Weird: The Al Yankovic Story Director Eric Appel On Not Copying Walk Hard And The 'Yankovic Cut' [Exclusive Interview]

As you might assume from the title, "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" chronicles the rise of famed parody songwriter Weird Al Yankovic. In true Weird Al fashion, however, the movie isn't a straightforward biopic like "Bohemian Rhapsody" or "Walk the Line." It certainly takes cues from those kinds of movies as it sends up the career of the accordion master, but director Eric Appel and Weird Al himself ensured that the movie wasn't merely a copycat of the hilarious music biopic parody "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." So there are plenty of surprises in store for Weird Al fans, especially when the movie heads in a completely unexpected direction, taking the parody to the next level in a truly absurd way.

We spoke to director Eric Appel about working with Weird Al on a parody of his own life, including how their comedic approach tried to emulate the spirit of Weird Al's own musical stylings. Plus, Appel reveals some scenes that got left on the cutting room floor, cameos that didn't come together, and just how blown away they were by Daniel Radcliffe's hilariously serious performance. 

'The best hope I had for the project is that people would get fooled into thinking it was a real movie'

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

So I watched "Weird," and man, it is hilarious. It's even better than I hoped it would be. I know Weird Al said recently that he thought that the short trailer that you guys made for Funny or Die was all there would've been for this, but then he changed his mind a few years ago. Was turning the idea into a feature something you always wanted to do before that?

Yeah, when we did the original trailer, the best hope I had for the project is that people would get fooled into thinking it was a real movie. That was my goal. And there was a moment after we made it where I was emailing with Aaron Paul and Olivia Wilde, and it was like, "We should do this, we should really make a movie out of this." Because they were so happy with how the trailer came out. And Al said, "I don't know. I think it works best as a little short," and I kind of just lived with that. "Okay. Yeah, great. It's not like we were ever planning to do it." So I put that idea to bed. Best email I've ever received in my life, February, 2019 when Al was like, "I think it's time."


"Let's make the movie. Let's write it together, you'll direct it." I think the next morning we met for coffee and started batting around ideas.

What was the writing process like with Weird Al, and how long did it take you to get the script polished to a point where you were satisfied with it?

It took maybe half a year to get it. We first came up with an outline. We kind of pitched that around. It happened in several different phases. When it came time to actually really commit to writing the script, maybe it was a month of us meeting up a few times a week, really fleshing out an outline. We had a 20-page written outline for the movie, and then we broke the outline up into small chunks, 20 different chunks. Each represented five to seven pages of the movie. We went off on our own, and I wrote chunk one, five pages, sent it to Al. The next day, he revised those five pages and added the next chunk. Then it bounced back to me, I did a revision of those, and we just kept bouncing it back and forth and revising the entire time.

We were like, "We can't have any ego about this. If you remove something that I put in, it was not meant to be. If you really love it, you could fight for it." So really, it was like, in 20 days we wrote this script. By the time we got to having a complete draft, because we were rewriting it along the way, it felt like the 20th draft of the movie. You know what I mean? We just kept refining it and refining it as we were working on it. We ended up with a really polished script that stayed pretty true to what the movie ended up being right from the jump.

'We drew as much inspiration from Boogie Nights and Forrest Gump as we did from The Doors and Bohemian Rhapsody'

How did you determine when and how to deviate from doing just what is essentially a straight parody of Weird Al's actual career? Because I love that it turns into a different kind of parody movie at one point. It's completely removed from Weird Al's actual career. I was so surprised when the turn comes, where it "Eat It" is positioned as entirely original song instead of a parody of Michael Jackson's "Beat It." I was like, "Wait, what's going on?"

Yeah, we always laughed at the fact that people that watch this, especially those that don't really know much about Al's life and career, everyone's going to have a different moment in which they realize that it's not true. Some people, maybe it's going to take them — definitely by the time we're in Colombia — but some people it's going to be right away. It's going to be 15 minutes, and it's going to make you question everything that happened previously. It's like, "Oh wait, was any of this real?"

