Los Angeles -- If you talk to Jared Hess , it takes about 20 seconds to realize that, in fact, you're talking to Napoleon Dynamite himself. The halting, monosyllabic utterances ("Yeah," "Right!"). The ectomorphic, 6-foot-5 physique. The eyes that never quite meet yours.
"For sure, for sure," says Hess, when I point out the similarities. "Napoleon was a composite of my younger brothers and me."
Okay, maybe he's not wearing a Vote For Pedro T-shirt, and the hair's a little bit more styled, but what do you expect? After all, Napoleon Dynamite -- which he directed and co-wrote -- has become the unofficial hero of the indie scene. It's the little comedy that cost $100,000 to make and became one of 2004's most profitable films.
All of which makes Hess's follow-up film a little nerve-racking. Nacho Libre , a playful comedy about lucha libre wrestlers, isn't as small-scale as Napoleon. For one thing, it features a star, Jack Black , in blue tights and red cape. And instead of being shot in Hess's former Idaho hometown -- which included his old high school -- it was filmed on location in Oaxaca, Mexico.
But Hess is taking the pressure well.
"I just have to have faith and confidence in what interested me," he says. "I've been a fan of lucha for such a long time, so when the opportunity came to do something, I said, 'Cool. '"
The director was first exposed to lucha while watching the films of Santo -- whom Hess calls the Muhammad Ali of Mexican wrestling -- on TV. Later on, in college, he tracked down more Santo movies.
"The aesthetic was unlike anything I had seen," he says. "I love how quickly the action moves from the ring to the crowd. It's all uniquely Mexican."
So it was important to the director to shoot in Mexico and to hire unknowns (at least to American audiences) for some of the key roles, including, as Nacho's wrestling sidekick, Héctor Jiménez . There was never any talk about hiring, say, J.Lo or Antonio Banderas.
"I'm really excited about unique characters and people who maybe don't have a lot of acting experience," he says. "There's a level of authenticity and uniqueness they bring that you need for something like this. I wanted to stay true to that."
Nacho Libre, like Napoleon Dynamite, will be rated PG. So along with the expected college crowd and slacking 30-somethings, the film should draw on the huge preteen demo that's become obsessed with the director's first film. Some grade five and six students know it by heart.
"When I'm writing something, I don't specifically think of the audience, but this one is definitely rated PG. It's good to make it accessible."
And is making family-friendly films important to Hess, who's a Mormon and lives in Salt Lake City?
"For sure," he says. "I find things funny that are more character- and detail-driven than comedies" -- here he pauses and looks awkward -- "that draw on other things."
Nacho Libre opens June 16.