Superhero casting is always a tricky business. The combination of box office expectations and the even weightier fan expectations are enough to make anyone sweat, even without the intricate costumes that come with the roles. And then there are the physical requirements, the rigors of physical training, and more. But casting for the title role in Shazam! adds a new layer of challenges, since the actor in question not only has to look like a superhero, but behave…like a teenager. Fortunately, Zachary Levi was able to embody both of those parts of the character.
“It was quite a process to find what makes a grown man feel like a kid,” Shazam! Director David F. Sandberg says. “It wasn’t until we found him that we saw that he has this enthusiasm and excitement about the world and everything that makes him feel very kid-like. So when we saw him it was like, ‘he’s the guy and this is the way to go.’ Because it’s not about dumbing him down and making him a stupid kid. No. He’s excited about the world and this opportunity.”
“Zach is that character,” producer Peter Safran says. “He is a 14-year-old boy in an adult’s body. All the time, not just when he’s in our movie. That’s who Zach is.”
Levi initially turned down a chance to audition for the title role, thinking that the producers would be looking for someone more like Dwayne Johnson, who will play Shazam nemesis Black Adam in an upcoming DCEU movie. Levi instead auditioned for a smaller role in the film, which once again brought him to everyone’s attention as a contender for Shazam.
“Then they explained it to me, and I was like, ‘Oh, you really are looking to try and find an adult who can authentically act like a child. Well, maybe you found the right guy because I haven’t grown up yet,’” Levi says. “And I auditioned, I put myself on tape for that other character, and that was like on a Friday, and by the next Friday, I had gone through my camera test and everything and I was Shazam. It was pretty crazy.”
“It was incredible because it was a self tape that he did on his iPhone when he was back East,” Safran recalls of Levi’s audition. “And he sent it in to us and Sandberg just immediately looked at it and goes, ‘This is Shazam. This guy’s gotta be Shazam.’ Within a week, we’d flown him to L.A. He auditioned. We made this deal.”
This isn’t Levi’s first time around as a superhero, either, having played the role of Fandral, one of the Warriors Three in Marvel’s Thor films. He also flirted with the role of Peter “Star Lord” Quill in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. But Shazam! is his first time on the marquee, with an iconic costume all his own. But if there were any lingering worries about this, you would never know it from talking to the actor.
“I mean, obviously there’s always the technical concerns of, ‘How comfortable is this [suit] going to be? How easily can I urinate in it?’ Those things are always things that run through the back of your head,” Levi says. “But no, all of it has been just cool…And after flirting with the other superhero role that I was very grateful to have been a part of, I didn’t really have a lot to do with that character and in those films. Certainly not as much as I wish that I had. So to have another opportunity. To be killed off in one universe to then be reborn in another with a far bigger role and responsibility is all just so dreamy.”
Shazam! opens on April 5. Read our spoiler-free review here.