Zachary Levi, is a self proclaimed “Dis-Nerd” (a phrase he has coined, and will charge you a quarter for using – note to Screen Rant, we owe Zach Levi a quarter). This “Dis-nerd” (Vic, you best plan to pay for his kid’s college) jumped at the opportunity to play Disney’s latest swashbuckling (pan-buckling?) hero Flynn Rider in the upcoming spin on the Rapunzel fairytale, now titled, Tangled.
Director Byron Howard (Bolt) said they wanted to make Flynn “the most handsome, most attractive male lead Disney has ever had.” They conducted impromptu “Hot Man” focus groups where, “all the ladies of the studio came into the ‘Hot Man Meeting,’ where we gathered pictures of their favorite handsome men—we collected pictures from the Internet and from books and from women’s wallets. They were very specific about what they liked and what they didn’t like.”
Co-director Nathan Greno adds, “the women would come in and they’d put up these pictures of the hottest guys they’d ever seen, then point out the flaws in all of them.”
“Everybody got ripped apart. Nobody was perfect,” says Howard. “It was a very hard meeting to be in as a man. You left feeling terrible. But we tried to coalesce all this information into one amazingly handsome and appealing character.”
“We created the ultimate man,” says Greno.
No pressure on Levi.
One of the reasons Flynn is so appealing, is that he is more of an anti-hero than a traditional Disney Princess tale hero. He is more akin to a rated G Han solo, or Indiana Jones, (or some other Harrison Ford character), than a bland Prince Charming. We should note that Tangled is in fact, rated PG.
Take a look at Flynn’s intro video:
Though a character like Flynn is not entirely unheard of in modern day Disney, they show great mastery with the model here, and have created a flawed hero (the sort that we as an audience tend to respond to), who is still sweet enough in nature to exist in an animated reality.
Writer Dan Fogelman notes that this balance was one of the challenges of creating “a classic Disney story in a completely new way, that would fit the style of CG animation.” The task of creating a hybrid of a Disney classic, and a more modern CG/Pixar style animated film meant “pushing the comedy and the characters into a kind of 21st-century sensibility, while still keeping many of the elements that audiences have always loved about Disney films.”
As far as the character of Flynn is concerned, the team felt that the dance between the modern and the traditional was even more crucial, and Fogelman feels they found that harmony through Flynn’s humor.
He’s at his best in this movie when he’s playing little mind games with other people and entertaining himself along with them. He’s the kind of character who’s having fun with the words whether or not anybody else is enjoying them as much as he is. There’s something very Cary Grant-like about him. At his heart, he’s really kind of a lost soul who doesn’t quite know what he wants and who he is.
Until he finally does, of course:
Traditionally, Disney Princess or fairytale films are the one place where the female characters may be slightly more developed than the male. Tangled creates a lovely equanimity between Flynn and Rapunzel, who are as different as they are perfectly matched. Levi himself developed a crush on Rapunzel after viewing the film.
The directors felt it was essential to create a strong chemistry between these two characters. Howard notes, “As the story developed, it became more and more a movie about Rapunzel and Flynn. It’s a movie about these two very different people, their unique chemistry, and how they both grow and become better people because of it.”
Rapunzel was so interesting and such a great character that we had to keep making Flynn more interesting to keep up with her. And then at times, he would become more interesting than she was, so we’d have to bump her up. But in doing that, in elevating both characters, they both became these really strong characters. Obviously, this movie doesn’t work without Rapunzel, but it also doesn’t work if you take Flynn Rider out of the equation. We needed both characters to make the engine run.
We will have a full review of Tangled in the coming days. In the interim, here are the highlights from our chat with Levi, where we cut to the chase on all the Superhero movie rumors, and discovered the one career he’s dying to try his hand at.
The Most Handsome Man:
Sreenrant: You tend to play characters who are surrounded by tough, strong women. (Levi’s lady-love on Chuck is an international super-spy, and his mother is played by none other than the “tough chick” demi-godesss herself, Linda Hamilton; and we can tell you – Rapunzel is no slouch with a frying pan.) Is that reflective of your life? Is it a conscious choice?
