Movies

Shazam! turns TV actor Zachary Levi into movie star

US actor Zachary Levi gets major role and fulfils dream at the same time

"Shazam!" isn't just the magic word that brings out the titular DC superhero in 14-year-old Billy Batson.

It is also responsible for turning Zachary Levi into a movie star.

Until he scored this major role, the 38-year-old US actor was perhaps best known for playing the eponymous character in the spy comedy TV series Chuck, which ran from 2008 to 2012.

Now, he gets to be leading man on a bigger scale in origin story Shazam!, opening here tomorrow.

Alter ego Shazam sets out to test the limits of his abilities with the joyful recklessness of the child he is inside, but he'll need to master them quickly to fight the deadly forces of evil controlled by supervillain Dr Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

As a self-professed nerd, what has this journey been like for you?

The wish fulfilment that the movie is about is the same wish fulfilment that's been in my own life.

It's so incredible to have loved superheroes, comics, video games and all that stuff for so long, always dreaming like, "Oh, you know, maybe I'll get a shot at playing a bona fide superhero one day."

And then being 37 and being like, "I don't know. Maybe I missed my shot." And now getting to do that.

There were a couple of roles over the years that I wished I auditioned for, or that I came close to and I didn't get.

Then having got this role and having played this 14-year-old inside? I wouldn't change it for anything. I feel like it was destined to be, because I'm just kind of a big man-child in a lot of ways. So it worked out perfectly for me, and yeah, it's just been very dreamy.

What are the attributes of Shazam that inspire you?

Ultimately, the Wizard chooses Billy Batson to be Earth's mightiest mortal Shazam because of the strength, purity and depth of his heart, traits that even Billy doesn't know he has.

I love characters like that. I think we need more of them. I think that we need to be inspiring people to be more selfless and thoughtful of their fellow man. And I just really love being able to bring those types of characters to life.

I try to walk as upright as I can in life and try to do as much good in life as I can, and so I love that about him.

But also, that he's 14 and just gets to be kind of silly and young at heart. And then of course all of the actual superhero stuff, like super strength, super speed, flying and shooting electricity out of my hands!

One of the things that's unusual about this film is that there are two actors playing one character. How did you work that out with Asher Angel, who plays Billy, and your director David F. Sandberg?

It was mostly with David because Asher was still shooting his television show when we were starting production on the movie. So Ash and I got a couple of days of some meetings, having a meal, getting to know each other, and some rehearsals with David.

And then he had to go and was shooting the show and I was making the movie, and then we were never really on set together. So then you're trusting your director to be the connective tissue, to make sure it's all there. But that's what you're doing with the director any time, because they're the ones seeing all the pieces.

We're just there to provide what our services are at any given point. And Asher is such a great kid. So was Jack (Dylan Grazer, who plays Billy's best friend Freddy). I was so grateful to go and work with genuinely good, talented kids who've got good families too. That was really a treat.

Every superhero has to look like they can kick anyone's butt. So what was your training regimen like to look the part and to do all the stunts too?

I'm really grateful that nobody at Warner Bros., DC or New Line said you've got to be in a certain shape to do this, as far as physical appearance (goes).

But they did say they wanted to make sure that I could physically do all the things that they were going to need me to do, to which I was like, "Yeah, yeah, me too".

But beyond that, I also wanted to look as much the part as I could for just my own confidence and my own kind of journey as a man, and as an actor filling the shoes of this character. I wanted to go and have a transformation.

So I've been in the gym basically six days a week for certainly the last year, maybe even a little bit longer, 14 months or so, eating thousands and thousands of calories a day.

That's actually the hardest part of it. The gym I'm addicted to and I love, and I can't wait to get to the gym every day. I just feel, even from a mental health perspective, it's so healthy for you. I'm stronger and healthier than I've ever been in my life, lifting more and more, and getting more and more definition in my body. Going to the gym literally releases so many healthy endorphins and makes your head and heart feel so much better. The entire transformation has been really, really awesome, and I keep going.

I probably weigh about 220 pounds (100kg) now, and I was 200 pounds when I started, so I put on about 20 pounds. Somehow, in the back of my mind, I always believed that I was going to get a job one day and they were going to pay me to get into the best shape of my life!

Shazam is not only the name of the character and the title of the film, but it's the magic word that makes that transformation happen. If you could say a magic word in your real life, what would you want to happen?

Oh gosh. I always take these questions way too seriously. But literally, I would say a magic word and we would legitimately be at peace as human beings and we would feel love and empathy for one another all the way around the world.

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