Set Visit: Zachary Levi on how he became Shazam!, DCEU & character longevity

"How fucking dope is this shit?"

That's how Zachary Levi kicked off our roundtable interview while on the set of SHAZAM! back in April of last year. An understatement for the actor, who is best known for his lead role in the TV series Chuck and as the replacement Fandral in the last two THOR films for Marvel, as well as a stint on Broadway for "She Loves Me". Now, Levi is stepping into the big time with a lead role in the first-ever, big-budget adaptation of SHAZAM! aka Captain Marvel (not to be confused with Marvel's Captain Marvel aka Carol Danvers, which hits theaters one month prior to SHAZAM!...phew), the DC superhero created by artist C.C. Beck and writer Bill Parker in 1939 for Fawcett Comics, which ended up being the most popular superhero of that era (yes, more popular than Superman). This isn't the first time the SHAZAM! has been adapted into a feature film. In fact, he was the first superhero to ever be adapted to film. In 1941, Republic Pictures released ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL. It's okay if you've never heard of it, but it's important to put into perspective that while many audiences today may have no idea who SHAZAM! is, during his introductory years he was actually the most popular and well known.

During our time with Levi he had a natural energy and passion about this role and it really created an infectious environment, even in a short half hour of time with him. If anything convinces me that SHAZAM! could be great, it's Levi. It really feels like he's found a true signature feature role here that fits his personality to a tee. Levi was generous and enthusiastic about all aspects of the film and showed great humility in being a part of it. You don't always get that kind of excitement, but it felt genuine coming from him and most certainly got me more excited about the film.

This was a hell of an opportunity, but not one he initially thought would be right for him when offered to read for the role. "I knew that The Rock had been cast as BLACK ADAM, and, so my first reaction is, 'Why the hell are they sending me this right now?' I emailed them, and I said, 'Hey, aren’t they looking for a) massive stars, or, at the very least, b) someone who is a massive person?' Even as a cursory Captain Marvel person, who knew very little, quite honestly, about the character at that point, I knew enough to know that." Levi passed on the tryout, but when it came back around, he decided to give it a go, although this time reading for a different part and putting himself on tape. The call came back, however, with the studio thinking he'd be best for the lead. From there, he did a screen test and a few days later got a call from director David Sandberg, saying, "You are my Shazam.”

"It was gnarly. It was insane. It was oddly, or ironically, reminiscent of when I was camera testing for Star-Lord in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. I knew that Chris Pratt had also passed on that role. I wanted it so bad. There was definitely a strange thing of, 'Wow. When you are not holding on to something so tightly, if it’s not something you’re dying and dying for, but you can have an unbiased, somewhat clear idea of what you are trying to go after and know that you are just being you, you are bringing your essence…' Ultimately, that’s what I think got me this job. It’s what New Line saw. It’s what Warner Brothers saw. It’s what David saw and Peter Safran saw. They knew they needed to cast someone that could be as exuberant or optimistic or sassy as a 14-year-old boy and dammit, that’s me in a nutshell," says Levi, who had other ideas of where his career was headed prior to SHAZAM! "I always felt like I was more of an every-guy. I felt like I was following in a Tom Hanks kind of trajectory. But then when I realized that we genuinely were making something between Superman and Big, I was like, 'Damn, this is a dream job.'"

Playing the role of SHAZAM! is very different than any other superhero out there, given that it's actually the mind/spirit of a 14-year-old boy (Billy Batson, as portrayed by Asher Angel in his non-Shazam! form) inside the hulking, muscular super-powered body. Save for maybe Spider-Man, SHAZAM! approaches the world from a very different perspective, which was an exciting prospect for Levi. "As a nerd who loved and lived this world for so long, and still do to some level, that I don’t have to restrain myself with the fucking coolness factor, is so great. I have to act so little. I just get to be me on so many levels. It’s great. It’s really, really fun." Although, that's not to say that it doesn't have a few drawbacks. "It’s a pain in the ass doing some of this shit. It’s painstaking. It’s little by little, and little by little, and all the action and how it’s all put together. The suit is very very tight. To be perfectly honest, I can only do number one in it. They have to take the whole thing off to drop a deuce and that’s a pain in the ass. But these are the prices you pay to be a superhero? Fucking sign me up. It’s great."

