By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Funnyman Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite,” “Blades of Glory”) finally gets a chance to play a character who’s a parent in the holiday-themed romantic comedy “Funny Thing About Love.”
The film, written and directed by Adam White (“Inspired Guns,” “Chick Magnets”), centers on a successful businesswoman Samantha “Sam” Banks (Summer Bellessa, an actress and former “Deal or No Deal” briefcase model) who returns home for Thanksgiving with her new beau only to discover that her family has invited her ex-boyfriend to the weeklong festivities. Heder plays Charlie, Sam’s goofy older brother, who is as protective of his sister as he is his three hyperactive school-age children and is in on the conspiracy with his parents and grandpa to reconnect his sis with Luke (Kevan Moezzi, “What Happened in Babylon … History Explained”), a standup comic.
It turns out Sam and Luke parted ways years earlier when their careers set them on different paths. Oddly enough, Sam’s new boyfriend, Bryce (Jason Gray, “Studio C”) seems to have the greatest appreciation for Luke’s comedy which blinds him to the obvious lingering emotions between his girlfriend and her ex. Coincidentally, Charlie’s wife Annie (Brooke White, “American Idol”) is Luke’s sister, so it kind of makes sense that Luke is invited for the family get-together. “Funny Thing About Love” also stars three-time Emmy nominee Barry Corbin (“Northern Exposure,” Netflix’s ‘The Ranch”) and Pat Finn (“The Middle”).
Heder explains via Zoom from his home in Washington state that he was eager to play a parent in the film, and could identify with the awkwardness of his on-screen character. As a father himself, he thought the character of Charlie was clearly in his wheelhouse. He also was eager, after months of scant work opportunities due to the worldwide health pandemic impacting film production, to get a chance to get back to work. But that one opportunity has led to another and he also wrapped another film this year called “Tapawingo,” which he compares to the quirky ensemble comedy that of his career-launching “Napoleon Dynamite” 17 years ago.
With the kids at school and just days away from Thanksgiving, Heder spoke about his gratitude for getting to be around his loved ones for the holidays and the opportunity to get back to his film career and his other passion—art.
“Funny Thing About Love” will be available in theaters and to rent and own on North American digital HD internet, cable and satellite platforms through Gravitas Ventures on Dec. 3.
Angela Dawson: How did you writer/director Adam White connect on this project? Did you know him previously?
Jon Heder: I didn’t know him but we had a lot of similar contacts. We’re both members of (Latter Day Saints) and we have mutual acquaintances from (Brigham Young University). He sent the offer. I also heard from (co-star) Brooke White, who plays my wife in the film. We had worked together on one of her music videos. I had really enjoyed working with her and she said, “Hey, we’re doing this movie…” There were a few other people involved that I didn’t know but I thought it would be fun to work with them.
Dawson: How long ago did you shoot this?
Heder: In January. We were in the thick of Covid protocols and masks and everything. It was the first job that I had since everything shut down so it was very refreshing to just get out of the house and go somewhere to work. You could tell everyone felt that way because we had such a blast just hanging out and being together.
Dawson: Your character, Charlie, is a sweet man but he isn’t aware of whether pop culture references are still cool or not. Was he written that way or did you add your own interpretation of him?
Heder: He mainly was written that way. I’m not sure if Adam wrote him with me in mind but as with all roles, you try to put your own spin on it. I stuck mostly to the script but there were a few bits of improv. I very much related to the character so I put a lot of myself in there.
Dawson: Do you find yourself asking your kids, “Is this still cool to say?”
Heder: The main difference is that I make everything cool. (He laughs.) I will just say it and I own it. I don’t ask permission. I don’t care if it’s not cool anymore. It’s very much the dad in me. It was my first dad role. I’d been offered (father) parts and auditioned for them, but this is the first one that I connected with. Every actor goes through this—at some point you start getting parent roles and you think, “Am I that old now?” When I read this, it felt very natural and fun.
