At various points in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, we see the legendary parody artist callously stubbing a burning cigarette into the hand of a record label executive, nearly die from substance addiction (only to be shocked back to life by a surgeon portrayed by Lin-Manuel Miranda) and, most surprisingly of all, enter into a secret relationship with Madonna.
A normal biopic this ain’t, but an entirely on-brand depiction of the man who has memorably sent up the likes of Madonna, Michael Jackson, Nirvana and Lady Gaga throughout his career. While Weird Al previously explored the big screen in 1989’s cult classic UHF, the latest film sees him offer a merciless and hilarious take on the tortured biopic tropes (addiction, disapproving parents) that do their best to vie for awards glory every year.
The project began life as a Funny Or Die skit starring Aaron Paul in 2010, before the success of films such as Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman prompted Yankovic to consider whether the genre was ripe for a full-length parody.
At the centre of the film, in a seemingly unlikely turn, is Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe as Weird Al himself. It is, by some distance, his funniest post-Potter role — with the actor evidently relishing the role as Weird Al’s apparent life gets increasingly weird. By the time the film reaches its apex of silliness during a Colombian cartel shootout, you feel like it is destined to become a late night stoner classic.
For Radcliffe, the role fits perfectly into his post-Potter career. When that franchise ended, he made a conscious decision to pick roles that no one would expect. This has meant a surreal turn as a farting corpse in 2016’s Swiss Army Man and, at the other end of the spectrum, real life political prisoner Tim Jenkin in 2020’s thrilling Escape From Pretoria. Playing Al Yankovic, it turns out, was not the weird decision it seems.
“I said after Potter that my mission was just to become an actor who does interesting stuff where you’ll think ‘Ah, not everything will be amazing, but there will be something interesting or different about it,'” Radcliffe explains over Zoom. “I feel like I’ve gone a long way to having that and that makes me really happy. The fact my weird career made people think I was right for this, that’s just lovely.”
The evolution of his career also appears to be in marked contrast to comments made by late Harry Potter co-star Alan Rickman, who said of Radcliffe in his recently published diaries: “I still don’t think he’s really an actor but he will undoubtedly direct/produce.”
“Alan was absolutely right though!” says Radcliffe. “The night when he wrote those comments, I can remember it. I was still a long, long way from being an actor in that third film, but he always took so much time with me. When I was doing plays years later he’d come and talk to me after them. He could see that I wasn’t there but I wanted to be, and he would help. The fact he said that about me being a producer or director is deeply flattering. Alan was just the kindest person to me.”
Meanwhile, Weird Al says that Radcliffe’s choice of roles first put the actor on his radar. “We admired his choices of roles post-Potter,” says Yankovic. “Granted he’s not a physical doppelganger of me, but he was cast because we thought he’d be able to nail the tone we needed. It’s obviously a comedy, but we’re not playing it like one. We’re playing it like an Oscar worthy biopic and we needed someone who could own the funny and the dramatic moments. We knew Dan would get it off the bat and he just completely nailed it.”
There is added pressure to the role for Radcliffe, too. While he is a casual fan of ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, his long-term girlfriend, actress Erin Darke, and her family are Weird Al superfans. “Her, her dad, and her brother are obsessive fans,” he says. “They’ve been to multiple concerts and play his songs on road trips and every Christmas. I did have a moment where I was scared what would happen if it was bad. My order of priorities of who I want to like the film were Al, Eric [Appel, director], and then Erin’s family!”
Even if the film’s funniest moments are sure to go down well with Radcliffe’s in-laws, Yankovic recalls how the initial trailer – which arrived earlier this year – saw some failing to grasp the whole concept. “I’ve heard of people who have said ‘I thought Al was a nice guy! But he’s burnt someone’s hand with a cigarette!’ That’s always the case, there’s always going to be someone who assumes it’s true, no matter how ridiculous it is.”
One person that Yankovic is hoping sees the funny side of the film, however, is Madonna. A central moment sees the Queen of Pop, portrayed by Evan Rachel Wood, entering into a tempestuous frisson with Yankovic when he briefly becomes the biggest artist in the world. “I haven’t heard anything about the film from her! It’s probably not even a blip on her radar, but if she ever does find out about it, I hope she does have a sense of good humour about it. It’s all obviously done in good fun.”
And for Radcliffe, the experience has left him with lasting memories of one of his strangest shoots to date. “Every day was insanely fun. Some were nerve wracking because he had so much to get done, but there was something so special about being able to step back and just go ‘we should enjoy this. It’s so short, so crazy, but a special atmosphere. Whether that’s getting shocked back to life by Lin-Manuel Miranda or facing a drug cartel, it’s been so much fun.”
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is available on The Roku Channel from 4 November 2022.