Seattleite Rainn Wilson remembers when he first heard a song by “Weird Al” Yankovic on the Dr. Demento radio show not long after his family moved to Chicago when Wilson was 16.
“I remember hearing ‘Another One Rides the Bus’ [to the tune of ‘Another One Bites the Dust’] and just being stunned and flabbergasted at how brilliant and funny that was,” says Wilson, known for his role as Dwight Schrute on “The Office.” “I think someone came in the lunch room and had recorded it [off the radio] and played it on their boom box and of course it was on cassette back then. … [Weird Al] gives you permission to be a really immature teenager and I think that’s why he’s lasted so long over so many generations.”
Wilson co-stars in “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” which debuted on the free, ad-supported streaming Roku Channel on Nov. 4.
Although that title brings to mind a biopic, Wilson cautions this is not a true story.
“As ‘Airplane!’ was a sendup for disaster movies, ‘Weird’ is a sendup for biopics,” Wilson says. “It happens to be about a real, live person, but pretty much none of what’s in the movie happened to Weird Al. It’s complete fantasy, an alternate reality where Weird Al is the most famous rock star in the world due to his genius discovery of using different lyrics for other people’s hit songs.”
Daniel Radcliffe, star of the Harry Potter films, plays Yankovic in “Weird,” which Yankovic co-wrote with the film’s director, Eric Appel (“Die Hart”). Yankovic appears in “Weird” as a record company executive and the film was inspired by a 2010 Funny or Die trailer for a then-nonexistent Weird Al biopic.
In that 2010 short, Patton Oswalt played Dr. Demento. He has a small cameo in “Weird,” but Wilson says Oswalt wasn’t available for the larger role of Dr. Demento.
“I did text Patton and said, ‘Thank you for allowing me to take on the mantle of Dr. Demento,’ and he wished me well, a passing of the torch,” Wilson says.
Although his appreciation for the real Dr. Demento dates back to his teen years, Wilson has never met him.
“I’ve played characters before that are real people and I don’t want to meet them. I want to play the sense of them,” Wilson says. “I don’t want to play them and have lists of dos and don’ts on who they are and how they act, so I haven’t met the great doctor. But I hope to.”
One true element in “Weird” is the mentor-mentee relationship between Dr. Demento and Weird Al.
“But it was not remotely close to the way it is in the movie. Dr. Demento in real life does not throw pool parties filled with celebrities,” Wilson says. “What was important for me is to get the essence of what was needed for the movie from him: a mentor, someone who loves him, who is witness to his rise and Icarus-like fall. Demento is there to take it all in.”
In addition to being a fan of Weird Al from his teen years forward, Wilson met Yankovic years before filming “Weird.” They even starred together in a 2007 skit for “The Tonight Show” where Wilson toilet-papered a house that supposedly belonged to Yankovic. Wilson said Thomas Lennon (“Reno 911”), a good friend of Yankovic’s, invited Wilson to a live Weird Al show.
“For those who haven’t seen Weird Al live, it is astonishing,” Wilson says. “He puts on the best show since Elvis. He does costume changes, he does dance moves, he’s sweating — he gives it his all.”
Wilson attended Shorecrest High School through his sophomore year before moving east. Prior to Shorecrest, he attended Kellogg Middle School and Lake Forest Park Elementary.
“In that time, I was magically remembered as the kid who was on the chess team, the model United Nations, the debate club, the computer club and I played bassoon in the orchestra and xylophone in the marching band,” Wilson says. “I was busy — a busy loser!”
Nowadays he’s a busy actor, starring earlier this year in the first season of “Dark Winds” (he doesn’t think his character, used car salesman Devoted Dan, will return in season two). Wilson is currently filming Apple TV+’s 2023 drama series “Lessons in Chemistry,” based on the Bonnie Garmus novel and starring Brie Larson as a 1950s scientist who becomes the host of a TV cooking show. Wilson plays an antagonistic TV station manager.
And he’s wrapped filming “Rainn Wilson and the Geography of Bliss,” a six-episode Peacock docuseries expected to premiere next year that follows Wilson as he travels the world investigating what makes people happy. Did he find the Respond to what brings happiness?
“I haven’t found it yet because we haven’t finished editing the shows,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve got to see the final Carve and what we land on.”