Murder, Drugs and Drunk Driving: Inside the Wild Biopic ‘Weird Al’

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Mid Road Bizarre: The Story of Al Yankovic, the parody artist, played by the very little Yankovic-like Daniel Radcliffe, shows up drunk and belligerent at one of his own concerts. His new girlfriend, Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood), is by his side when they are confronted backstage by his manager, Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson). “I think Madonna is a bad influence on you,” Demento says. “I think she’s an evil, conniving succubus and only using you for her pathetic, selfish needs, no offense.” She just wants that sweet, sweet Yankovic bump. She knows her record sales will explode if you parody her.

It’s one of many fantastically deranged scenes from the Roku original movie (out Nov. 4), which is part biopic, part satirical, and downright bonkers. Co-written by Yankovic and comedian Eric Appel (human giant, Yankers cranks, The Andy Milonakis Show), it takes the G-rated artist behind hits like “Amish Paradise” and “White and Nerdy” and turns him into an abusive maniac who drops acid, bitterly taunts his own fans and fights drug lords. heavily armed South Americans. At almost no point does it accurately reflect even a tiny moment in Yankovic’s real-life story.

“Over the past two years, biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman played with the truth or reversed timelines for dramatic effect,” Yankovic says. “It pissed me off to the point where I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to do a biopic that throws all the facts out the window.'”

Radcliffe, who portrays Yankovic hilariously and deadpan, never acknowledging the absurdity surrounding him, signed on the second he read the script. “When I saw it was a parody of all musical biopics, I thought, ‘Sure,'” he says. “It was so clear what a biopic of ‘Weird Al’ should be.”

The film’s roots date back to 2010, when Appel thought making a trailer for a nonexistent “Weird Al” Yankovic biopic would be a fun blunder. His pal Patton Oswalt put him in touch with Yankovic to make sure he was okay with the idea. “I thought maybe it was something he would want to do himself one day,” says Appel. “I don’t want to steal an idea.”

Yankovic not only loved the concept, but he also wanted to help bring it to life. “We sat down together and looked at all the biopic trailers that were out there,” says Appel, “and dissected them to figure out what elements could we take to create the ultimate biopic trailer.”

Despite their miniscule budget, they managed to chain Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul to play a fun-house-mirror version of Yankovic (“You’re all a bunch of slaves!” he shouts to an audience at one point during a meltdown on stage), with Olivia Wilde, Gary Cole, Mary Steenburgen, and Oswalt all taking tiny parts. The two-and-a-half-minute video became a viral hit for Funny or Die, and Yankovic began showing it during costume changes at his concerts. “After every show, people would come up to him and ask him where they could see the movie,” Appel says. “They thought it was real. I also got emails from Aaron Paul and Olivia Wilde telling me we really should make it happen.

For many years they didn’t even entertain the idea. Yankovic’s only featured vehicle, the 1989 TV parody UHF, may be a cult classic, but it was a box office disaster that seemingly put it in jail for eternity. And the 2007 rock-biopic parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which presents John C. Reilly as a surreal cross of Johnny Cash and Ray Charles, bombarded. The idea that a UHF-meets-walk hard movie could ever pass the Hollywood gatekeepers seemed absurd.

Yankovic started thinking differently once in 2018 Bohemian Rhapsody launched a new era of rock biopics, including Rocketman, Dirtiness, Respectand Elvis. “Out of the blue, I get an email from Al,” says Appel. “He said, ‘Hey, last year I put out this career retrospective box set, and I’m trying to figure out what to do next. Would you be interested in taking that old trailer we made and turning it into a real movie? We could write it together. You could direct it.

Appel was on board, and they hammered out the script – which includes lopsided moments like Al’s dad nearly murdering a door-to-door accordion salesman and Dr. Demento doping Yankovic’s guacamole with acid – in a few months. They would take turns writing scenes, then switch and take over each other’s work. “Honestly, at this point, I couldn’t tell you which jokes were Eric’s and which were mine,” Yankovic says, “because it was such a mind-meld. We worked so well together.

