Zachary Levi Interview: Shazam At New York Comic Con 2018
Zachary Levi is an American-born actor best known for his starring role on the NBC series Chuck from 2007-2017. Now Levi headlines the cast for DC’s upcoming film Shazam, in which fourteen year-old Billy Batson can become a superhero simply by shouting the magic word: Shazam!
Screen Rant: Welcome to New York Comic Con 2018. I was gonna say San Diego since we were just talking about it.
Zachary Levi: I know! Total Freudian. Not San Diego Comic-Con. New York.
Screen Rant: And you're no stranger to the convention scene. Obviously. NERD HQ. I love the Nerd HQ stuff that you guys always do. A big fan of it. How are you? How are you feeling at this con? What do you, what do you think of it?
Zach: I feel great. I. I'd only ever been in New York Comic Con one time, kind of in conjunction with Nerd HQ. We did what we called a nerd outpost as opposed to Nerd HQ. We did a little a booth area on the floor in the main floor. That was like back, in when was that? 2013 or something, and we did photos for charity, for Op[eration] Smile and some signing and stuff like that and it was lovely, but I was doing a Broadway show at the time and I didn't really get a chance to go through any of the floor, nor did I do any proper signing or you know, anything in the autograph hall. So this is really kind of my first experience in New York Comic Con and I think Reed Pop puts on a great event and the last couple of days I've been down in the autograph hall meeting a lot of fans doing signings, doing photos, blasting my music like I do. I was just trying to curate an experience for everybody and it's been lovely. And the fans here, I mean I just, I love fans in general show and I love meeting the different types of fans, different energies of fans all over the country in the world. And you know, New York, east coast fans are fantastic.
Screen Rant: Yeah, you're a great representative for this community, especially with Nerd HQ and what you do. And when you got cast in Shazam, oh man, that was great. That was mind blown. And you look amazing in that suit. That trailer looked great. Talk to me. How difficult is it to play that childlike Billy Batson as a grown man with all these powers?
Zach: Well, I mean as a man child, it's, it's kind of second nature. It's actually quite fun to be able to tap into that. I mean, I've always been a pretty, I don't know, exuberant, gregarious, I'm trying to think of other words. I don't know the definition to… person, you know. I've always been a bit of a Peter Pan. I love fun. I love curating fun. I like experiencing fun. And [‘ve] always been a little, you know, led by my emotions here and there. As teens are want to do. So it was very, you know, I don't know, it was like riding a bike and a lot of ways. However, I'm also, you know, a 38 year old man and have lived some life and we tend to, you know, operate very cerebrally the older we get.
And so I found myself in a lot of moments, you know, breaking down a scene or the character and go, okay, what would you know, what would Billy be thinking or doing? And then I started overthinking things and I thought to myself, why Billy wouldn't be overthinking this by any stretch. So that kind of one of the biggest challenges of it. And then obviously, you know, being in the gym six days a week and eating 4,000 calories a day, which is probably one of the most difficult things I've ever done in my life. You, you don't realize. I mean, by the way, it's easy to eat 4,000 calories if you're eating cake and ice cream. But like plain chicken and broccoli and you know, all of the things that are just not the most, you know, exciting things to eat, that's a difficult thing to put all that in.
Screen Rant: You just took the fun out of eating 4,000 calories for me. So there goes that. I do have to ask about this though, because this Billy Batson, t seems like it's more reminiscent of the New 52 version that we've been seeing.
Zach: One hundred percent.
Screen Rant: Okay. Just wanted to make sure about that with the wizard Shazam. Talk to me about the tone on set because I thought to myself, man, if this is just big as a superhero movie, nailed it and then you'll see that trailer and you're like, nailed it.
Zach: Yeah. It's, it's the movie Big meets the movie Superman. I mean that's basically what it is. And the tone on set was a lot of fun. I mean it was, it was, it was difficult. We were shooting in Toronto through the wintertime and the movie is like 75 percent exterior nights. So it was cold, it was cold a lot and the suit doesn't really keep me warm in the cold and it also didn't keep me cool in the soundstage. Like we'd be inside and I'd be overheating and I'd be outside and I’d be freezing to death. But those are all very small price to pay to get to be a superhero. It was fun. We had a really great group, great cast, great crew and you know, when the story's fantastic. Henry gain wrote a great script. David Sandberg is a fantastic director.
Screen Rant: I just wanted to ask about him for a second because he's not normally from this, this superhero world. And, and, and on paper it seems like an odd fit. However, uh, being from that kind of like James Wan type of school, it's working.
