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Napoleon (Dynamite!) and lots of other Spring items from Wilbornworld

1. A night of Napoleon Dynamite!

Before he was cast as Pedro in a super low-budget 2004 film, Napoleon Dynamite, Efren Ramirez worked with my wife as part of the faculty at Beverly Hills Studios in Los Angeles. The “faculty” were a bunch of actors themselves, who paid their rent with a teaching gig, instead of taking jobs as waiters or bartenders. If you got cast in something, you didn’t have to quit your job, the other teachers would take over your classes while you were on set.

Eugenie left LA in 2003, when we moved to Florida and surprisingly, her roles got bigger. She landed major roles in The Hunger Games (Tigris), The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It (The Occultist), and Marvel’s Werewolf By Night (Azarel), among many other TV and film roles.

For Efren, everything changed when he turned down a minor role in a big-budget
production of The Alamo, and chose to play one of the leads in a film no one thought would do any business, made by a bunch of just-out-of-film-school Hollywood hopefuls.

Jarred Hess wrote and directed the film, based loosely on his high school life in small-town Idaho. The film was accepted at Sundance and landed a distribution deal with Fox Searchlight Pictures, and a team that included Paramount and MTV. And the rest is movie history.

Napoleon Dynamite caught on in colleges, then with mainstream audiences, and ultimately became a hit, a huge DVD release, and now, a bona-fide cult classic. (It ranks 14th on Bravo’s list of 100 Funniest Movies.)

Recently, Efren and the other two leads in the film, John Heder (Napolean) and Jon Gries (Uncle Rico), were at the Capital Theater in Clearwater for two sold-out nights celebrating the 20th anniversary of the film’s release. That appearance was part of an ongoing series of shows in theaters and colleges that has kept the actors busy for the past 20 years.

In case you’re one of the 10 people in America unfamiliar with the movie, here’s the story:

In small-town Preston, Idaho, awkward teen, Napoleon Dynamite, has trouble fitting in. After his grandmother is injured in an accident, his life is made even worse when his strangely nostalgic uncle, Rico, shows up to keep an eye on him. With no safe haven at home or at school, Napoleon befriends the new kid, Pedro, a morose Hispanic boy who speaks little English. Together the two launch a campaign to run for class president.

Ultimately, the Vote for Pedro T-shirt they wore in the film became a huge seller nationwide and still shows up when fans get dressed for one of the appearances.

The Napoleon “nights” start with a VIP meet and greet, where fans dress as characters from the film, followed by a showing of the movie, and then the three actors do a mix of music, and comic bits, take audience questions, and finally, close with a costume contest.

Efren got Eugenie and me backstage afterward, where John Heder and Jon Gries, were relaxing on overstuffed couches. We got 20th anniversary T-shirts, including one that said: “Re-Elect Pedro.”

They said the film was the gift that just keeps giving. Audiences could steam the movie anytime, but instead, they pay big bucks to come out to these personal appearances and see it all over again with the cast.

Efren chose to take a chance on Napoleon Dynamite despite the lack of a real salary and any guarantee of distribution, because “I was following my heart.”

Making the movie, was a comedy itself, with makeshift sets, one-take shoots, and some hilarious amateur actors, but somehow, it all worked.

If I was still a journalist, I would have taken notes and added some quotes from the actors here, who were friendly and talked freely, but I was just a guest, enjoying my time backstage, while Eugenie and Efren hugged and reminisced about friends from their younger days.

All three actors have continued to work on other projects, but this quirky, indie film has given them the kind of fame and steady income that comes to only a few lucky actors in Hollywood.

A photo of Eugenie Bondurant and Paul Wilborn with John Heder, Jon Gries and Efren Ramirez

2. This week’s excerpt from Florida Hustle

(Scream Queen Dawn Karston wants her LA manager to get her out of the upcoming blood and boobs epic, Swamp Fiend 2, set for shooting in the Everglades because a Florida fan apparently wants to kill her.)

Majestic Tower, a 1930s Art Deco office building on Hollywood Boulevard, had once been a classy Los Angeles address, all eight stories full of managers, agents, publicists, and producers. But those tenants were long dead and the current building directory – a black, glass-covered rectangle marked with white, press-in letters – listed two private detectives, Senora Novia’s Tarot and Palm; Young and Hot Asian Massage; Hollywood Legal Aid; Tommy’s 24-7 Bail Bonds, and Ben Hoffman, Talent Management and Consulting.

Ben’s office had a film-noir vibe, due mostly to the used furniture and slatted light seeping through the dirty Venetian blinds.  The faded greed shag, flattened by the footfalls of thousands of passing soles, resembled the surface of a particularly rank bog.  On the walls were a dozen framed 8-by-10s of Ben posing with people who might have been almost famous in 1973. The poster of Dawn Karston from the upcoming Slasher High was mounted on a metal easel opposite the scarred wooden desk that the real Dawn Karston was pounding with her tiny fist.

