Twelve years ago, director Eric Appel directed a fake trailer for Funny or Die promising a “Weird Al” Yankovic biopic. It starred Aaron Paul as Weird Al, and got a lot of internet attention with a lot of cries for a full-length feature movie. Then, over the next 12 years, we got an onslaught of biopic movies that didn’t seem to care at all what liberties were taken in regards to actual facts, making the Weird al film look more and more like something halfway reasonable.
In the full-length film, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (which Appel co-wrote with Yankovic), Daniel Radcliffe dons the Hawaiian shirt of “Weird Al” Yankovic, a role he says didn’t quite understand why it was even being offered since he looks almost nothing like “Weird Al.” That was until he read the script, which has scenes of “Weird Al” fighting Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel and traveling to Hell in search for the lyrics to “Eat It” (which, in the film, was an original song and “Beat It” is a parody) — it was at this point Radcliffe realized his lack of physical similarity to the real “Weird Al” did not matter. Ahead, both Radcliffe and Appel take us through the intricacies of bringing a fake biopic about a very real musician to realization. And how Boogie Nights, of all films, was their true inspiration.
In sixth-grade music class we had to do a musical performance of something. So I mimed a Weird Al song, so we finally have something in common…
Daniel Radcliffe: Did you say you mimed it? You did a physical interpretation?
Wait, no, I should have said lip-synced…
Daniel Radcliffe: Oh, okay…
Eric Appel: What song did you do? What was it?
“Girls Just Want to Have Lunch.”
Eric Appel: That’s a great one.
Watching this movie, there is a lot about Weird Al I did not realize.
Eric Appel:: It’s crazy. Yeah, especially in that back half.
I didn’t know Weird Al fought Pablo Escobar.
Daniel Radcliffe: I know. I know. It’s really shocking to a lot of people.
Eric Appel:: Yeah, it’s crazy how they keep it off Google.
Daniel Radcliffe: And it’s hard to do that as well, so he’s got massive serious power.
Eric Appel:: The greatest was after our trailer released. I watched a bunch of reaction videos on YouTube and watching people’s brain break halfway through. They’re like, “Wait, what? No, is this real?” And nothing brought me more joy.
Didn’t you experience that twice? You did the original trailer 12 years ago, right?
Eric Appel:: I did the original trailer, yeah. I mean, the first one, I think just because it came out on Funny or Die, it was like, people kind of knew it was kind of a goof. But with this version coming out, the film being released, you think it’s going to be a real biopic. Like Weird Al is certainly deserving of one. He’s an icon! He’s been around for 40 years performing; millions and millions of fans. So it’s a different experience this time around, but equally fun.
To be fair, this movie is about as factually correct as Bohemian Rhapsody.
Eric Appel:: It’s funny how all of these movies, one of the tropes of all the biopics is they’ll take events that happened over the course of three years and, for story purposes, because a movie can only be so long, they’ll combine all that stuff into one scene where it’s like, “Wow, that was the most amazing evening where all these milestones in someone’s career happened.”
In Bohemian Rhapsody, the scene where they come up with “We Will Rock You” and then “Another One Bites the Dust” is very much like the scene in this movie when Al comes up with “My Bologna.”
Daniel Radcliffe: That’s literally my favorite trope, the instant inspiration trope. And just the entire song being written in a moment because of hearing a literal lyric from the song be said to you is, yeah, just glorious. I love that so much.
In Rocketman, Elton John turns into a rocket on stage and flies into space. That’s about on level with some stuff that happens in this movie.
Daniel Radcliffe: What? I haven’t seen that.
Eric Appel:: Yeah. I mean, that one, that goes to some pretty wacky places for sure. And Elvis, too. It’s funny, I saw the Elvis movie, obviously, after we made ours and, God, there were moments in that… I loved the film by the way, but there were moments where I’m like, “Did they somehow see what we did?” And it’s because of all these tropes. These things are so tried and true and a compelling biopic story always follows the same trajectory. That’s what we did. Let’s take all of those moments and do our version of them. There’s always going to be a hitting rock bottom, like what’s our crazy unexpected Weird Al version of hitting rock bottom?
How do you write this movie and also avoid being what Walk Hard is?
Eric Appel:: Well, do you want to know my big secret?
What is your big secret?
Eric Appel:: I’ve never seen Walk Hard.
Well, that probably helped.
Eric Appel:: I’ve never seen Walk Hard. For some reason, I don’t know, I missed it when it came out…
To be fair, most people did.
