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Whatever Happened To The Actor That Played Kip In Napoleon Dynamite?

For fans of the 2004 cult classic Napoleon Dynamite, Aaron Ruell will forever be synonymous with Kip, Napoleon's big brother who spent his days chatting with babes on the internet and dreaming of one day becoming a cage fighter. Like so many of the movie's characters, Kip was wonderfully weird and endlessly quotable. But despite his comedic chops, Ruell's career as an actor never fully took off — but that doesn't mean he's not successful.

After Napoleon Dynamite, Ruell took on two more film roles before reprising the role of Kip for Fox's 2012 animated Napoleon Dynamite series. However, in a 2019 interview with ABC7 out of New York, the former actor revealed he never imagined the movie would be seen, never mind become a hit. He remembered Jon Heder, the movie's star, asking him if he planned to pursue acting full-time once the film was finished, and Ruell was more than a little bit skeptical about the idea that the independent film could lead to more roles.

"We were just out of school and he said, 'So Aaron, what are you gonna do if this movie makes it? Are you going to change paths and become an actor?'" Ruell recalled. "And I remember looking at him. This is so vivid in my mind to this day. I remember looking at him and just going, 'Jon, no one is going to see this film.'"

Ruell was definitely wrong about Napoleon Dynamite, but he remained firm on his career trajectory, which includes far more work behind the camera than in front of it — with the exception of a brief reprisal of Kip for the good of socially-distancing people everywhere. Read on to find out what the actor who played Kip is up to these days.

Aaron Ruell's post-Napoleon Dynamite film career was short-lived

Playing Kip came naturally for Ruell in large part because the character was based on his brother. In April 2020, he shared with Muse by Clio that although he has always been reluctant to bring Kip out of retirement, the character is never far from his mind thanks to his sibling who still lives at home with their parents.

"Here's the thing about Kip—he's basically my real life brother," he said. "I have a brother who lives with my parents, and he leads the life that Kip does. Or vice versa. So Kip is always in my life and I'm constantly getting material from the "real-life" Kip — my brother."

Since Kip is a constant in his life already, it makes sense that Ruell's next two film roles challenged him to go in a different direction. In 2006, he appeared as Donatello in the little seen movie Think Tank, directed by MTV's Sportblender star Brian Petersen. The film followed four friends on a mission to invent frictionless pool in hopes of saving their local pool hall.

By contrast, 2007's On the Road with Judas directed by JJ Lask was far more experimental. The movie followed two sets of characters played by two different sets of actors — the "real" people, and the people as envisioned in the titular Judas' book. As the fictional Judas, Ruell was given an opportunity to show his full range as a man who is miles away from the bumbling and awkward Kip.

Napoleon Dynamite the animated series led to Aaron Ruell reprising the role of Kip

Before reboots were all the rage, Fox ordered an animated Napoleon Dynamite show from the movie's executive producers Jared and Jerusha Hess in 2012. And while the Hesses were eager to bring the characters back to life, they told Collider they were only interested in the project if the entire original cast was on board. Luckily for them, everyone, including Ruell, was game to return.

Sadly, the animated show didn't generate the same positive buzz as the movie. Even with the original cast providing the voices, the series never found an audience, and it was swiftly canceled after just six episodes. Still, the short-lived show provided the cast with an opportunity to reunite for another round of Napoleon Dynamite silliness that also gave viewers a peek at what Kip got up to before his wedding to Lafawnduh.

And even though the show wasn't a hit for Fox, it did lure Ruell back into the Hollywood game, at least briefly, which was a treat for Kip fans.

Aaron Ruell traded in acting for a successful career as a photographer and director

Ruell, who is now a father of four residing in Portland, found that he was far more comfortable behind a camera than he is in front of one. After Napoleon Dynamite took the world by storm, he began directing short films and commercials. Since then, his career has taken off in a major way.

Since he left acting behind, Ruell has directed ads for Coca-Cola, Lyft, Serta, McDonald's, and Volkswagen. As he shared with Muse by Clio, no matter what kind of work he's doing, he just wants to know that it's connecting with viewers. "The goal in my work has always been about attempting some type of sincerity in it," he said. "Whether it's comedy or drama. I'm fond of my Coke "Earn It" spot. It's a Christmastime spot about a boy gifting his little brother a bicycle. I like the tone and sentiment in that one."

In addition to his role as a director at Sanctuary Content, Ruell is also a successful photographer, who has published five collections of his work. It's not cage fighting, but his jobs are still undeniably cool.

Kip from Napoleon Dynamite made a brief return to help people adjust to social-distancing

Although he has admitted in more than one interview that he's reluctant to step back into Kip's shoes too often, Ruell made an exception at the start of the pandemic. Because his character was the original king of social-distancing, the director decided to film a series of instructional videos on how to successfully socially-isolate called Kip's Tips.

Once the idea came to him, Ruell called up Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess to run it past him, then he shaved his beard, and began filming the tips in-character at his desk. The videos are surreal and funny in equal measure, with Kip instructing viewers to make masks out of old bras and revealing the secret recipe for making chips fancy (dump some cheese on top).

Ultimately, Ruell wanted nothing more than to make people smile with his videos, and he seems to have achieved his goal. "Kip isn't for everybody. Plenty of people will find his tips entirely dumb," he said to Muse by Clio. "And that's OK. But I've found there is an audience of people who message me saying that these clips are making their days or weeks. Some are watching them together as families on weekend nights. Some keep asking me, "When is the next tip? I've watched these so many times and I need a new one!"

Is Kip from Napoleon Dynamite a rockstar now?

While Ruell did bring Kip out of retirement to cheer up fans during the pandemic, he hasn't started making in-character TikTok videos of Kip singing hard rock songs — but someone has. A collection of videos featuring someone wearing the character's trademark duds and singing songs like "Last Resort" by Papa Roach, "Break Stuff" by Limp Bizkit, and "Duality" by Slipknot have been making the rounds on social media since early February 2021.

For his part, Ruell hasn't commented on the talented imposter's performances, but it seems like the sort of thing he would appreciate. During his interview with Muse by Clio, he shared that he's simply touched that people still connect with Kip after all this time. "I never thought Kip would be remembered after the film," he said. "The fact that anyone even wants to hear from him is so sweet and makes me feel really lucky to have been part of that."

And while he hasn't expanded his Kip comeback to include renditions of famous rock songs, it's clear Ruell still has a special place in his heart for his iconic Napoleon Dynamite character.