Why ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic Biopic Required a ‘Very Toned Down’ Approach to 1980s Fashion

TheWrap magazine: “Al didn’t want it to be over-the-top, the actors could do that on their own,” costume designer Wendy Benbrook says

Daniel Radcliffe in Roku's "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story"
Daniel Radcliffe in "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story" (Roku)

This story about the costume design of “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” first appeared in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

Roku’s “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” is far from a true story—yet even within a zany universe in which Madonna is captured by Pablo Escobar, you still have to be true to the time period. And if your subject, one of the most beloved parodists of all time, is also a writer and producer on the project, you’ve got to nail the details. “Al wanted it to feel really normal and natural and not too pumped up,” “Weird” costume designer Wendy Benbrook said. “He didn’t want it to be over-the-top. The actors could do that on their own.”

But on a fairly modest budget, how do you create the looks of dozens of actors, like Jack Black as Wolfman Jack, Quinta Brunson as Oprah Winfrey, Conan O’Brien as Andy Warhol and, in an inspired casting choice, Evan Rachel Wood channeling the aforementioned Madonna as Yankovic’s fictitious paramour?

“I am a master of down and dirty and quick,” Benbrook said. “I’ve never had this much research in my life. I’m really good at being over-the-top, but I’m also very good at toning it down. And I do feel like the fashion in this was very toned down.”

Benbrook knows comedy, having worked as a costume designer on both “MADtv” and FXX’s “You’re the Worst.” Director Eric Appel tapped her to join “Weird” after crossing paths early on at Funny or Die. But to make the movie work, they knew they didn’t have to be slavish to the figures of this era to pull it off.

Quinta Brunson Oprah Winfrey Weird Al Yankovic Story
Quinta Brunson (L) as Oprah Winfrey and Daniel Radcliffe (R) as Weird Al in Roku’s “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.” (Victoria Gaffney/Roku)

“We took some liberties, like for Oprah, I would have a collection of clothes. Oprah never wore what Quinta was wearing, but she wore that style—like, big shoulders and little cowboy boots and things.” For Madonna, Benbrook studied the singer’s different ’80s looks, eventually settling on the mid-’80s “Desperately Seeking Susan” period. But some of the most challenging conversations about wardrobe focused on the “Like a Surgeon” and “I Love Rocky Road” creator, not least because Radcliffe is significantly shorter than Yankovic.

“You couldn’t do (alterations) trying to make him look taller,” said Benbrook, who has also worked as a real-life tour designer for such musicians as KISS and Rod Stewart. “But we’d try to make his legs look a little longer. And we didn’t want the pants to be baggy down at the bottom, so we’d crop them.”

Radcliffe was game all the way, even when Benbrook had her doubts about what he was wearing—like the slinky lounging robe he wears while answering the door in one scene. “That robe was, just for a minute, the bane of my existence,” she said. “My sister, one of my shoppers, was great and she got all these robes. I gave her a few that I found, and then Daniel does the fitting, and I go, ‘It’s too short!’ And he was like, ‘Oh my god, I love that!’ Of course, it’s the one that I did not want him to put on, and why did they show it to him? But he ended up loving it.”

And of course, there was no shortage of Yankovic’s signature Hawaiian shirts. “There’s actually a picture on my Instagram of me digging into this giant box of Hawaiian shirts,” Benbrook said, noting that many of the costumes are recreations or reimaginings of pre-existing looks. The one exception was the red leather jacket that Yankovic wore in his “Eat It” video. “In the film, one of my assistants was dressed as an assistant,” she said. “And there’s a scene where she handed (Daniel) the red jacket. That was the real jacket Al lent to us to use. I was totally prepared to find a good version of that jacket and have it all dolled up. That was amazing.”

This story about “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” first appeared in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.