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Zachary Levi and Mark Strong talk about joining the superhero world in DC’s ‘Shazam!’ – Metro US

Zachary Levi and Mark Strong talk about joining the superhero world in DC’s ‘Shazam!’

DC Universe Shazam
DC Entertainment

The number of superheroes in film today makes it a pretty crowded field. Both Marvel and DC have been introducing new characters and interpretations of their comics to a new generation of fans in what is arguably the golden age of superhero films. On April 5, DC will unleash its brand-new entry to the cannon as Zachary Levi will suit up as Shazam. 

The film follows a young orphan named Billy Batson, played by Asher Angel, as he gets taken in by a new foster family. He becomes fast friends with his new brother Freddy Freeman, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, who is a superhero fanatic, collecting both Batman and Superman artifacts and memorabilia. Batson quickly becomes familiar with the world of superheroes as he is all of the sudden transported into a mysterious dimension and given powers by an ancient wizard.

These powers give Batson the ability to switch into a grown-up superhero body (played by Levi) just by shouting the word “Shazam!” Once he has taken that form, Batson possesses superhuman strength,  can conjure up lightning bolts through his fingertips, and fly. Or at least, he hopes he can fly?

Being a kid in a grown-up’s body is a dream part for Levi, as he believes it’s not too far from the truth. And that’s why he believes Shazam is his favorite superhero — even if he is a little bit biased.

“How can he [Shazam] not be your favorite?” Levi asks. “Besides the fact that I’m biased, he is the kid in all of us that gets to save the world. He’s me living out my wish fulfillment! I get to have fun,  and I don’t have to be brooding. I don’t have to hold in all of the enthusiasm that I think a lot of other actors have to hold in. They have to be cool. I don’t have to do that, I get to genuinely take all of that enthusiasm and do it.”      

Director David F. Sandberg knew right away that this was the part that Levi was born to play. “It was when we saw his audition tapes that we figured it out,” Sandberg remembers. “The common thread with adults trying to be kids is that they dumb it down or they lower their IQ. But Zach has this very childlike enthusiasm. That excitement, it makes him feel like an actual child, not someone who’s trying to be a child, because he is basically a child.”

While Levi may be having all of the fun, his antics are only heightened in comparison to the steely-eyed villain Dr. Sivana, played with pitch-perfect menace by the British actor Mark Strong. In fact, unlike many supervillains in these franchise films, Strong’s performance is closer to that of a straight man opposite Levi. 

“I quickly realized that there was so much fun and humor to be had in that story, that trying to make him funny was going to be the wrong move,” explained Strong. “There’s a couple of wry lines, I actually thought we’re going to get a big laugh and they don’t, because people are so protective. The audience felt very protective of the kids, and playing the bad guy is a great thing, but it surprised me. So yeah, I think being the straight man to the comedy was the right way to go with that.”

For Levi, all of his years of being a fan first couldn’t have prepared him for when he had to actually suit up as a superhero himself.

“Oh, it was crazy,” Levi recalls. “It was all of my dreams coming true, and now I’m literally staring at them, at myself. I’m wearing my dreams. It’s a very surreal moment. It was very humbling, because I know my journey. I know all the things I’ve gone through in my life, and the dark moments and almost giving up and retiring from [the] business. There’s been a lot of different things that could have gone a different way [where] I didn’t end up in that suit. And so for all that to happen… I mean, I was putting the suit on — I had just got the job, I think it was like two days later I was getting fitted for the costume for real — and I knew that I had been hired. I mean, clearly that’s why I was putting the suit on. But in the back of my mind I was like, they’re not going to change their minds, are they? Like, please don’t change your mind. So it was all of that. It was all those emotions. But the one I feel most intensely is just gratitude. To get the opportunity to be in a movie like this and the movie turn out the way it did. That people feel the joy and the heart and the fun, which I think is lacking in a lot of the entertainment that I think we could use in the world right now. It’s all just super groovy.”

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