LONDON – Without meaning to sound rude, it’s fair to say that DC and Warner Bros. took something of a risk when hiring Zachary Levi to be their new superhero. While evidently perfect for the role of a kid stuck inside a man’s body (that part is a compliment, honest), he’s by no means a box office guarantee, and yet having spent a brief amount of time with him, you realise pretty soon it doesn’t matter one bit. He is Shazam. He talks to us about why he felt he was the perfect fit for the role and what it meant to him when he first put on the costume. He also talks about the film’s nostalgia theme, his training regime, and why he hopes that Shazam may one day get the chance to hang out with some of DC’s other rather iconic characters…
For this role I imagine you had to pile on some pounds – is that something you enjoyed? And have you been able to maintain it afterwards?
When this job kicked off I was already in the gym at that point and getting back into getting healthy and strong and then I got the job and then that amped up to Spinal Tap 11 and I was in the gym five or six days a week, sometimes doing two a day depending on the cardio, eating about 3500-4000 calories a day, and that was one of the biggest things I learned, and I don’t know how I didn’t know that before, but it you actually wanna put on a mass, which I very much wanted to do, you need to consume massive amounts of calories, as they’re all the building blocks that go in to making those muscles. I just thought you went and lifted a lot and somehow that would pump up your muscle and you’d get bigger. So in the first couple of months I put on about 24 pounds.
Like me on holiday.
Lots of Haagen Dazs. Anyway then we went up to Toronto and we started rehearsing filming and all that, but over the last year and a half I have not stopped. Not only do I think it’s important for the role and my journey that I wanted to go on creatively, which is to continue to fill the shoes that are Shazam’s boots if you will, in every way I can physically, but also I’m addicted to it. I don’t know if you have a physical outlet, but the endorphins that kick off in your body genuinely not only make you feel physically better, but mentally and emotionally you feel better, it’s so very important I think. I’m addicted to it, I love it and I’m so grateful for the transformation that I’ve gone through in my life, and I’m grateful that I’m 40 in a few years and I’m probably stronger and healthier now than I’ve ever been in my life, so thank you Warner Bros. for paying me to get into the best shape of my life.
The film reminisces about being younger, harking back to a more simpler time. Even as a self-described fan of modern technology – do you miss those days?
100%. I think we can and should embrace technology because it will continue to progress, it will continue to shape the future, I mean, Black Mirror is one of the greatest bits of programming that has ever been made, ever. I think it should be required viewing for everyone in the world just so we can all have a moment where we go, ‘oh fuck – that can happen’. If we don’t all take a moment, work together and be conscientious about technology, we won’t be able to stop it. We need to learn how to guide it, and the guiding process we’ve been failing. Kids have too much of this [picks up his phone], and not enough out there, and that’s not good for people. It doesn’t mean you take it all away from kids because that’s how they’re going to have jobs in the future. What I can’t wait for is when technology really starts encouraging people to get back outside again. Like for example stuff that I would love to build in the future, is imagine if you were snowboarding for example, or on your bike out in the woods, you’re a kid, and now you can give them an augmented reality headset that tracks all the different things and that kid, while riding their bike, is playing an interactive game. They have triggers on their handlebars and they can pull them, so it’s like an amusement park ride but it’s your own adventure and the programming and algorithms and augmented reality are 100% able to read everything. That’s not gonna not happen, some of this Black Mirror stuff will happen, we just need to make it cool and groovy and post-apocalyptic, with little dog robots that chase us down and we hide in trees? Have you seen that episode?
Anyway… so yeah I think that what we need to learn is that we figure out how to reconnect as people and reconnect into the world and with nature and value all of this, and also embrace technology too, because that’s what is ultimately gonna get us to other planets and all kinds of other groovy shit that I can’t wait for.
You’ve discussed body preparation, but how about your mind preparation? How did you get back into the mindset of a 14 year old?
Well fortunately for me, I have heavily resisted growing up for most of my life. I have always been this big kid, man. I didn’t even have an off switch when I was a kid, I was just constantly wanting to entertain people all the time because I love feeling joy and bringing joy, so whatever that is, that Peter Pan syndrome, that is just what I used the most for this role. But then, I would find myself overthinking things, probably because i’m an adult and I’d be looking at the script and thinking, how would Billy be here? That’s all important but when you’re overthinking that’s when you stop being silly, you lose touch with how to really be that kid. So I would see all the other kids in the movie and they were being complete hooligans, and screwing around and slapping each other in the face, and I was like, what are you doing? Then I realised I should be that, this is what they’re doing, they’re 14. So I started thinking about what 14 year olds are doing in the world right now? They’re floss dancing. That wasn’t in the script but I thought it was something that in between while Freddie and Billy are learning these powers there’s a lot of downtime, and what would Billy be doing? Probably something like that, and fortunately David captured it and saw fit to put it in the movie. Obviously I don’t know how well that is going to age in the next five years, but I don’t want it to age well. I want people to go, ‘remember that stupid dance we used to do? That we don’t do anymore?’ that’s what I want.
Tell me about the costume, how did it feel the first time you put that on?
Amazing. It felt like the piece that made it all feel very very real. Like I got the job and I was beyond grateful and thrilled that I got it, and I happened to be at the gym, fittingly when David phoned me to say I was his Shazam. But a few days later I was in the costume design house with the first version of the suit, and I put it on and I was looking in the mirror and it all became very real in that moment, like holy crap, I fooled them. All of my dreams were all coming true, the kid in me who always wanted to be a superhero, the actor in me who always wanted to play a superhero, it was all staring me in the face, it was very very cool, and very humbling, like wow, this is real.
Unlike with superheroes like Batman or Spider-Man for example, where there’s a pressure to emulate other actors who came before and bring something new to the role, with Shazam it’s like a blank canvas, which must’ve been great for you? Your interpretation is unique to you.
100%. Like beyond 100%, which technically doesn’t exist. Being an actor who has got to step into the shoes of a very iconic role, like Henry Cavill and Superman, anyone who has ever stepped into those shoes, or Batman’s shoes specifically, they have an unbelievable history and lineage, not just in comic books but in films and TV shows, and the actors who were in those. I dunno, I guess I’m a little biased but I think Superman is still the most iconic superhero that the world all know, whether you’re a fan or not. So the pressure that he must’ve felt, or anyone in that role must’ve felt, knowing that everyone on Earth already has an idea of what that character is supposed to be, and what he is to them, and they expect him to be in the movie the way they think Superman should be. That’s a difficult thing to break through. Captain Marvel’s Shazam was a niche character, or had been for quite some time and was obviously making in roads and this is the biggest inroad the character has ever had, and clearly there are a ton of fans who have been fans of the characters for many years, but most of the world doesn’t already have some pre-conceived notion of who they think this character is supposed to be, and so we get to set that with the movie, and I’m grateful that we get to do it in a way that is joyous and so fun, and so different than a lot of the other movies, because this is a fun, different kinda take on the genre, while also being incredibly inclusive. The amount of different demographics that we get to represent on screen that haven’t felt as represented on screens, certainly in the United States, as they ought to be, and we have racial diversity, and one of our kids is disabled, and all of the kids are foster kids, we get to do something that already works on a very entertaining and funny and heartfelt way, but with a beating heart and all of this other stuff with that, which is really important, and that’s a very different type of a superhero movie, so it’s cool to have our little flag, to show another kind of way you can do it with superhero movies, that also hopefully fits in to universal stuff too, because I would love if Shazam gets to go hang out with Superman, or Batman in the Justice League, if they ever make any more of those.