Eric Appel: Yeah, I’ve seen moments from it. I love everyone involved in that movie but, again for whatever reason, I never saw Walk Hard. And then when we decided we were going to make this movie, I purposefully stayed away from Walk Hard because I didn’t want anything to inspire me. But what we did with this movie, we were drawing inspiration from not even just rock music biopics, kind of like Boogie Nights and Forest Gump just as much as anything…
Right, the pool scene at Dr. Demento’s house is from Boogie Nights…
Eric Appel: Yeah. And, really, the Dr. Demento-Al relationship is Jack Warner and Dirk Diggler. So we didn’t want it to feel like such a direct specific parody of a specific biopic.
How does Daniel get involved? Who calls who here?
Eric Appel: I mean we reached out. We reached out to Daniel.
Though. I could see a world where Daniel’s like, “Someone, let me play Weird Al.”
Daniel Radcliffe: Yeah, when I got the script and the offer came in, it’s the Weird Al biopic and you’d be playing Weird Al. My immediate reaction was like, “Okay, that’s really cool.” I’m a huge Weird Al fan but, to my mind, I feel like one of my strengths as an actor is knowing what I will and will not be good at, and good in. So I was going, “I have a feeling there’s probably other people who are closer physically to Al.” But then I read the script and as soon as I opened it, I was like, Oh right, that doesn’t matter. It’s not the name of the game here. This is just something else entirely.
And as soon as I read the script, I was like, Oh, right, this is the only thing this script could have been. Weird Al’s biopic should obviously be a parody of biopics. It makes more sense than anything else I’ve heard in my life and I never would’ve thought of that. So when you start reading it, you just go, Oh, right. Yeah. And you get the idea and immediately it became very apparent this is going to be really funny and really fun to do. Every page was a song or a fight scene or a dance number or the pool party scene…
Or a shootout.
Daniel Radcliffe: A shootout, right. Exactly. So every page was like that and then when we were shooting, every day was that way. It was like, Oh, cool, what insane stuff do I get to do today? Yeah, it was incredible fun.
I was reading how you actually sang the songs on set, then obviously they were dubbed in for the movie by Weird Al. Will we ever get to hear your renditions? I bet they’re good.
Daniel Radcliffe: I don’t think so. No. If I had known there was a chance they would ever be out there, I would have sung them better. So, yeah, hopefully not.
Do you have to call Madonna and explain how she’s going to be represented in this movie?
Eric Appel: Yeah, we didn’t tell anyone. We didn’t really get permission or tell anybody about what we were doing. The thing with this kind of comedy and this kind of parody, we’re not punching down on anyone or being mean or cruel. It’s a really fun version of Madonna that I hope, if and when she sees it … I’m sure she’ll watch it as soon as it pops up.
In the spirit of how Weird Al would always call people and tell him he was doing them, even though he didn’t have to. I didn’t know if it worked like that here, too.
Eric Appel: I mean, I think it’s a little different with music because you have to get the rights to the music. So maybe it’s a little more than a formality on some of those calls, but for this it’s like, Nah. It’s very clearly not the real Madonna and she’s such a public figure. She’s a Halloween costume that you can go buy in the store.
Daniel Radcliffe: I would also just echo what you said. It’s so insane what this film is. Yeah, the story is that she reached out to Al initially to ask him to parody one of her songs and that’s how “Like a Surgeon” happened. So one can assume, of that, that she has a sense of humor and about her own stuff … hopefully. And I think that this is such a kind of amazing mustache twirling villain and also I’m hoping that she’ll just be delighted by being played by Evan Rachel Wood.
I mean, she takes over a drug cartel. That is flattering. Not everyone can do that.
Daniel Radcliffe: Not everyone has that kind of organizational capability, but she very much does.
Eric Appel: You can’t say she’s not ambitious.
Obviously, Al had permission to make the parody songs, but if you want to put them into a movie, do you have to get permission again to put the Weird Al versions of the songs in this movie? Was there anything you couldn’t use that you wanted to use?
Eric Appel: Well, like I said before about getting people’s permission, when it’s music, it’s a different story. So to get the right to play Weird Al parodies, you have to get the rights to the actual song that he’s parodying in the movie. So there are certain tweaks that had to be made to the script. There are certain things that we had to do in order to get permission for people to sell us these songs.
What was a tweak? I’m just curious how that works.
Eric Appel: To get Queen’s music, there are things that changed on the script level because it’s like, “We don’t want you doing this and if you’re using our song.”
In between this movie premiering at the Toronto Film Festival and now, unfortunately Coolio died. There’s a Coolio joke in the movie. Was there any internal discussions about that?
Eric Appel: I mean, obviously, any death is a tragedy. He’s gone too soon for sure. I’m bummed that he doesn’t get to see the movie.
So there was no thought of removing it. I know he and Weird Al had made up.
Eric Appel: No, I mean I don’t think it’s anything that will offend anyone. It’s still a wonderful reference to Coolio.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.