Deviating from the traditional, we just wanted to keep it fresh. If we did a straighter just biopic parody, ["Walk Hard"] already exists. We wanted to make this fresh and unique and surprising. So we had always, from the beginning, kind of threw all facts out the window. And we were like, "Let's take the story beats of a biopic," and not even just a musical biopic. We drew as much inspiration from "Boogie Nights" and "Forrest Gump" as we did from "The Doors" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" and movies like that. We know he's got to hit rock bottom at some point, but let's just do it in the most insane way that's unexpected to audiences. That's how you do a Weird Al movie.

'Al puts a dollop of whipped cream on Madonna's nose and she cold cocks him'

Were there any ideas or scenes that you had that maybe ended up on the cutting room floor or that you just decided weren't going to work in the movie when the time came to actually to shoot?

There was a fun dating montage between Al and Madonna that we ended up, just for time and budget purposes, we had to lose, which was like, they're on tandem bikes, they're feeding bread to ducks, they're drinking a milkshake together in a diner and Al puts a dollop of whipped cream on Madonna's nose and she cold cocks him. Then he's got a steak on his eye, they're at a butcher shop laughing about it. But it was just too much. It would've taken a whole day, a day and change probably, to shoot a sequence that would've ended up being one minute long, so we had to lose it.

The things that got cut after we filmed, it was really jokes or gags that stepped on the tone that we were going for. This movie lives and dies by this tone. It's played very straight. All the performances are super grounded, everyone's playing at the top of their emotional intelligence, and it's going to be these absurd ideas. Almost like a Weird Al song. It sounds just like the real song, but the words are different. We want this to feel emotionally just like a real dramatic biopic, but the words are different. So whenever there was a joke or a gag that we chopped that took you out of the drama of a moment that kind of needed the drama, [we cut it.]

Here's an example. The scene where teenage Al runs out of the house. "I'm leaving." He gets in the fight with his dad, and the dad's like, "Good riddance." We fade away from that. That's the end of the scene, right? You leave on this emotional note. We filmed a version where, after he leaves, the mom comes back in, and she's like, "What is all this noise? What happened? Where's Alphie?" And the dad says, "He's dead." And she's like, "What?" And then he goes, "To me. He's dead to me." And she's like, "Oh, phew." And it was so funny. We loved it. But it just didn't work in that moment. So hopefully there's a world in which, if the movie's popular enough, maybe Roku will let us release the Yankovic Cut, and we could put all these — because the movie, there are gags like that peppered throughout the whole movie that we filmed that we ended up not using.

'He personally reached out to everyone that did a cameo on the movie'

I also thought it was great that you had Patton Oswalt in the club scene where you introduced Dr. Demento, since he played Dr. Demento in the original short. Is there any reason that you didn't have him reprise the role for the movie?

We wanted this movie to stand on its own outside of the trailer. Aaron Paul was supposed to have a cameo too, actually.


Actually, the cameo that Patton did was supposed to be Aaron. But Aaron tested positive for Covid when he came in to do his fitting.

Oh man.

Which was such a bummer, but we were really happy to get to slide Patton in there. But from the beginning it was like, I don't really want anyone to reprise their roles. It's like you almost have to have everyone back or have no one back.

Yeah. That's fair.

Everyone that was in that trailer, that's theirs. That's theirs, they can have it, keep it. The movie belongs to everyone who's in the movie.

I love all the cameos in this movie. It was crazy to see so many people popping up in bit parts, like Josh Groban coming in as just a waiter. It's so good.

So funny, yeah.

Were there any other comedians or actors that you wanted to get, especially in that pool party scene, which is so good, that you just couldn't get for one reason or another?

Yeah, I think Nick Kroll, at one point, the date didn't work out. He was on something else. Mark Hamill, we went out to for something. And it was, again, I think it was a scheduling thing, the date didn't work out. I was very excited. I was like, "I'm going to have Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker in a scene together."

