Daniel Radcliffe to play Weird Al Yankovic in new biopic
By Eduardo Medina
For years, actors have challenged themselves by disappearing into portrayals of famous musicians. Think Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash. Don Cheadle as Miles Davis. Jennifer Lopez as Selena.
To that list, the Roku streaming service is adding an unconventional pairing. Daniel Radcliffe, who has been stretching after growing up as Harry Potter in eight movies, will star in a biopic for one of the strangest and most popular musicians of all time: Weird Al Yankovic.
Weird Al, whose real name is Alfred Matthew Yankovic, said in a statement that he had vowed to his fans to “release a major motion picture every 33 years, like clockwork.” His last film, “UHF,” a box office bomb that turned into a cult classic, was released in 1989.
“I’m very happy to say,” he said, “we’re on schedule.”
Production on the film, which will be available exclusively on the Roku Channel, is set to begin in Los Angeles in early February. A release date has not been announced.
The film is Roku’s latest effort to increase its original streaming content and attract new viewers as it competes with other streaming giants, such as Netflix and Hulu, which often finance films to run exclusively on their platforms.
Roku is often associated with its popular line of devices that allows subscribers to stream to their TVs. The Roku Channel, introduced in 2017, is free on those devices but also available on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast and other platforms.
The film will be produced by Tango and Funny Or Die, which created a spoof Weird Al biopic in 2013. Aaron Paul, of “Breaking Bad” fame, played the mustachioed, accordion-playing parodist.
This time, however, the star playing 62-year-old Yankovic will be 32-year-old Radcliffe, who has sought out roles starkly different from that of the boy wizard Harry Potter.
In the 2016 fanciful comedy “Swiss Army Man,” he played a man who, as the title suggests, can perform multiple odd tasks as a corpse, such as passing gas to operate his body like a Jet Ski on water.
The Weird Al movie, titled “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” will explore “every facet of Yankovic’s life,” from his early life as a shy, nerdy teen to his “torrid celebrity love affairs and famously depraved lifestyle,” according to a statement from Roku.
Yankovic’s enduring appeal over four decades has made him one of the music industry’s most successful and odd artists in memory. He is one of only five artists to have had a Top 40 single in each of the past four decades. (The others include Michael Jackson and Madonna, the subjects of some of his earliest and most enduring parodies.)
A private and quiet man offstage, he has delighted fans with absurd, bombastic covers of hit songs like “Party in The CIA,” a parody of “Party in The USA” by Miley Cyrus, and “Eat It,” a twist on Jackson’s “Beat It.”
He engages with fans who share his sense of humor. Just a month ago, he posted a photo on Instagram showing a newspaper with the headline “Accordion player chopped up friend who criticized his tunes.”
Yankovic said in his statement that he was “absolutely thrilled that Daniel Radcliffe will be portraying me in the film.”
“I have no doubt whatsoever that this is the role future generations will remember him for,” he said.
There was already plenty of chatter on social media after the movie’s announcement Tuesday morning. Some said it had the potential to unite the country. Others described the news as “sexy” and the “2022 news we needed.” One person demanded that the film be six hours long.
Colin Davis, the head of original scripted planning at Roku, said in a statement that “there clearly aren’t enough biopic movies about famous musicians and we were excited to shine a light on the incredibly true, unexaggerated story of Weird Al.”
The script was written by Yankovic and Eric Appel, who is also directing the film and is an executive producer on the project.
Appel said that when Yankovic sat him down “against his will” and proceeded to tell him his life story, “I didn’t believe any of it, but I knew that we had to make a movie about it.”
Appel directed the Roku Channel TV action series “Die Hart,” starring comedian Kevin Hart.
In a New York Times Magazine article from 2020, Yankovic said that he was often ignored and bullied as a child and sought out music and comedy for comfort.
A friend of his recalled how after performing to a crowd early in his career, his face “was glowing like Chernobyl melting down.”