Dawson: Since the film is about a family gathering for Thanksgiving, what are your personal thoughts on the holiday? Do you approach it with anticipation or anxiety?
Heder: Anticipation, definitely. To me, it’s just a precursor to Christmas and a chance to hang out with family. I feel like in my family, we always get to see each other. Thanksgiving feels more like another Sunday dinner getting together with the family. Since we moved (to Washington state), we see family a lot more anyway. It’s just more exciting because I do love turkey and stuffing. My wife makes an insane cranberry sauce and an amazing Brussel sprouts dish. I love it all. I’m just going to come out on one thing, and it’s going to be very unpopular: I do not look forward to the rolls. People are nuts about their bread. To me, at Thanksgiving, I’m vehemently against rolls. I don’t need those kinds of carbs wasting space in my stomach.
Everything else is so starchy—the potatoes, the stuffing and the gravy—why should I waste my time on rolls and jam? I’m going to save my sweet tooth for the pie. But my kids love them.
Dawson: Besides the love triangle going on and the secrets that emerge from family members, the inspiring part of “Funny Thing About Love” is the fact that the family participates in a lot of activities together, including going to the soup kitchen to serve meals to the homeless.
Heder: Anytime around the holidays, especially Christmas, it’s so easy to get caught up in what we want. As a parent, you’re always thinking about “what can we give our kids?” But the thing I’m always trying to do—and I’m not the best at it but I try to instill in my kids—is that the best gift is the gift of giving, which is learning to find how they can give unto others. I know it sounds “churchy” when I say it, but that really is what Christmas is all about. While it might sound like a message from an “Afterschool Special,” that’s what it comes down to.
My favorite memories growing up in my family was my dad was a doctor and he had these elderly patients who lived either in nursing homes or by themselves. He was aware of their situations because he was their physician. As a family, we’d go visit them during the holidays because they were patients who were often alone. We’d go and sing carols to them and just spend time with them. There’d be some eye-rolling for us as kids, and yet it was something we always looked forward to doing. It was easily one of my favorite family things to do. I thought, “Maybe I should become a doctor so I can get some old patients.”
Dawson: In the film, the Banks family carries on the tradition of watching the (Detroit) Lions and rooting for them, no matter what team they’re playing or how unlikely it is they will win. Do you have a favorite sports team that you religiously watch on Thanksgiving Day?
Heder: That’s some of the best acting I’ve ever done. I’m not a sports guy. The least manly thing about me is that I just don’t follow sports. I love playing them but I just don’t follow it. Honestly, when we shot this film, they had to explain to me the situation with the Lions. I thought this was something Adam made up for the script. It was funny just to act like one of those guys who’s so into the game.
Dawson: What else is coming up?
Heder: I shot another film during the summer called “Tapawingo.” We’re trying to get it ready now for some (film) festivals. These two are very different projects. “Tapawingo” is not unlike “Napoleon Dynamite.” It has a weird cast of quirky characters in a small town. I’m excited for that. I’ve also been doing a lot of artwork recently. I’m getting ready to drop some NFTs into the marketplace. This is crazy because I didn’t know anything about this. I’ve been dying for an opportunity to get back into my artwork. I grew up doing art throughout my entire childhood and I was really into it in college. After I got into acting, I sort of fell out of it. I’ve dabbled here and there, but I’ve been getting into it more since (my family) moved.
Dawson: This may be a bit cliché, but what are you most thankful for this year?
Heder: Health. Cut to a year and a half ago, when Covid was just starting to impact us. Like everyone else, I had no idea what to expect. Anxiety and fear didn’t hit me hard as it did other people, but there were still thoughts of, “Could this really go bad?” We did everything we could to be prepared at home so now that we’re well into this, it’s just about being thankful for our health and our willingness to try and live healthy. I’m grateful that my family and I have taken those measures. And I’m just thankful for my family—my wife, my kids, my parents, my siblings—everyone out there, and having insanely good friends.