“You gotta get me out of this!” Dawn shouted, her eyes red and ringed with tears.

“Dawn, sweetie, be calm and…breathe…” Ben whispered, remembering how his first wife, a yoga instructor named Trudy, had spoken to him when he was on a similar rampage.

“Ben!”

He tried to lean his desk chair back to put a few more inches between him and his angry client, but his chair was already at full tilt.

“You’re not breathing,” he said, in what he considered his best breathy, guru voice. “Come on. Try it. In…out…nice…and…easy.”

“Dammit! Stop!”

With his tousled blonde hair, the graying mustache, and the Hawaiian shirt he wore over a pair of faded Levis, Ben Hoffman looked more like an aging Laurel Canyon folk singer than a Hollywood talent manager, It might have been a good look for a thinner man, but Ben hadn’t been thin since 1969, when the blotter acid he was swallowing most days, laced with speed, kept him wide awake, and very manic, but – on the plus side – seriously svelte.

Michael Donnelly’s manila envelope was open on Ben’s desk; spread out beside it was a creased sheet of paper the size of a medicine cabinet mirror, edge-to-edge with comic book-style illustrations and word bubbles.

Dawn leaned over the desk, getting her face as close to her manager’s mug as possible, given the width of the desk, Ben’s backward angle in his chair, and the fact that Dawn was only about an inch over five feet.  She was often blond in her movies – slashers love blondes – but her real hair was thick and red, the perfect waves framing her pale, china doll face.  For this visit with her manager, Dawn wore very tight jeans, a sweatshirt pulled off one shoulder, platform heels covered in silver glitter, and enough makeup to do a TV special if one came up unexpectedly.

“There’s no way I’m going to the fucking Everglades to do this movie!”

Ben refused to acknowledge such an absurd statement. His clients did not turn down jobs. He had already cashed the deposit check from the producer of Swamp Fiend II.  It would be at least two more months before he had to worry about the repo men coming for his Bahama Blue Beetle convertible.  He started to OOOOHHHHHMMMM, the way Trudy used to, when the drugs and his 15-hour-a-day gig painting film sets had him spinning out of control.

“Come on…OOOOOHHHHHMMMMM. Now breathe.”

“I’m fucking breathing. Okay?” Dawn slapped the envelope on his desk.  “And I’d like to keep breathing. You gotta get me out of this.”

“We have a signed contract. They sent a plane ticket and a deposit. There are things I can get you out of. But not this.”

Dawn collapsed into the white plastic lawn chair that Ben provided for guests and clients. She wiped her eyes and gathered herself.

“Ben, please?”

She sniffed, her voice suddenly gentle and shaking slightly, as she tapped into a particularly touching moment from her last Meisner class.

“I’m really at the end of the rope here,” she said, tears puddling in her eyes. “I need you on my side. OK?”

“Dawn, kiddo, I’m sorry, but you are doing this picture.”

3. See latest book promos on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.

Movie star Eugenie Bondurant, below, reads excerpts from Florida Hustle. To explore those videos visit paulwilborn1 on Instagram. Click on the image below to see the latest video!

An image of Eugenie Bondurant in Hough Hall

4. An excerpt from my new novel:

(Still unnamed. Look for it later this year!)

Looking around as he walked toward the front steps, Trip noticed Charlie’s house was the only one on the street getting regular coats of paint.

After rapping firmly on the front door, Trip waited several minutes without hearing a voice or any sound from inside the house. Maybe he’d come to the wrong address? He was reaching into his back pocket for the notes he had taken during the brief phone call that morning when a voice from behind the door startled him.

“Show me your hands!” The voice was raspy, but resonant, the words clearly an command. Trip stepped back and raised his empty hands, his eyes focused on the metal peephole.

“Now turn around. Slowly. And keep your hands where they are.”
Trip followed instructions. A few seconds later, the door eased open. The room behind the door was dark and his host had apparently stepped deeper in the shadows.

“Get in. Now!” The voice barked. “An open door is just asking for trouble.”

Trip stepped inside.

 “Just over there,” the voice instructed. “That big chair.”

The house held a stink of mold and cigar smoke. Trip thought the windows likely hadn’t been opened in a long time.

A few shafts of light, penetrating through holes in the heavy maroon curtains, helped Trip find his way to an overstuffed chair separated from a massive gold brocade couch by a dark coffee table. A stork-like figure, wearing what Trip thought might be a shroud, crumpled slowly onto the couch. Moaning as he did it, the figure leaned over, stretching to switch on a table lamp at the edge of the couch.

