mike (White) and him and Jack (Black) had just formed this production company and they were both really excited.

What is the process like when you’re working with an actor like Jack Black?

In the little time that we had before shooting, we did a lot of rehearsals just to try out different things and to kind of what felt like it worked and what didn’t. He’s such a good guy, man. He really doesn’t have an ego. His personality really lends itself to kind of an open environment for ideas. So we would do it my way and then Jack would be like, “Let me put some mustard on this one,” and we’d go again. It was just great. It was very cool just to try what felt right.

Was there a lot of improv?

We really stuck to the script and how it was written, as far as the dialogue is concerned. But there are always little nuggets where you’re on set and something else just feels better.

How difficult was it to shoot the actual wrestling sequences?

You know, it was something that I’d never done before. I had a really good stunt choreographer who choreographed the fights. We’d written the fights down and tried to be very specific about what happened in the fights and everything. But he choreographed them. It was the first time I was working with multiple cameras and all that, but I had a lot of help figuring that out.

Did you freak out when Jack hurt himself?

I did. That was a bad day. But he was a trooper and got stitched up and was back four days later wrestling again. 

He showed us his scar below his eyebrow.

Yeah. As an actor, that guy uses his eyebrows more than anybody. It was kind of traumatic at the time, but he got through it all right.

How do you navigate the fine line between comedy and stereotypes?

For one thing, the world of Lucha Libre is something that’s so outrageous and funny. When you experience it live, entire families are there and they’re totally making fun of the guys that are wrestling. They have their favorites and they’re totally trashing the other guys. It’s such a funny, crazy, bizarre thing to experience. It was very important in making the film that we shoot on location in Mexico with real wrestlers and real fans of Lucha Libre. Our whole crew was Mexican; they were all from Mexico City. It was probably the fest crew I’ve ever worked with. I don’t feel like it’s my movie. I share it with everyone who worked on it. It was just an amazing experience.

Did you anticipate a lot of turbulence moving from the indie world to the studio world?

Yeah – just kind of the scale of everything was something that took a while to get used to: a humongous crew and having money to actually feed everybody. I think there’s a certain mobility you have with a small crew when you’re doing an indie film. There are a lot more personalities involved with a studio movie and sometimes you bonk heads with people over certain creative things. But I feel very fortunate that I was able to have the experience that I had. There were a few hiccups along the way, but I learned a ton.

Both Nacho Libre and Napoleon Dynamite feature a lot of close-ups on food. Is that going to be a trademark for you?

I don’t know. I definitely like it. I like food as a weapon. I don’t know; it could be (a trademark).

After the success of Napoleon Dynamite, did you feel a lot of pressure to come up big with your next film?

The success of Napoleon Dynamite was so unexpected. It’s always been a very small movie to me and a very personal film. At the time, we didn’t know that it would see the light of day. I hoped that maybe it would be a stepping stone for me, but I never expected that it would get into Sundance or have the theatrical run that it did. I just want to keep doing things that feel right to me, that I feel passionate about. Everything will always be compared to the last thing that you did before it. But ultimately I feel that Nacho still has my sense of humor. It’s a completely different world than Napoleon, but it’s a world that I love just the same.

Do you feel that this is more of a kid’s movie?

I think that there are elements that make it more accessible to than Napoleon. Just the fact that we have a music score – certain things that maybe seem more polished, just because we had the means to do it on this one. I don’t know if it’s really demographic-specific. With Napoleon, I always thought that it would appeal to a college-age crowd. When little kids and moms learned that it was PG and didn’t have anything too offensive in it, then elementary kids go into it. I think ultimately it boils down to your sense of humor. (Nacho Libre) is a Nickelodeon movie, but think there are things that, depending on your sense of humor, will resonate with adults.

Do you have any plans yet for the DVD?

Yeah. We’ve got some deleted scenes and we have the same guys who did some of the docs on Napoleon on the shoot. So there will be a behind the scenes thing as well.

Is there ever talk about getting together with Jon Heder for Napoleon 2?

I’m sure that the studio would like it, but right now it’s just not something that I’ve really thought about creatively. I’m excited about other things right now. 

What are you doing next?

I’ve got a couple of different original things that I’ve been working on for a while. I’m gonna take a family vacation in the Fall and figure out what I’m gonna do.

Do you ever see yourself going back and making another indie film?

Definitely. I don’t know that you even need a studio to make a movie. On Dynamite we were able to find other money. There’s definitely a freedom and mobility that you have when you’re doing something on the cheap.





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