When it came time to find an actor for the lead role, Yankovic’s mind quickly turned to Radcliffe. The Harry Potter The actor might seem like an odd choice (he’s five-foot-five to begin with, compared to Yankovic’s six-foot), but he’s played weird and aggressive roles before, including a farting corpse in the 2016 dark comedy Swiss army man. And Yankovic never forgot to see him sing a perfect rendition of Tom Lehrer’s “Elements Song,” on the Periodic Table of Elements, on The Graham Norton Show in 2010.

“I used to sing this song in college in cafes,” says Yankovic. “Singing this song is an extremely corny thing to do. It’s corny off the charts. And I thought, ‘OK, this guy gets it. This guy is a kindred spirit. He can embody me on screen.

Radcliffe was unfamiliar with Yankovic’s work as a child, but became a fan when he started dating American actress Erin Darke 10 years ago, as her family consisted of super fans. “I became quite obsessed,” he says. “My favorite songs from him are the originals, and I love the polkas.”

He even learned to play the accordion before filming began. “I learned a lesson from Al,” he says. “It’s something I can take to my grave.”

The cast has been expanded with OfficeRainn Wilson as Dr. Demento, Toby Huss as Al’s father, and Evan Rachel Wood as Madonna. “Evan was amazing,” Appel says. “I said to him and to Daniel, ‘I don’t want these to be impersonations or caricatures of ‘Weird Al’ or Madonna. These should be your version of these people one or two clicks away. reality. ‘”

A much more difficult task was finding a studio willing to fund such a far-fetched idea. “It was kind of like the early 80s, when I got my record deal,” Yankovic explains. “We bought it everywhere. Everyone was like, ‘Oh, that’s great. It’s funny. It’s good. It’s not for us.

“It’s not like it’s a very low-budget independent film,” he continues. “And it’s not a multi-million dollar budget Marvel movie. It falls in the middle. It’s something that I think a lot of people are going to enjoy, but it’s just hard ground. was a tough sell.

They eventually got a bite out of Roku, as the digital media company was looking for a project to serve as their first original film, and Appel had a good working relationship with head of original content Colin Davis, dating back to his days at Quibi. Roku’s proposed budget, however, was far below anything the co-writers had anticipated. Once all the numbers were calculated, they realized they would only have 18 days to shoot the whole thing.

“I would have loved to film for twice as much time as we had,” says Appel. “But I come from the TV world. I know how to go fast. I knew how to save our time and our shots, and how to make the most of it, and make our little movie that was shot in 18 days look like it was shot twice as much.

Also on their side were Yankovic’s well-deserved reputation as one of the nicest guys in the business, and his long list of friends in comedy willing to do just about anything to help him. . This is most evident during a parody pool party scene boogie nights, where Conan O’Brien, Jack Black, Jorma Taccone, Demetri Martin, Akiva Schaffer, Paul F. Tompkins and Emo Phillips all appear in cameos in the blink of an eye and you’ll miss it, playing cultural icons like Andy Warhol, Wolfman Jack, Tiny Tim and Paul Reubens (Peewee Herman).

“I’ll never forget being at base camp at the start of the day and watching them arrive one by one and see each other,” says Appel. “It was at a time during the pandemic when people weren’t really together much. These people hadn’t seen each other in a long time, so it was a very, very fun atmosphere with lots of laughs.

Another surprise was the massive attention the shoot garnered in the mainstream press and social media. Paparazzi hung around the set trying to get a photo of Radcliffe in character, and he was bombarded with questions about the film during promotion The lost city earlier this year. “We felt bad,” Appel says. “Al and I emailed Dan and we were like, ‘I hope you don’t have any problems because there are so many questions about this.’

“It was announced around the same time as HBO Harry Potter reunion special,” adds Radcliffe. “And I got so many other texts about it. Since I’ve known so many comedy nerds, my social circle was more like, ‘Oh, my God. I can’t believe this is happening.

Initially, it was feared that the film would struggle to find an audience as it is not distributed by any of the major streamers. “On my Twitter timeline, I kept saying, ‘Oh, I’m not paying for another streaming service,'” Yankovic explains. “It’s free! Go ahead, and there it is! But once it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, rave reviews started pouring in and those fears started to dissipate. He just hopes the public is ready to follow the mad dash.

“Like my songs, I wanted it to start off pretty normal, so people are like, ‘Wait, is this real? “” he said. “And then in the second act, it’s just pure madness. We wanted people to always think, ‘Wait, did this really happen?’ »

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