For those not in the know, which is probably a lot, given that SHAZAM! isn't the household name it was in the '40's (it was actually Captain Marvel, but you get the idea), the character in the comics is imbued with the magical power of SHAZAM when an ancient wizard tells young Billy Batson to say the word SHAZAM! in order to be transformed into the form of a superhero that is made up of six "immortal elders" who make up the word SHAZAM (Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury), which are supposed to comprise the make-up of SHAZAM's power and wisdom. However, the issue of having such wisdom inside the mind of a 14-year-old boy wasn't lost on the filmmakers in order to bring it to life convincingly.

"Essentially, what was settled on is the idea that while some of these powers, or these namesakes and powers – be it Hercules or Atlas or what have you – are a little more evident as Billy is becoming Captain Marvel/Shazam," says Levi about how the magical powers are worked into this superhero framework. "I think some of those are more evident. With the wisdom, it’s not quite as evident. He’s growing into that, I think, a little bit. It’s magic." Levi was certainly immersed in the world of Shazam from his initial casting and addressed the main inspiration for this take on the classic character, which draws from a large stable of content from over half a century. "As soon as I got the job, Geoff Johns sent me a whole bunch of stuff, and some other friends recommended stuff. I wanted to read those to kind of familiarize myself, but, also, see if there were little nuggets or little things. But the truth is The New 52 is really…not canon for this… because this is even different than what The New 52 is."

Another source of inspiration for Levi was Mark Waid and Alex Ross' Kingdom Come, which focused on an older version of Shazam! "I just found that was more inspiration for me than even The New 52 in a lot of ways because we get away with a lot in comics. You get to draw whatever the hell you want and you, as the reader, get to put a real voice in your head to those characters. But in the movies, as an actor, you really have to try and bring that to life in the most realistic way possible. That’s a really weird thing to do when you shoot lightning from your hands. That’s a weird thing to do. Mark [Strong] and I joke back and forth like, 'I guess that’s what it is like to shoot lightning from your…,' when we are acting out because you are making it up as you go. But, how do you balance that with being a real person and more than that, you are supposed to buy that I’m a 14-year-old inside?"

As far as SHAZAM! being connected to the greater DCEU, Levi says it's all connected. "We are definitely within the DCEU world. Everything that has happened… again you should ask the people above me about some of these things. But the bulk of, essentially, I think since MAN OF STEEL, all of that has really happened in our world. Freddy [Freeman, as played by Jack Dylan Glazer] is more the comic book-not just comics-he is the superhero aficionado. That guy is all about it. All of that stuff, theoretically, we could have been watching on the news as it was going down." And, while Levi's Marvel character, Fandral, was killed off in THOR: RAGNAROK, he isn't concerned when asked if the same fate could befall SHAZAM! "No, because I’m the Earth’s mightiest mortal. What the hell are they going to do to me?"

While Levi would've liked a longer and cooler death for Fandral, he's definitely looking on the bright side of that character's fate in the grand scheme of it all. "So, that was a little bit of a bummer but looking back, if I didn’t die, I might still be under contract with Marvel and I never would have been able to get this job. And I say, 'Fuck that.' This is the coolest thing ever. I’m so happy. And, literally to be able to jumpstart my life. I’m healthier and stronger and happier that I’ve ever been in my life. The people I get to work with, on and off screen here, has been tremendous. Also, going back to your question, if you are looking at the titular role of a movie, I don’t think you’re as afraid you are as dispensable. You know what I mean?"

SHAZAM! strikes theaters on April 5th, 2019!


- Everything You Need To Know from our SHAZAM! Set Visit

- Mark Strong on making Dr. Sivana an iconic villain in SHAZAM!

- David Sandberg, Jack Dylan Glazer and Asher Angel on SHAZAM!

Source: JoBlo.com



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