Efren Ramirez said he moves on diligently from one acting role to the next, whether it's appearing in the 2004 oddball comedy "Napoleon Dynamite" or lending his voice to this summer's anticipated blockbuster, "Lightyear."
While he speaks fondly of portraying a high school student named Pedro who ran for class president with the aid of the improv-dancing Napoleon, the 48-year-old Ramirez said he fully invests himself in every character on a screen or stage, cult classic or not.
That also applies to a voice acting role in "Lightyear," featuring popular "Toy Story" character "Buzz Lightyear." The movie opens June 17.
"So when a project like 'Lightyear' came about ... from TV shows to feature films to animation voice-over, I do the work because that's what the work requires me to do," Ramirez said enthusiastically. "The process, even in theatre, is all the same. You really have to live in the moment and trust the story that you are involved with as an actor."
Ramirez said he was both surprised and intrigued when offered a role in the computer-animated, science-fiction film made for children.
"They explained to me the technology, and the whole thing is just incredible."
Ramirez said he plays a science engineer named Diaz in support of space ranger Buzz Lightyear.
He wouldn't say much else. Movie studios strictly prohibit him from elaborating, he said.
But in a gracious effort to accommodate the questioner, Ramirez added: "What else can I say? I could say that the movie is incredible, the story, and just because of technology, and because the way it's done, it looks incredible, it sounds wonderful, it's composed."
Offering a final thought, he said loudly: "It will blow your mind."
"Lightyear" is undoubtedly a noteworthy role for Ramirez, who has appeared in numerous television shows and movies, including "Crank," "Employee of the Month," "Eastbound & Down" and "Casa de mi Padre." However, it's Pedro Sanchez for whom he's forever synonymous.
That enduring link to the sleeper hit indie movie is what brings both Ramirez and "Napoleon Dynamite" co-star Jon Heder to the Canton Palace Theatre on Sunday for a 6 p.m. special screening. Ramirez and Heder also will discuss the film and answer audience questions.
During an online video interview, Ramirez was comedic, engaging and open to talking about all things "Napoleon Dynamite," while hinting at the possibility of a sequel.
"Throughout the years, there were talks about doing a prequel and doing a sequel ... and I don't think we're in that stage of having to do a prequel anymore" he said. "It all depends, because if you do a sequel, it's got (to) support the story, and it's got to continue on like what would actually happen."
Asked about the likelihood of a follow-up, he paused.
"Um, uh, legally, all I can say is it is up in the air," Ramirez said, laughing at his own skirting of the question.
In the meantime, he said, "Napoleon Dynamite" continues to attract devoted fans to special screenings like the one set for Canton.
"There's no expletives, there's no cussing ... so this is a film that grandparents introduce their grandchildren to; families can sit together and watch and enjoy (it)," Ramirez said.
"And it's interesting to see how families are dressed as the characters. You see kids who are in like grade school still and they're dressed as Pedro. They're dressed as Napoleon, some dress up as a llama ... and people bring footballs, people bring cakes, piñatas ... (and) they've got the iconic, 'Vote for Pedro' T-shirt."
During the 25-minute chat, Ramirez also shared insights on the movie's message, whether he was class president material in real life, and his vision of what a sequel could look like. Highlights follow, with answers edited for brevity and clarity.
So what's the meaning of "Napoleon Dynamite"?
"It really is simple. It's hope in humanity. As different as each and every character is, they're all trying to find some hope in their lives; every individual is seeking to find something greater of themselves, and what makes this film wonderful is that every single character finds that change in the very end of the movie."
Being recognized as the beloved "Pedro"
"We had no idea that ('Napoleon Dynamite') was going to become what it is today. It's a worldwide hit, and there's actors like Daniel Day-Lewis (and) Johnny Depp who really hide behind the characters they play, so they become so memorable.
"I had no idea what was going to happen with 'Napoleon Dynamite' as Pedro. ... I play a character who ... not only tries to find who he is in his life, but how he fits into the world, and he decides to become something greater beyond himself, which in high school is to become the president of the school and do something that is nearly impossible..."
"When you play such a positive character, when I walk around the Earth, it's me. I'm grateful. I got my parents a home, I got my home (because of the movie's financial success).
"... And when I pass by high schools or I see teenagers and college students and families, and they look at me, they're like, 'Pedro!' ... It's something positive, something wonderful to think about. That we're not alone in the journey of life, and it's all goodness. I'm very fortunate to be able to be part of something memorable for the rest of my life."
Were you class president material in real life?
"Oh, gosh, both Jon Heder and I have twins, and my twin was much more like the MVP of soccer and cross country, and he hung out with the popular guys. I was part of the chess club, the Christian service club, the book club, the choir club. That was just me. I wore black, more like the emo kid. I listened to Depeche Mode ... and New Order.
"I knew I wanted to be part of something ... but I wasn't ready to figure out where I fit in the world until I took theater ... then I found my voice."
Ramirez's concept for a sequel to "Napoleon Dynamite."
"The first thing that pops in my head would be now that Pedro's a lot older ... he's married to Summer Wheatly, and they've got a couple of kids, and they open up a bakery, and he's become a citizen, and he's thinking about running for city councilman ... which is very positive.
"And in that world, Napoleon Dynamite ... is probably dealing with certain kinds of struggles, so it's Pedro, as well as his uncle and a few other (people) who are trying to help Napoleon, and their kids try to acclimate themselves into a better way of life.
"Who knows, it's possible, anything can happen. So we'll see."
The movie's enduring popularity
"Prior to 'Napoleon Dynamite,' my focus was just on ... hoping to be a real good actor, whether I'm doing Shakespeare on stage or Tennessee Williams ... just trying to go up on stage and have the courage to use myself into those voices, those characters, and live that world the best way possible is my own dream.
"But to be able to be part of something that is memorable, where even after almost 20 years, I'm involved with a little piece of that spark that really connects the artist with the audience, it's such a wonderful experience, and every time I do (a special screening), I am utterly grateful."
Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 and email@example.com. On Twitter: @ebalintREP.
If you go
WHAT – Special screening of 2004 comedy "Napoleon Dynamite" starring Jon Heder and Efren Ramirez
WHEN – 6 p.m. Sunday; doors open at 5 p.m.
WHERE – Canton Palace Theatre, 605 Market Ave. N in downtown Canton
TICKETS – $25 and $35, with a limited number of VIP tickets available for $125, which includes a premium seat, signed poster and pre-show meet and greet with Heder and Ramirez. Tickets can be purchased online at https://cantonpalacetheatre.org/ and by calling the Palace Theatre box office at 330-454-8172 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.
This article originally appeared on The Repository: 'Napoleon Dynamite' star hints at sequel, hypes 'Buzz Lightyear'