Zachary Levi talks turning down, then taking the role of Shazam!
No one is as excited to be a superhero as Zachary Levi. He starts out our group interview on the set of Shazam! saying, “How f***ing dope is this s**t?” to a roar of laughs; but this isn’t an act, he’s genuinely stoked to be here, and to be the title hero. Tracking his journey there though, takes a bit of dialing back.
“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, so my first reaction is, ‘Why the hell are they sending me this right now?…Aren’t they looking for big stars or big guys?’”
That in mind, Levi originally passed on the role, saying at the time he thought it might have been a waste of time to go out for a role he would never get.
“This doesn’t seem like I’ve got a shot at getting this job, to be perfectly honest,” he told his agents at the time.
“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 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?”
After that, Levi says his tone changed and he started thinking about getting the role and what that could mean for him. Six days after that he did a camera test for the role, and one day later got the call from director David F. Sandberg that he was Shazam. A hundred different people read for the part as Sandberg recalled, and one that turned them down was given the part.
“It was gnarly. It was insane,” Levi recalled.
For Levi though, it felt familiar, having previously auditioned for major parts in other comic book movies…namely going out for Guardians of the Galaxy.
“It was oddly, or ironically, reminiscent of when I was camera testing for Star-Lord. 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.”
For the role, Levi may look the part of a mighty hero capable of smashing cars, pummeling bad guys, throwing lightning, and flying; but he also has to embody the spirit of Billy Batson, Shazam’s 14-year-old alter ego played by Asher Angel.
“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 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.”
This isn’t Levi’s first forray into heroics, even just beyond auditioning. He previously played Fandral of The Warriors Three in Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok, where he was unceremoniously killed off by Cate Blanchett’s Hela. That sudden exit, after only two minor appearances, didn’t give Levi any pause for signing up for another superhero movie.
“If you are looking at the titular role of a movie, I don’t think you’re as afraid you are as dispensable,” Levi said when asked about this. “I’m the Earth’s mightiest mortal. What the hell are they going to do to me?”
The truth is, thanks to getting killed off in the third Thor movie, Levi was able to take the role and become the DCEU’s newest hero.
“Let’s say Fandral was still alive and let’s say they tapped me to be in Avengers: Infinity War, I’d probably be sitting in Atlanta for three months doing almost nothing and then they’d be, ‘Okay, now we’re ready for you. You guys go in,’ And then we’d get killed then.”
Death in one universe means life in another, and for that, Levi is grateful.
“This is the coolest thing ever. I’m so happy. And, literally to be able to jump start 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.”
Shazam! opens in theaters on April 5.