As the room filled with light, Trip finally got a good look at Charlie Wall.

Old, thought Trip. Like seriously old. His face was long and flat like the back-side of a shovel, his chin, neck and cheeks dotted with spikes of gray hair. His nose, swollen now and lined with narrow, blue veins, had clearly once been regal and aristocratic.

 For this noontime job interview, the old man wore a thin, paisley bathrobe, his bone-thin calves exposed above a pair of fuzzy house slippers.

Towers of yellowed newspapers were stacked against most of the walls. The papers on the coffee table were still white. Must be today’s Tribune, Trip thought.

Turning back, he saw the old man, who hadn’t introduced himself, give him a slow, foot-to-head look.

“You’re a big boy,” he said finally. “Ever used a gun?”

Trip shook his head.

“Typical. Your generation believes all that love and peace crap. Ever hit anybody?”

“I was a wrestler in junior high. But I never punched anybody, if that’s what you’re asking. Probably because people look at me and don’t want to get into anything.”

“Got a driver’s license?”

Trip nodded.

 “So, I’m not sure about the name Trip. Sounds like some hippie nickname to me. What name did your daddy give you?”

“Ronald. Ronald Armstrong the third. They called me Ronnie. And, you, I’m guessing you’re Charlie Wall?”

“The one and only. Still breathing, despite everything”
Charlie looked off, Trip thought he could see the gears moving inside the old man’s head. Finally, Charlie turned back.

“You Ron Jr.’s son, am I right?”

Trip nodded. He hadn’t heard anyone speak his father’s name in a while.

“I thought so.  Saw a family resemblance. He’s the top Tampa Electric man now, am I right? I knew your grandfather well. We did some business back in the day. So why does a rich Palma Ceia boy like you want this job?”

Trip thought about that. He had so many reasons, but he just gave one.

“I’ve been on my own a while. I like it that way. I’ve made my own money since I left home but my current business…” Trip stopped himself, not sure how much to tell a prospective employer, even one like Charlie Wall. “…I’ll just say it has a lot of drawbacks.”

“Like what?” Charlie asked.

Trip was silent.

“Son, nothing you can say will shock me. I’ve done it all and much worse. I suspect you know that much already. So, tell your Uncle Charlie the truth. What’s the drawback?”

“Jail, for starters.”

Charlie let a narrow smile settle on his lips.

“The rebel son, am I right?”

Trip nodded.

“I spent some time on the dark side myself.” Charlie let a craggy smile tighten the wrinkles on his face. “But as I said, I’m sure you already know that.”

Trip nodded again.

“Now, I’m just a simple retiree, enjoying my golden years. Or some bullshit like that. There’s nothing golden about getting old. But dying is worse. And over the years — how should I say this? — some people have gone out of their way to hurry my departure from this earthly plain. That’s why I need something more than just a driver. Someone with good eyesight. Someone who looks kinda scary. Someone like you. You understand?”

Trip nodded again, offering the old guy a slight smile.

“So, you need a guard dog that drives?”

Charlie’s eyes sparkled.

“I hadn’t thought of it like that, but yes, that is exactly what I need.”

“Can I ask one more question?”

Charlie nodded. “I thought you might have more than one.”

“Just this one, I think. I wouldn’t be doing anything illegal, would I? I’m really trying to get away from that type of work.”

Charlie’s head rocked back, as he released a spit-slinging laugh that led to a round of choking and coughing. When he regained his breath, he reached to the coffee table, grabbing a section of the Tampa Tribune. He raised the newspaper to his face, hawked into it, then, carefully folding the sheet onto itself, he set it gently on the table.

 “My days on the wrong side of the law are in the rear-view mirror. In fact, I’m at an age where most of my days are in the rear-view mirror. You want to hear about the job?”

Trip nodded, thinking for the first time that he might have passed the audition.

“I go out at six. I’m generally home by nine. That’s when I need you – between 6 and 9, seven days a week.  Otherwise, you’re time’s your own. You get the apartment in back and all the groceries you can eat.  I’ll pay you twenty a day in cash. That’s 140 a week, though I’m sure a businessman like you already did the math. You can come and go as you like, but if you ever leave a fucking door unbolted, or a window unlatched, I’ll sack your ass like that.”

 The old man snapped two bony fingers.

Trip nodded. “When can I start?”

The old man slowly struggled to his feet. Locking eyes with Trip, Charlie snapped his fingers again.

“How about tonight?”

5. What I’m reading right now

Ann Patchett's Tom Lake

6. Finally, your moment of Groucho:

A quote from Groucho Marx

Always remember: Paul does not
want to buy your house for cash!!

An image of Paul Wilborn

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