When you watch the Shazam! trailers or TV spots, you can’t help but notice how great Zachary Levi looks in the role of Shazam. As he interacts with the younger cast, or gets in on the action, you feel like you’re watching someone who is absolutely having the time of his life playing a 14-year-old superhero. However, when the studio first asked him about playing Shazam, he said no. That’s because he figured Warner Bros. was going to go after a big name star, or someone built like Dwayne Johnson. But as time went on, he went in for a different role and the studio again came back at him about Shazam. At this point he realized that he really had a chance at landing a big comic book movie (he’d previously gone after playing Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy) and absolutely wanted it. Cut to a few days later, after doing a camera test, he landed the role.
Last year, when Shazam! was filming in Toronto, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters. During a group interview with Zachary Levi, he shared the great story about how he landed the part and why it’s a dream role, why it was a good thing his Marvel character Fandral was killed off in Thor: Ragnarok, how Shazam! absolutely takes place in the DCEU, what it’s like getting to play a superhero that actually has unabashed enthusiasm, and a lot more.
Scripted by Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo) from a story by Gayden and Darren Lemke (Goosebumps), Shazam! tells the story of a 14-year-old boy named Billy who, when he shouts the word “SHAZAM!”, can turn into an adult superhero. Asher Angel plays the boy, while Zachary Levi plays the adult Shazam. It breakout Jack Dylan Grazer plays Billy’s best friend Freddy Freeman. Shazam! also stars Djimon Hounsou, Mark Strong, Grace Fulton, Faithe Herman, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Cooper Andrews, and Marta Milans.
Check out what Zachary Levi had to say below. Shazam! opens in theaters on April 5th.
Question: You are a huge nerd, so when you get a script that has “Shazam” at the top, what was your reaction? Did you think, “This was made for me or…”
ZACHARY LEVI: No, as a matter of fact. I guess I can go into this first, because you guys are the audiences to start this with. The truth is I had an appointment slip set up about two months before I got the job. My agency sent me an appointment slip for the role of Shazam in the movie Shazam. 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. So, I emailed them back and I said, “Aren’t they looking for big stars or big guys?” There was kind of a non-committal, “We’re not really sure.” So, I said, “Well, I think I’m going to pass because I think that might be a waste of time. This doesn’t seem like I’ve got a shot at getting this job, to be perfectly honest.”
Then some time went by. I was reading other things or looking at other things. It came back around. I got another audition for a completely different role. I had no idea exactly what the role was, but they were sides that were written specifically for auditions. I was like, “OK, there’s one scene where I felt I could probably portray this character.” I put myself on tape. That was sent to the creative team. Then, I get a call from my agent and they said, “Hey, so, what about that role of Shazam that you passed on two months ago, because they think you actually might be very right for this?” Then, at that point, I got very happy. But I was also still kind of confused. I camera tested probably five days later, or six days later. Then, the next day, I found out that David called me. I was at the gym. I think that was a peut pro. I got a call from David, who said, “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. It’s odd, too, because I’ve done so many things. My particular energy has gotten me into a lot of incredible jobs like Chuck, like Tangled, like Alvin and the Chipmunks or whatever. It’s always something that’s got a lot of heart to these characters. There was definitely a part of me that felt like, “Oh, maybe I’m never really going to have my shot at something like this because you need to be, I don’t know, one of the Chrises.” I don’t know, either starting super-ripped or super-moody or super-sexy, whatever that is. 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.” I couldn’t have prayed or thought about this more. So, there, that’s how I became me… in this.