Filmmaker Jared Hess is the champion of misfits

Dana Barbuto

Rocking a chic lumberjack look with a thick dark beard and a gray plaid flannel shirt, filmmaker Jared Hess easily could be mistaken as a character from one of his quirky movies. The director of the indie favorite “Napoleon Dynamite” and the Jack Black wrestling yarn “Nacho Libre” even sounds, at times, like his characters, using slacker vernacular such as “yeah, man,” and “right on, man” in a deliberate drawl.

When he talks about his muse mother and writing partner wife, Jerusha, he’s all smiles and animated. He’s having a good time imitating their voices and gestures, even poking fun.

But when the tone turned more serious during an interview last week in Boston, Hess praised the two most influential women in his life.

“My mom is a saint.” said Hess, the oldest of six boys.

And Jerusha, with whom he co-wrote “Napoleon Dynamite” and his latest entry, “Gentlemen Broncos”? “I don’t think I’d ever get anything done without her.”

Opening Friday, “Gentlemen Broncos” is another eccentric ode to outcasts. This time the misfit is 15-year-old Benjamin (Michael Angarano), an aspiring sci-fi writer whose manuscript is ripped off by a washed-up writer (Jemaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords”) who also happens to be Benjamin’s idol. Jennifer Coolidge plays the kid’s mother, a character Hess said is based on his own mom.

“She was relieved a lot of stuff in the script regarding that character didn’t make it into the film. It had a few little embarrassing moments for her, not verbatim, but she said, ‘Honey, did you have to put that in there?’” Hess said in a voice mimicking his mother.

“One time she called me really late at night, like midnight, and she was watching ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ and she said, ‘I’m just convinced Ted Bundy asked me out on a date in college. I’m freaking out right now.’”

“Napoleon Dynamite” reached cult status in 2004. “Cult sounds so scary, especially coming from Utah,” said Hess, who lives in Salt Lake City. Five years later, the Hesses are still championing the underdog.

“Growing up I moved around a lot. My wife moved around a lot, too. We just identify with the outsider trying to fit in. It’s become a theme in our films,” said Hess, who was born in Arizona then moved to Texas, London, back to Texas, then to Utah, Kansas and Idaho and back to Utah. “My dad was a banker, and he died when I was around 9 years old. My mom remarried and he worked for the government.”

Hess also owes the film’s quirky name to his mother.

“She had a parenting book, ‘So You Want to Raise a Boy,’ or something like that. It was a book written in the ’50s. There was a chapter in there where the author refers to the adolescent period as the ‘gentlemen bronco’ phrase of life where teenage boys do stuff like take their shirts off to mow the lawn.”

Hess was just a kid himself when he realized he wanted to make films. His first job was as a camera assistant at age 15. His early movies starred his five siblings and were shot with the family camcorder. “They were rally lame karate videos on the trampoline – choreographed fight scenes that didn’t amount to anything.”

Hess and his wife met when they were film students at Brigham Young University, a school that also produced writer-director-playwright Neil LaBute and actor Aaron Eckhart. They have two children, but they’ve yet to scribe a parenting comedy.

Still, much of what they write is autobiographical or inspired by people they know. And, yes, Hess is aware their brand of humor is sophomoric.

“My wife said if I was left to write by myself it would be a film of fart jokes,” he said. Instead, she supplies charm and heart and the “mammary cannons,” and snake poop gags come from him. “She’d like to blame everything disturbing on me,” Hess said.

Kidding aside, Hess said: “By the time we are done with the script, we are not sure who’s responsible for what. It’s not like I type and she talks; we do it together.”

Do they ever argue?

“When we made ‘Napoleon,’” Hess said, “I slept on the couch a lot.”

Reach Dana Barbuto at