Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS ahead for Shazam!
Now that DC superhero Shazam has finally made it to the big screen, Screen Rant spoke to director David F. Sandberg about the movie's best kept casting secrets, Shazam's future with villains like Mister Mind and Black Adam, and how Zachary Levi was cast as the suddenly-grown-up Billy Batson.
Prior to being hired to direct the DC Extended Universe adventure, Sandberg was best known for his work in the horror genre. This started with short no-budget horror films that were released online, and one of these - a three-minute chiller called Lights Out - went viral, with Sandberg soon scoring a production deal for a feature-length version of the movie. After the critical and box office success of Lights Out, Sandberg went on to direct Conjuring Universe movie Annabelle: Creation, which was an even bigger hit.
Shazam is a superhero movie that, at its heart, is all about family. Asher Angel stars as Billy, a foster kid who has been running away from families ever since he was lost at a carnival by his mother. After being taken in by Rosa and Victor Vasquez, however, Billy finally finds the sort of family that will, for example, have his back in a battle with a crazed supervillain and the seven demonic entities possessing him. In our interview with Sandberg, we discuss the process of casting both adult and child versions of characters, and what Shazam's future could hold.
- This Page: Casting Zachary Levi and the Shazam Family
- Page 2: Mister Mind, Black Adam, and More
I've read that you auditioned over 100 people for the role of Shazam before you found Zachary Levi, is that right?
David F. Sandberg: [Laughs] That is correct. It was quite a search.
So what was it about Zachary Levi that made you realize you'd found your superhero?
Sandberg: Well, I mean, he is a big child. It was very interesting, because auditioning all these people before him I saw what a lot of people do when they try to act like a child, which is that they lower their IQ or they act dumber. But then when I saw Zach, he was more about enthusiasm and excitement, which felt so much like a genuine kid. And I think that's what really sets up apart, what sets adults apart from kids. Kids have this excitement and this enthusiasm about things that adults... I don't know if it's just the troubles of the world on our shoulders or whatever, but to me it was just like he feels like a big kid. He just felt perfect for the role.
You worked with a lot of child actors, not only on Shazam but also for Annabelle: Creation. Is there a particular approach to directing kids vs. adults?
Sandberg: I've started to think that maybe I need to work a little more with the adults the way I do with kids, because I feel like I'm much more sort of... I'm very patient, and I very much talk kids through things and I'm very much more encouraging [laughs]. Which is something I've realized, oh maybe I need to be like that with adults as well. Because I've had great success with kids and I like working with them. They're super professional and just very genuine.
Can you tell us a bit about casting the adult Shazam family?
Sandberg: Yeah, well it's kind of a funny story with Zach, actually, because his self-tape that he sent in was actually for adult Freddy. But when I saw his tape I was like, "Well, this guy is clearly Shazam." We cast the kids first, and then sort of looked for a physical resemblance. And then, to keep thing under wraps, just because things leaked as much as they do, we actually wrote custom scenes for each character that weren't from the movie. So the people who came in to audition had no idea that they were basically reading for a superhero.
It was just sort of everyday scenes with characters that had the traits of them. So for Darla, Meagan Good, she read for a scene with a girl that's doing a driving test, and she's like a fast-talking character. And I know our writer, Henry Gayden, had a lot of fun with that, because he got to write scenes that didn't have to fit into anything, he could just go wild and write whatever he wanted to. I hope we can maybe put that on the Blu-ray or something, because they're fun scenes with these great actors.
Was the Superman cameo planned from the very start, when you first joined the movie?
Sandberg: Yes. That was always part of the script, because Freddy's such a huge Superman fan, and Superman and Shazam have a bit of a history [laughs]. There have been some fights between them in the comic books and animation sometimes, and Clark Kent is kind of like a mentor to Billy Batson. That was something we definitely wanted to have in there.
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