Jared and Jerusha Hess: The Movieline Interview

You've got to hand it to Jared and Jerusha Hess, the Utah filmmaker couple (Jerusha writes, Jared writes and directs) who hit comedy paydirt with 2004's Napoleon Dynamite: Regardless of whether or not they're your thing, they could never be accused of pandering to the mainstream. And never has that been more apparent than in Gentlemen Broncos, their third film together, and first featuring Sam Rockwell as an interstellar cowboy whose testicles have been removed for nefarious, if not entirely illuminated, space-research purposes. We spoke recently to the disarmingly polite and normal-seeming duo -- seen posing here in front of one of Broncos' lethal Battle Stags -- about the warped childhoods that inspired their worlds of weird.

MOVIELINE: Some of the strangest sequences I think I've ever seen are in your movie. Some scenes felt like fever dreams almost.

JARED: Our kids have fevers right now, man. But they vocalize their fever dreams.

JERUSHA: We need to start writing down what they say!

How do these ideas percolate between the two of you? Especially the stranger ones.

JARED: A lot of them are childhood ideas.

JERUSHA: And the stranger ones don't necessarily happen in a plot sequence. It's more like we have this funky idea, and then we just pop it in. [To Jared:] Don't you think?


JARED: Yeah, yeah. But the Battle Stags -- those are ideas I had as a kid, or drawings I'd have in my Trapper Keeper in school. The "flesh pocket" idea is an idea that actually came from Jerusha's cousin, that when people go to Heaven, they're going to be naked. But where do you put your hands? Well, you're going to have flesh pockets.

JERUSHA: We just gather, glean from other people.

JARED: We draw from everybody we know. The family characters tend to be autobiographical.

Does any idea occur to you and you're like, "No, that's too gross or weird. We can't go there."

JARED: It's not like we're trying to look for weird ideas for the sake of being weird. It's just the things that entertain us, I guess, that we want to see in a film.

It seems like you get particular satisfaction out of bodily functions and just biological humor in general.

JARED: We like to think of it as "cloning humor." There's a lot of cloning humor in the film.

Is there a lot of that kind of stuff at the dinner table at home?

JERUSHA: Yes. Yes. We both grew up in families with lots of boys. I mean, he has five brothers, I have seven brothers. So it was impossible to be polite.

So none of this is acting out or reacting towards a suppressed childhood?

JARED: I guess I just haven't grown up yet, at the end of the day. Yeah. Probably.

JERUSHA: We have a six-year-old boy. He's pretty gross.

Has he seen the movie?


JARED: I think he's seen early rough-cuts of the film. He likes the Battle Stags a lot.

Any plans for merchandising tie-ins and action figures?

JARED: I'd love to have a little Stag toy or a Brutus doll.

So you mentioned how much of your material comes directly from your childhoods. I wonder if you could share the first thoughts that come to your minds when I bring up the following words: Popcorn balls.

JARED: The mother character in the film is based on my mother and parts of her mom. My mom worked for a modest nightgown company growing up, and she also had a really great popcorn ball recipe. Her company was called Christmas's Country Corn. My mom's name is Christmas. So my brothers and I would often go with her to boutiques to sell her popcorn balls. So that's something very real.

Did she ever make you sell two-to-the-bag?

JARED: She never made me sell two-to-the-bag.

JERUSHA: They would have loved it, though!

OK. Moving on: Geodesic dome houses. Were those typical in Utah?

JARED: It wasn't. It was kind of hard to find. But as a kid, I had always wanted to live in a geodesic dome. I was always really jealous of people I knew that did live in them. Ironically, our editor grew up in a geodesic dome in Massachusetts. The people who want to live in them have to actually have to buy the kit and build them themselves.

JERUSHA: It's like their dream homes. They live and die in the dome homes.

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  • Daft Clown says:

    A human being named Christmas? That's beautiful.

  • Elliot Weiss says:

    I am trying to obtain rights to do a musical version of Napolean Dynamite and so far I am hitting a brick wall at Fox Searchlight.If I could contact the Hess's perhaps they could help.Any info would be appreciated. Thanks a lot.

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