Zach: Yeah, I mean I think it was a really inspired choice because anyone… you wanted to give …. you need to capture the youth that is just, you know, in, its literally just infused into the story because it's Billy Batson as a 14 year old kid and going in the New 52, he's with a whole collection of other foster kids as well. So you need to be able to still find that, tap into that and allow for that on screen. And you know, there's going to be a lot of heart and levity when you have an adult playing a 14 year old, but you need a balance that with the grit and with the kind of danger and the stakes. And I think that David Sandberg coming from the horror world with Lights Out and with Annabelle Creation was a really inspired choice. I and he and our DP maxime, who's this like super awesome Italian dude, they were painting frames like they're going back and looking at the monitors. They really were, I think creating very artistically designed shots to kind of balance all of the, you know, kind of bit a bit of zaniness that comes from an adult playing a 14 year old.
Screen Rant: Talk to me about Billy's kind of idolization of Superman to an extent because Superman's in this world. And I know that Billy's always kind of looked up to him. Do we get any glimmers of that in this film?
Zach: Well, so in the New 52 Billy is actually not a fan of Superman. He doesn't really know. Freddie Freeman is the big superhero fanatic and he is a fan of Superman and Batman and Aquaman and Wonder Woman because yes, the, the world of Shazam exists like squarely in the middle of the DC universe. All of the movies that we've seen in the real world, they’re basically like documentaries in their world, you know, all of these things really happened. Justice League really happened. Uh, so Freddy is ga-ga about this stuff. Billy has been on this journey trying to find his parents his whole life and has just never really given any credence to any of that stuff. So when Billy becomes, you know, or you know, me essentially become Shazam, he has no idea what is going on. So Freddy kind of gets to be his, his Obi-Wan, his Yoda, you know, his mentor and guide through all of it, which leads to a lot of fun. Jack Grazer and I had just a fantastic time with all of the, let's say, the learning montage, the learning sequence. I think people will really enjoy that.
Screen Rant: How much time did you spend with younger counterpart? Kind of getting mannerisms down?
Zach: Unfortunately not that much really, but Asher and I did get some time and he was shooting Andy Mac, a Disney show that he's been doing. He was still working on it when, you know, when we were doing rehearsals during January, so he had gotten a few rehearsals together and some table reads and just to kind of get to know each other a little bit. Really, you now, fortunately were similar-ish like both of us love singing and dancing and we're both that kind of kid because I am a kid. And then, you know, beyond that it was really just trusting David Sandberg. It was just, you know, saying, hey man, you're watching me and you're watching him, so give us the notes we need to get in order to marry those performances. So we’ll see?
Screen Rant: I love the fact that Mark Strong plays the villain. And I want to talk about that for a second. Can you guys talk to me about your relationship with Mark while you're shooting, but also off-screen, anything you learned from that as well?
Zach: I mean, there's something about the English that's so just collected, and so professional unlike me. He, he's so talented and so and professionally trained and has literally has played so many different types of characters and the guy is such a chameleon. and I've been a fan of his, I mean, prior to the movie I telling people like Mark Strong’s playing the villain like Mark Strong. I go that guy in this movie, and that guy in this movie, and that guy in this movie that, like, that's the same guy! I'm like the same guy. He's so good. He can, he can just morph in and out of things.
Screen Rant: I could be Mark Strong right now.
Zach: You could Mark Strong right now. Yes, it's like a Sacha Baron Cohen thing that's going on. But yeah, I mean, and his family was so lovely. They came and visited from London. Yeah, I hope that we get to do something together again, whether it's in the Shazam world, o r something else. I was just honored to share screen time with him.
Screen Rant: I'm excited to see Shazam, but I have to ask this. We got a lot of tweets about this, about to ask you that we know that Henry Cavill, there's a lot of rumors out there with him in the DCU and also him possibly appearing in this film. We don't know if he does or not, but if he did appear in this film, how do you think Shaazam’s would be with them?
Zach: Well, I mean, I, I mean, I think he'd be kind of geeking out, I'm sure. Right? Cause that's superman. I mean, you know, who is arguably the most famous character in that world. Um, but also, I don't know because again, it's like Freddy's dream to to meet him and know him more than it was Billy's I think. I think Billy would probably be like wanting to arm wrestle him or something.
Screen Rant: Yeah. You know check his strength.
Zach: Who's actually stronger, you know, I think that's probably what we'd want to do.
Screen Rant: I want to ask about Nerd HQ. What, do we have any more events planned at all coming up?
Zach: No. So, you know, traditionally we were doing it during San Diego Comic-Con. That's where we started it and that's where I wanted to kind of keep that rolling. But it's a really difficult thing to do. It's a multimillion dollar event and needless to say, that's a lot of money to try and wrangle from sponsors and whatnot. And because, you know, I started Nerd Machine, which was a for-profit, kind of lifestyle brand for nerd culture. And then to promote that brand, I started Nerd HQ and I wanted it to be kind of a Voltron hub for me and Nerdist and you ….everybody else. That's what I wondered her, do cute and wanted nerdy to you to be. But then after I started it they all kind of did their own thing and I was like, well, that's fine.
