Evan Rachel Wood is an actress of many talents. Having been acting since a child, Wood rose to fame as Tracy in Catherine Hardwicke’s 2003 drama Thirteen. Since then, she’s been Westworld’s Dolores, voiced Queen Iduna in Frozen II and released her own music while also being a prominent voice in the #MeToo movement.
She now brings us the role she says she has been preparing for her whole life: Madonna in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. We chat to the actress about playing a version of Madonna and the pressure that comes with it.
Were you already a fan of Al Yankovic?
Oh, yes. My mom loved Weird Al. On our road trips, we used to listen to Weird Al and Cheech and Chong.
I haven’t met anybody that’s not a Weird Al fan. I knew that he was so loved by so many people, but I truly underestimated just how much until doing this film and seeing people come out of the woodwork seeing all the incredible talent and comedians that were like pushing each other out of the way to get in this movie. And then the response afterwards, it’s just insane.
Can I assume that you were also a fan of Madonna’s?
Yeah, I’ve been preparing for this role my whole life.
What was the casting process? I can only assume that the script is quite weird on page as well. So was it a traditional audition?
I didn’t actually audition. I had done a couple of things with Funny or Die and some episodes of Drunk History. There were a lot of similar people that were involved with Weird Al. They just sent me the script and I opened up an email that said, ‘You’ve been offered the role of Madonna.’ And I just burst out laughing because I just wasn’t really expecting that, especially since I hadn’t auditioned. But it really worked out and I really love doing comedy. I just don’t often get asked to do it.
How does it differ from what you normally do? From something like Westworld, for example, which is very heavy?
Yes, I did look at Dan Radcliffe at one point during filming and go ‘Oh, no, I’m only going to want to do comedies now.’ Is this what it’s like? You guys just show up and make each other laugh all day and then go home. You don’t gotta get dragged through the mud or cry or scream or anything? This is great. It was a nice change of pace. As much as I love Westworld, this was very different.
Was the set a really fun place to be then?
It was ridiculously fun every day. We shot the film in 18 days. It was a passion project for everybody that was there. We kept saying when we were on the set, if you’re not having fun doing this, what are you doing? Why are you here? Because it should be fun.
Did you have rehearsals?
We didn’t, it all happened very quickly. I just took time before shooting to watch as many Madonna interviews as I could, watch her videos, try to get her mannerisms and the cadence of her voice down. I think I had dinner with Dan and the director the night before we started shooting. And then we just showed up on set and just jumped right in and started doing it.
Was Al very involved? Did he tell you any good stories?
Al was on set every day. I would always see him out of the corner of my eye, he was always just kind of popping up, kept his distance, maybe not to make us nervous. But it did feel like a safety net, having him there. Obviously we were doing something right if he was happy and nothing was getting flagged. It kind of made things a little easier, knowing that he was approving everything.
You and Daniel Radcliffe, you have a very playful chemistry. How did you work on that?
Dan and I just hit it off right away, I think. Because we’re both child actors, there’s this unspoken understanding that we have with one another, like, ‘Oh, you also grew up in the circus.’ There’s things that you get. And I think, because we both grew up on film sets, we just immediately knew what to do. And were very quick and proficient and prepared. He’s a great guy, super funny.
Madonna is iconic. Does that bring pressure?
Absolutely. Even though it was a comedy and a parody, I still wanted to do her justice. And I still want it to be convincing. I did take it quite seriously. And Eric, the director, was like, it’s a version of Madonna, it can be our version of Madonna. And I was like, ‘I’m gonna give you my best Madonna’.
I think that’s one of the things that makes the film so funny is that everybody is fully committed and in some cases gave very dramatic performances in a completely ridiculous setting.
What was your research of Madonna?
Madonna has evolved and changed so much. So I really focused on the early 80s, when she was first coming on the scene. I watched all of her interviews, all the videos, all the performances. So I could just incorporate little isms into everything that I was doing. And of course, by the end of the film, when we’re way off the rails, this is a Madonna that exists in some other dimension where Weird Al is as famous and powerful as the Beatles. So we could take some liberties.
Is there still some kind of responsibility to portray in these people correctly?
Yes and no. I think more in the beginning of the film, when my character is first introduced, I really wanted to sell the audience on me as Madonna right away. I was like, if I can hook them in that first scene, then I have room later on to just go in a completely different direction. So it was a little bit of both.
Did you guys talk about the fact that maybe people will believe that this was actually what happened?
Absolutely, yes. And in some cases we let them believe that. We’ve been interviewed a few times by some people that definitely did not know that it was a parody and wanted to know all about Weird Al and Madonna’s intimate relationship. And apparently, it’s the most googled thing about Madonna and Weird Al now, did they actually date.
It’s a parody of a music biopic. Was that something that really attracted you to this in the first place?
Yes, it just made perfect sense. It took the pressure off a little bit because I don’t know if I could play Madonna in a Madonna biopic, but I can absolutely play Madonna in a Weird Al parody.
You’ve already had quite a busy year with Westworld, this and you’ve had a documentary out. Do you like being busy?
I do sometimes prefer fast moving productions, maybe because I grew up on indie film sets. I definitely need time to recharge. I am a bit of a recluse and can get burnt out pretty easily. It might seem like I’m always doing something, I don’t feel like I am. But I do perform and sing a lot as well. And that actually feels more like recharging than working to me.
What do you want people to take away from the film?
There’s not like one general message that we’re trying to give people with this. I want people to have some relief and to laugh and to have a great time watching it. I think there is an underlying message of being yourself and being as weird as you want to be.
Al has been like the beacon of weird for so long and just showing people that you can be as successful as Madonna, or another very famous artist that I’m not going to name right now, by just being yourself and being as weird as possible. You don’t have to go with the crowd, that’s what he’s always taught people. I think that’s what this movie says as well.
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story will stream on The Roku Channel from 4 November