Zachary Levi: (Laughing) Well, I think it’s a coincidence because it’s not really like I get to choose my work all that much. I mean I do get to choose what I go and audition for, obviously, but at the end of the day you’re just trying to be a part of good work. That’s really funny though, I never really thought about that; but yes, I suppose it resembles a bit of my life. I mean I was surrounded by estrogen growing up. Two sisters, a cousin, two aunts, my mom, my grandma…
SR: Your character (Flynn Rider) is described as the most handsome Disney character ever, and the most appealing. Yes. Can you tell me about being a Disney hero?
ZL: Yeah, this is the first I’ve heard about this stuff, here at the junket. I don’t know, there are some pretty attractive Princes, over the years. I don’t really think…(pauses, looks at the life size cut-out of Flynn…considers) I mean he’s a good looking guy.
SR: He’s not bad.
ZL: (nodding) He’s a good looking guy.
SR: They focused grouped a lot of women.
ZL: They did. They did.
[We come to an agreement: Flynn (the cartoon) is very good looking.]
ZL: I don’t know, I mean my job is pretty much all done with him, so… But I think it’s awesome. I think it’s cool to be affiliated with a character who apparently is garnering such accolades and praise and attention. I mean, I could pull a very Flynn move and say ‘Well, it’s about time.’ But that would be just for a joke. I do think it’s interesting to be talking about an animated character in terms of how good looking he is.
[I can assure you readers that Zachary Levi is just as appealing and handsome in person as his animated counterpart. Forgive me, what were we talking about?…Oh, Tangled.]
SR: What are some of the challenges of doing an animated film?
ZL: Well, you do it by yourself. I mean Mandy was never there, and that’s because of scheduling. And it’s a long process. I would go in about every six weeks, for six hours or so, and Byron and Nathan were there, but I would be voice acting by myself — line, by line, by line. Mandy and I did get to record the duet together, that was very beneficial. But Donna Murphy(Mother Gothel) and Mandy have never even met.
[They have since met, in fact, they met about a half hour after this conversation took place.]
ZL: So, it’s a really interesting process when you are acting to no-one, or nothing. But it’s also king of a freeing creative experience in that you get to just make up whatever you want.
A New Career For Zach Levi:
SR: Did you enjoy singing the duet?
ZL: Oh yes, definitely, I’ve sung my whole life…sang? Sanged? I did a lot of musical theater growing up, I sing in the shower, sing in the car, sing everywhere really, on set at Chuck, all the time. I like it, and I’ve always felt like I’ve had a knack for it, or a talent for it, on some level, I don’t know. But I never wanted to push it on anybody. You know, I started doing this and the acting was what kind of grabbed me first, and so I ran with that, and I continue to run with that. It’s just a really weird thing, you know, I have kind of very specific philosophies on work and Hollywood.
SR: Tell me.
ZL: Well I’ll tell ya! I think that it’s much easier for a recording artist to become an actor than for an actor to become a recording artist. There is this weird kind of…You know, the traffic doesn’t flow both ways. People are more willing to accept a singer as an actor, than an actor as a singer. I don’t know if it’s because their standards for acting or that medium are more lose or grey, whereas with actors becoming singers, I think that people might get a little more specific…I guess. I don’t know. I just remember that when Jennifer Love Hewitt released an album a few years back, it was like ‘Oh, why is Jennifer Love Hewitt releasing an album?’ But if Queen Latifah, or Justin Timberlake, or anybody else wants to be an actor, it’s like ‘Yeah, I’ll go check that out.’
SR: Does that bother you?
ZL: Well, I don’t know, it is what it is. I wish it was a little easier for an actor to later go into singing and have it be accepted, but maybe I can still do it.
[We later asked Mandy Moore what she thought of Zachary’s thesis about the cross-pollination (or lack thereof ) of singing and acting careers. She agreed that his was an “accurate assessment,” but admitted she wasn’t sure why that was so. She suggested Zachary “just not care and record a record, because I would like to hear it.”]
