In 2010, at a time where sketch comedy and parody videos dominated YouTube, online production company and website Funny or Die released a trailer entitled Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Designed to parody indulgent drama movies and dramatized movies based on a true story, the trailer depicted Aaron Paul as the talented but tortured accordion-armed artist.
Written by Eric Appel, who returned to write and direct the 2o22 comedy movie, he tells us that there were talks about the trailer becoming a fully-fledged movie back in the 2010s.
“Back then, I think Aaron Paul, Olivia Wilde [who were in the original trailer] and I had a conversation about this would be really cool if this was actually a movie,” he said in an exclusive interview with The Digital Fix. “But Al and I talked and we said, you know, I think it might just work better as a three-minute sketch.”
However, both Appel and Yankovic himself seemed to underestimate just how popular that parody trailer was, and continued to be over the years. “Al played it at his concerts during costume changes over the course of 10 years,” Appel recalled, “And after every show, people would come up to him and ask, ‘How can I see this movie? Is this movie real?'”
It looks like Weird Al fans’ adoration of a potential biopic of the musician played on Yankovic’s mind, as in February 2019, nearly a decade on from the original trailer’s release, Appel recalls “randomly getting an email out of the blue” from Al.
“We hadn’t talked about the movie in the trailer and so long,” he said. “And [Al] was just like, ‘It’s time.'” As Appel himself pointed out, early 2019 was an era where “biopics were kinda back in the zeitgeist,” with Rami Malek winning an Academy Award for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, while the trailer for Rocketman, an Elton John musical with Taron Egerton, had also just dropped around the same time.
“I didn’t even get to the end of the email,” Appel laughed. “I was already like, ‘Yes, I’m in!’ I immediately wrote him back. I think we met for coffee the following morning and already started batting ideas around.” The pair agreed that while they’d both take on writing duties, Appel would direct, while Yankovic also came on board as one of the producers.
“You know, it’s funny,” Appel said. “I grew up such a fan of [Al] — he’s responsible for shaping the kind of comedy that I’m into as an adult. So it was a really fun writing process with him, we were really in line with each other […] our sensibilities are very similar.”
Unsurprisingly, the rare moments in the writing process where Appel and Yankovic did clash occurred when the latter tried to make the film just that little bit too weird.
“We play it like a very straight biopic, that’s where the comedy comes from,” Appel explained. “[It comes from] the absurdity of playing some of these things very straight. And whenever we would get to a joke, [there was] those moments where something was a little too big, and it would take us out of the reality that we were trying to create.”
“The movie,” he added, “is sort of grounded in its own absurd reality, and there are just certain things that would, you know, break it out of that. Those are the things that we kind of butted heads about, but overall, it was a smooth writing process.”
Once the script was perfected, there was only one job left: finding the perfect Weird Al to portray the musician on-screen. After a long casting process, they decided on former Harry Potter cast member Daniel Radcliffe, who had shown himself to be a talented comedian through TV series like Miracle Workers as well as dark comedies like Swiss Army Man, where he played a magical farting corpse.
“We wanted to create these bizarre versions of characters that exist, like, a couple of clicks away from reality,” Appel explained. “And while [Daniel Radcliffe] is playing Weird Al, he’s sort of playing his own version of Wierd Al.” Radcliffe, the director added, “was incredible to work with. So professional, so he really put so much into this character and really, really cared.”
@thedigitalfix1 From @funnyordie to @roku – #weirdthealyankovicstory director Eric Appel told us how he and #weirdalyankovic made the movie happen… #funnyordie #alyankovic#fialyankoviciffe #fyp #viral #danielradcliffeedit #danielradcliffetiktok #danielradcliffesupremacy #comedy #parody #parodysong #biopic #biopicmovies ♬ Made You Look – Meghan Trainor
In fact, Radcliffe was so committed to getting Weird Al right, he even learned how to play the accordion — and asked none other than the man himself for lessons. Appel recalled, “From our very first conversation, I think maybe a year and a half before we actually filmed, one of the first things he said to Yankovic was, ‘Can you teach me accordion? How can I start learning the accordion?'” Radcliffe was so committed, Appel added, that he started learning the accordion before the movie was even greenlit. “That’s the kind of dedication he brought to the project,” he said.
Now, three years and a pandemic later, Wierd: The Al Yankovic story is available to watch on streaming service The Roku Channel. To hear more about our thoughts on the movie, check out my review for it here.