Q&A with Shazam star Zachary Levi at the Middle East Comic Con
The DC Comics universe is not without iconic characters. Batman and Superman had films made, the next iteration of Wonder Woman is currently in pre-production, and even Aquaman had a first proper cinema outing. With so many widely recognised characters to choose from, no one expected
DC to put its next blockbuster hopes in the hands of a lesser-known superhero, let alone one based around a 14-year-old boy. Ahead of the film’s release date (April 3rd), we sat down with Zachary Levi; the man tasked with bringing Shazam! to life for the first time on the silver screen.
ESQ: For people who aren’t familiar with Shazam, what’s his story?
ZL: The film centres around Billy Batson, a 14-year-old orphan who’s been searching for his biological family for most of his life. He’s been in and out of foster homes his entire life, but he’s got a heart of gold which is why he gets whisked away to this magical realm by a wizard named Shazam.
He says, “I’ve chosen you as Earth’s mightiest mortal, say my name and you will have my powers”. The bonus is that whenever Billy says the name “Shazam”, he also becomes an adult. So this film is actually a bit more like the movie Big from the 1980s, but with superpowers.
ESQ: There have been quite a lot of ‘alternative’ superheroes getting films these days. Why do you think that is?
ZL: I think we’re really in the heyday of superhero movies, mainly because visual effects have gotten so good that everything looks awesome. But I think that a lot of the main characters have been featured quite a bit already. There have been a lot of Superman movies. There have been a lot of Batman movies. Finally, we’re seeing Wonder Woman build her franchise —which is awesome—and because everyone is now familiar with the genre, studios are more willing to explore other characters. I think for DC specifically, a character like Shazam is a really cool pivot. Batman and Superman are both very broody and serious characters, and there’s lots of angst in those movies. But Shazam isn’t that guy
at all; he has a great heart and lots of humour.
ESQ: What was it like to play a 14-year-old boy in an adult’s body?
ZL: It wasn’t that hard; I’m basically a big man child anyway. I’ve always had a bit of a Peter Pan complex. I just really like playing characters that are happy and full of joy. So it makes it easy for me to tap into that for a character like Shazam. I feel really bad for actors who have to play serious superheroes. They must be super excited about it, but then have to rein it all in on screen. I get to be super stoked and giddy about being a superhero, and I hope that translates on screen.
ESQ: You previously played Chuck in the self-titled series, an average guy who gets these powers and becomes a super spy. With Shazam, it’s a regular boy who becomes a superhero. There’s a bit of
a trend there...
ZL: I don’t know why those roles appeal to me. I guess I have always wanted to be a good guy; I’ve always liked the honourable heroes. When I play videogames, I always choose the good guys. I really connect with characters who have good hearts. Chuck had a good heart, and Shazam is predicated on Billy Batson being a good guy. I don’t want to be typecast, but I like playing those characters.
ESQ: So the big question is: who would win in a fight, Superman or Shazam?
ZL: That is a big question! They have tussled a few times over the years, and are pretty evenly matched. My one up on him though is that I’m magic, and other than Kryptonite, Superman is very susceptible to magical powers. So I think that I’d have the upper hand, but then again, he’s Superman… Maybe it’ll have to come down to an ol’ fashioned arm wrestling competition.