Those Comic Book Movie Rumors:
SR: Well, speaking of career choices, you were rumored to be up for a number of comic book Superhero roles – Captain America, Thor, Superman – is there any validity to these rumors?
ZL: I don’t know why there are so many rumors, but I wish they would be less rumor and more fact. Maybe one day. I mean, they’re all kind of different things. I had gotten the role of Fandral in Thor, but scheduling conflicts (with Chuck) prevented that from going forward. Which happens, you know, but it was a bummer; you know I would have loved to have worked on that.
SR: What about Superman? Is there anything to those rumors?
ZL: That’s nothing but rumors. That just kind of popped up and my publicist emailed me and said just so you know, this is floating around; and then I had a bunch of friends texting me, and I was like ‘I don’t know what this is about.’
ZL: Captain America would have been really amazing, but again scheduling stuff – and they were looking to go another way. I did read for it and felt like I did a pretty good job. And then The Flash! You know there was an April fools joke that I was cast as The Flash, but that was just an April fools joke. Although, I don’t know, I do think about The Flash often, and I know that they’re kind of in the process of putting that together at some point. I think that could be a really fun role to play at some point. That’s right up my alley. I just want somebody to believe in me that I could be a Superhero. (Laughing) God, I mean I am a huge comic book nerd and video game nerd, so to get to actually play one of those characters would be off the chain. It would be amazing.
SR: Which comic book character (in an ideal world) would you like to play the most? Is there one particular character that you love the best?
ZL: I mean, Deadpool would have been an amazing character to play, but Ryan Reynolds already did that. Even though I know he has moved on and he’s Green Lantern now, I think he’ll probably still play both…I don’t know what they are going to do with that. As far as comic books are concerned, I was always a Marvel guy for the most part, although I did follow DC a little. I don’t know, honestly I’d just like to play whatever role [that] not just the studio, but the fans think I fit the best into. Because I think, especially in worlds like that, you’ve really got to do right by the fan base and stay in tune with what they are looking for and what they desire. I would just want to do right by them.
ZL: So I don’t know. Flash would be fun, Superman would be…I mean it’s Supes, it’s amazing! But everybody has so many ideas about who Supes is. And when the whole rumor thing was going around, I saw a lot of people blogging about it or whatever. You know a lot of people think Jon Hamm should be Superman. A lot of people think that Tom Welling should be Superman – they think ‘Look if he has been playing Superman this long, then he should play Superman,’ and I can understand that. A lot of people think that Brandon Routh should reprise the role. I quite liked Superman Returns, I thought it was a very entertaining movie. But who knows, I mean – I just look at it all from a distance and I think, ‘Well, if I get the opportunity then I’ll go read for it. If they like me, then they like me.’
The Future of Chuck:
[There is a tremendous amount of fan support for Levi and his Superhero ambitions. There may come a time when the popular actor will be deemed a perfect fit for a comic book movie, even if it is not necessarily the title role, as happened in Thor. The question becomes, ‘Will the actor’s hectic television schedule allow it?’ Levi was directing the episode of Chuck that was in production during the week that we spoke to him; he had been up shooting until 3AM on Friday, faced a weekend of back-to-back interviews, and was set to return to the set to direct at 6AM Monday morning. To add to the puzzle of an already brutal schedule, as Chuck fans know, the series is on a consistent teeter-totter of renewal, so it is likely difficult for Levi to plan with any real level of certainty.]
SR: So can we expect to see Chuck renewed since it’s got 24 episodes?
ZL: I don’t know, it’s a good question. I mean when we started this season, I didn’t know what was going to happen with our back 9, and we ended up getting a back 11. I know that that puts us closer and closer to syndication, which is definitely a plus for the studio. So what happens after this season, I don’t know. Right now, I’m just trying to focus on doing the best I can with all this Tangled press and then going back to work on Monday morning, and working until April and whenever it is that we are going to go.
Though it is an animated role, Flynn Rider has a very different persona than Levi’s Chuck, and may in some ways open a doorway in the imaginations of the powers that be, allowing them to see a possibility for Levi to play a very different kind of character than we are currently imagining.
Tangled hits theaters next week, on November 24th.