I mean, we, you know, we were kind of rolling along. But it wasn't really working as a for profit event. I made no profit from it. I lost profits, which I was happy to do because it made so many people happy. And more than anything, I just want to invest in other people's happiness. I like bringing joy to the world. I like bringing smiles to people's faces. I like people. I want to do things that allow, particularly these fans, to be seen and heard and acknowledged because, you know, we only get to do these things that we do because support us in that. And I think it's very important to foster those relationships. But what we were successful at was bringing joy to people, creating conversations between talent and fans in a really intimate and curated way, and also raised a ton of money for Operation Smile, to the tune of $2.5 million or something like that. So that's amazing. In the last year I've now been, I've shuttered Nerd HQ as a for profit company. I I am reinstating it as a complete nonprofit. And then once that's all done, the dream is to then, you know, do Nerd HQ events at many conventions have hopefully here at New York Comic Con, Reed Pop and I have discussed some of that and I think, once all the ink is dried on the new paperwork, we can try and get that to go.
Screen Rant: Well, this is a great place for it. Got a great place for it, man. You do so much for this community and thank you for it. And also, one thing that I actually love that you did as well is that you responded a lot of haters out there that were bashing the costume. And I thought the costume looked great, thanks and I thought you looked great in it and especially when, when you see it in the trailer, you can see it in motion. It just looks amazing. It looks, it looks exactly how you kind of want something to look. It lives up to that for me. And I have to ask, it couldn't have been comfortable though, right?
Zach: No. Well it's a little claustrophobic. I mean it's like super, it's really tight. It's really tight. It becomes, you become one with the outfit. I think the first time I put it on, I mean, the first time I put it on I was like, this is unbelievable wish fulfillment. And the, the kid in me was so giddy. And then immediately after that I started feeling a little bit of claustrophobia just like starting to kick in. And I. But in that moment, I was like, Zach, you're going to have to wear this thing many, many, many, many times, God willing and, you just, you to find that inner peace and become one with it. And, and I did it. It eventually just kind of became like a second skin. Um, the most difficult thing about it is just like going to the bathroom.
I needed handlers to unzip my “crotch-el” area to go number one, and if I wanted to take a number two, I had to take the entire suit off, which is a pain in the butt because it takes like 10 minutes to put that thing on again. So, I think actually, I think only one time during the entire shoot, uh, could I not hold it? There was one time I was like, I gotta get this off. It has to come off right now. It wasn't like explosive diarrhea, but it was something that was coming up. I could feel the gurgling. It's like this is not good. but every other day I was able to kind of keep it all together. And then as soon as the day was over suits, off and then into the bathroom.
Screen Rant: I know you have a busy day. So I'm going to try to make these next two super quick. Uh, I want to, I want to see you face off with the Rock just as much as the next person. Yeah, absolutely. We know that that's inevitably going to happen with him and Black Adam. Do we possibly get any hints at Black Adam in Shazam? I know you can’t say a ton, but…
Zach: I, I, I… don’t know what you’re talking about…. [laughs]
Screen Rant: I don't know exactly right. A second question I have is my buddy behind the camera here – he and his best friend are the biggest Chuck fans. Well, let me. So first of all, his best friend actually is having a son and he's naming him Charles Zachary after you. That's a true story.
Zach: I'm super honored about that. That's amazing.
Screen Rant: And secondly, he has a question. So the question is, do you think in your opinion, that Sarah got a memory back after the kiss?
Zach: First of all, [to person off camera] you’re awesome. Tell your friend. He's super awesome and I'm beyond honored that they're naming their child after Chuck and me. That's, I don't even know. I'm gobsmacked.
Then beyond that to answer your question or your question, 100 percent Sarah got her memory back. I mean… If she didn't, the show was such a happy go lucky. Like it always worked out in the end for us to not have it worked out in the end of the series. I'll murder someone if Sarah didn't get her memory. I'll go track somebody down and say “you die”” because that's, you know, that, that's just not fair. It's not fair to the audience. It's not fair to us. I mean, you know, I worked so hard at the relationship for five years so that she would love me back. And then she did love me back and then The Intersect robbed her of all that. But look, my goal is still to try and convince Warner Brothers to let me make a Chuck movie at least one, one day. And, uh, so we'd hopefully be able to tie all that up and at least give people some peace at night that are worrying about her losing her memory.
Screen Rant: He was one. I hear it from him every time we come to these conventions. So there you go. Thank you so much for your time, man. Thank you. Thank you so much.