Would he have played one of the characters who still ended up in the scene, or was it someone completely different?

I honestly don't even remember. There are a lot of characters that kind of came and went. That scene, the pool party, it was partly based on who works for the part. So we changed a couple of characters based on who we had. Yeah, I think, it became Gallagher when it was like, "Oh, it's going to be Paul F. Tompkins." But basically, all of those actors, it was all friends of Al's. He personally reached out to everyone that did a cameo on the movie. It was the people that were on Al's holiday card mailing list. People he's comfortable enough to shoot a text to, and it's amazing how quickly people said yes.

Yeah, I'm sure.

10 minutes later, Al would text me and be like, "We got a yes already. They're doing it."

'It's what makes the movie so special'

You've directed tons of television, including some of the most beloved comedies of the 21st century, but this is your first feature film. How much more challenging is directing a movie than shooting an episode of TV? Was there anything that you learned during this process?

They're such different animals. In TV, it's really truly the writer's medium. You're walking in there, and everything you're doing — you're trying to make a great episode of course, but you're trying to please those who wrote it, who are there with you oftentimes, especially on network comedy shows. You have a little bit more freedom, I've noticed, if you do something like "Silicon Valley," or I directed a couple episodes of "The Afterparty" season 2. You're given a little bit more artistic license when you're doing those. The network shows, which is where I really cut my teeth as a director, you're almost like, you finish a take and you just turn around, and you're like, "So, what should I go tell everyone?"

Making a film, especially one that started with an idea that I had, that I was a producer on it, I was the co-writer, I'm so close to the project, it's just such a different animal. Every choice is mine, ultimately. Our producers and Al gave me that freedom. Al would defer to me for every choice. When we were in editing, he would fight for certain things that I'm like, "I feel like we've got to cut this." But he would always, at the end of the day, [be like], "You're the director. It's your choice. I leave it up to you. I'll get over it." It was such an amazing process. Now I just want to make movies.

Daniel Radcliffe is phenomenal in this movie. Even better than I anticipated. His comedic chops are just fantastic. Playing it straight, he just knows how to do it and still make it funny without seeming he's trying to make it funny. Can you talk about what it was just working with him on this movie and just seeing this performance come out of him?

I'm so glad that you said that about his performance, because that's exactly what I took from it. What the hope was going to be when we went out to him, it was like, we need someone that's a great dramatic actor, but knows comedy really well and isn't going to push comedy. We didn't want anything to feel comedically pushed in his performance. It should all feel super grounded, and that's what makes it funny.

To the extent of how good his performance was, that kind of blew me away. I'd hoped that it would be great. And I was confident that it would be great. But until you see it on its feet, my God. I remember sitting behind a monitor and there's this take, and Dan has tears in his eyes in this scene, and Al and I are turning to each other and we're just like, "What do we ... I mean, I don't know. We didn't expect this." This is a level of commitment that just, it's what makes the movie so special. The performances and everyone just committing so hard to what we were trying to do made it leap off the page. I was sitting in editing, and so many times I would just turn to the editors and say, "I can't believe we got to make this. I can't believe someone let us make this movie. Thank you, Roku." It's insane.

I know you guys were surprised to get Daniel Radcliffe, so I was just curious who was on your shortlist if he happened to turn it down?

Oh my God. Names that were on the short list if Radcliffe turned it down? I can't even remember. Maybe Adam Driver, I think, was somewhere on the list.

Oh, wow.

Yeah. I honestly can't even remember what our shortlist was.

Fair enough. I mean, you ended up with a golden goose anyway with Radcliffe's performance, so that's good.

Yeah, and everyone, our entire cast, was just so incredible. Evan [Rachel Wood's] Madonna was just, again, so committed to this character. So happy with it.

Well, the movie is great, and I hope everyone watches it as soon as it's out.

Awesome. Thanks so much, man.

"Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" is streaming on Roku now.