Exclusive: Director Eric Appel Gets Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
Dec 29, 2022
Director/co-writer Eric Appel delivers comedy greatness in his first feature film. Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is a knockdown funny satire and parody of musical biopics. “Weird Al” becomes the greatest musician of all time… in a very specific category, battles Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, and romances a conniving Madonna. Daniel Radcliffe plays Weird Al as the straight man shepherding a loony narrative. An all-star supporting cast of famous actors and comedians join the fun. Evan Rachel Wood nearly steals the show playing Madonna as a villainous seductress.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story began as a 2010 Funny or Die parody movie trailer. Appel discusses how the success of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman enabled a feature adaptation of the short. The ten-year gap allowed he and Weird Al to write a script that captured the short’s humorous beats. The next step was assembling the stellar cast. All the players were friends of Weird Al and agreed without hesitation. Appel comments that Radcliffe, who’s fantastic here, wanted to know why the filmmakers wanted him. He loved the script and jumped at the chance to rock an accordion.
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Appel shot the film in a brief eighteen days. Weird: The Al Yankovic Story was his first feature, but Appel has extensive experience directing television shows such as The Office, New Girl, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. His ability to get big laughs under a time crunch is clearly evident. Appel enjoyed the process tremendously. He hopes the stars they mock have a good sense of humor and aren’t offended by their spoof characterizations.
Adapting the Funny or Die Short to a Feature Film
Talk about the process of taking the Funny or Die short to a feature film.
Eric Appel: There’s a nice ten-year gap between the short and the movie. Al would play the fake trailer at his concerts during wardrobe changes. We always thought it worked well as a three-minute short but didn’t think about turning it into a movie. Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, this whole slate of biopics were coming out. We felt it was the right time to make it feature length. We had all of these beats in the trailer to incorporate into the movie. It sort of gave us a nice template. We wanted to go off the rails. Create something that wasn’t a specific biopic parody. We play off the tropes of biopics. We also wanted a really original, weird, and fun story that would surprise audiences. That was our MO going into the writing process.
The casting is so funny. Radcliffe, Evan Rachel wood as Madonna, Jack Black had me in stitches as Wolfman Jack. How did you get these great comedians and actors for your first feature film?
Eric Appel: (laughs) The Jack Black day was a little intimidating. There was a lot of talent on set that day. We didn’t have a lot of time to film it. We shot the movie in eighteen days. That whole big pool party sequence was half a day. We shot in winter. We didn’t have any sunlight. It was kind of cold out. All those cameos are friends of Al’s. That made it a little bit easier. We had Weird Al on set with us. He introduced me to all these people. We went through Al’s rolodex. Here are all of my friends and acquaintances. Let’s pick and choose who makes sense for each character. It was really exciting to have him text their responses. Al would reach out to everyone directly. Almost everyone was like, of course, yes, I’ll be in your movie Al.
Related: Weird: The Al Yankovic Story Review: A Hilarious Satire of Musical Biopics
Casting Daniel Radcliffe as Weird Al
How familiar was Daniel Radcliffe with Weird Al? Did he have to be convinced to take the role?
Eric Appel: There was no convincing. We sent him the script. We got on a Zoom about a week later. He was like, I love this, I want to do it, the script was great. He was asking why me. Why do you see me in this role? He’s such a great dramatic and comedic actor. All of his post Harry Potter film choices have been so bonkers. We thought he would get the assignment. We really wanted his character to play it straight. We needed someone to turn in a dramatic performance, but get all the humor behind it. Dan was perfect. He plays it so real. He carries all the Harry Potter movies. You are introduced to the Wizarding World through Daniel Radcliffe’s eyes. Now you’re introduced to the Weird World through the same eyes. It works really well.
What is the best and worst day on set of Weird?
Eric Appel: The first day we shot the My Baloney scene. Where he’s staring at the baloney and coming up with the song. It was so funny. We all knew it. We’re making something really unique and fun here. It carried us through the next seventeen days. The worst day… having to say goodbyes, wrapping. I wish we could have shot for another eighteen days. There were some challenges. We had to do stuff really fast. The concert scenes, we had one day to shoot all the performances. The on stage meltdown wasn’t even a full day. But the whole thing was a joyous experience. Everyone had a lot of fun.
You do a great job of spoofing eighties stars. The Pablo Escobar bit was hilarious. Do you expect any blowback from mocking these people? Hopefully no Colombian drug lords are upset…
Eric Appel: (laughs) Yes, the ghost of Pablo Escobar is going to haunt me. I’m not concerned about blowback. I don’t think we’re cruel to anyone. Madonna in our movie plays an archvillain. My hope is that Madonna will see this and find the humor in it. Dan is not playing the real Weird Al. He’s playing a bizarre movie version. That’s how it is with everyone. They’re playing heightened, dramatic, and bizarre biopic versions.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story has an exclusive November 4th premiere on The Roku Channel.
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