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Shazam! Set Visit Interview: Mark Strong

The magical wizard and his child champion may get the title credit for the Shazam! movie, but comic book fans know that a superhero can only be as entertaining as the villain that stands against them. And even if the villainous Black Adam won't be taking on Shazam yet, his classic villain Doctor Thaddeus Sivana has been given an upgrade to guarantee the fight won't disappoint.

We got the chance to speak with actor Mark Strong during our visit to the set of Shazam! back in April of 2018, to find out how his role as Dr. Sivana would and wouldn't feel familiar to fans of Green Lantern - the movie in which he made his DC villain debut as Sinestro. While Shazam! will finally give him the chance to show his true talents for "pure, terrifying evil," the details we were given about Sivan's own story and motivations ensure he will be holding his own against Billy Batson in more than battle. Standing rightfully alongside the the other DCEU villains in Shazam's universe isn't easy, but we have little doubt that Sivana will be up to the task.

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With you being in this film, I’m curious if that means that Green Lantern is no longer part of the DCEU?

It is part of the DCEU. But, you know, my version of Sinestro I think is going to be rebooted, as they say, no doubt when the new Green Lantern comes out, which I think they’re doing. But as I said and I mean it, I felt really... it was a little interrupted because Sinestro was gonna go into the second movie and become the yellow Sinestro that we know and love and cause havoc. It got cut short by the fact that they never made a second movie of that particular incarnation of Green Lantern and Sinestro. But, thankfully, I’ve now got a chance to maybe exercise my evil credentials with Doctor Sivana.

Besides that sort of DC redemption, what was it that you liked about Sivana that made you want to do it?

I think because he is a proper, in the New 52 incarnation that Geoff’s [Johns] done, he is a proper supervillain.  He gets to fly, he can create electric fields in his hands and fire electricity. I love the whole notion that in his eye he has seven sins that manifest themselves at various points whenever they or he wants them to. So, it’s a good, proper supervillain.

Sinestro Green Lantern Movie

Do you feel that rather than Sinestro, who’s like an iconic character, unlike Sivana and Billy, do you feel like you kind of get to make Sivana your own?

Yeah, I do. I feel like because we’ve gone through a whole process of many superheroes now, we’re looking for the slightly more obscure ones or we’re discovering the slightly more obscure ones. I was really surprised to find out that in 1940 when the original comic came out Sivana was in the second edition. So, he is a proper old school villain and as nobody has done it before, I’m really excited at the idea that I get to invent my version of him.

Was it surprising to you to see that old original version of Sivana and then come to set and see your costume is not the dentist outfit that he’s so famous for having?

Well as you all know this is the New 52 version in which he’s much more robust and much more powerful. Obviously, originally, he was a scientist and I think the story was he was thwarted and the world didn’t understand him... in fact, he originally he went to Venus and then came back. I don’t think my Sivana goes there necessarily. Nevertheless, he’s able to sort of channel that thing that all great supe villains do, which is a need to have complete power and basically rule everything. That seems to me to be a standard of good ol’ fashioned evil characters.

This is a character who we’ve seen your wardrobe and we’ve heard a little bit about and he’s very wealthy and very powerful even without his super powers, Do you feel like this is a character that feels that he is entitled to his power?

What I love about this movie and the way they’ve written it is there is a reason he is how he is. Often villains can be painted in broad strokes. They are evil, and that’s it. But, we get to see him young, we get to see a scene in which he’s bullied not only by his older brother, but by his family and is misunderstood as a young boy... because what the movie has at its core is this idea of family and who is your real family. You know Billy is looking for his real family. Is his family this new bunch of kids that he becomes part of? Is it his mother he’s become estranged from? And I think the same is true of  Sivana. He’s looking for where he belongs and I think he feels that because of the disappointments he had as a child. He belongs and feels more comfortable with the sins and their power than he does with the Wizard and his so called sense of good.

[Strong has to quiet down as a scene films. The scene features Asher Angel’s Billy Batson and Grace Fulton's Mary. Mary is trying to convince Billy not to leave the group home.]

That’s Grace, isn’t it? She’s a great Mary. She’s perfect. and has to become a kind of mother to the kids because they’re all younger than she is. I mean she’s 21 and they’re all younger. So, she’s actually kind of embodied  in real life who she is in the story, having to take care of them.

RELATED: Shazam May Already Confirm Black Adam in The DCEU

Shazam Movie Image Zachary Levi Mark Strong Doctor Sivana

Do you feel like this character might have a redemption arc because he has this kind of tragic past?

I don’t think so. I think he’s made his choice... I can’t imagine what that redemption would be. It would have to be something cataclysmic to bring him back.

Shazam doesn’t have a big roster of villains, so what makes your character a good foil for Shazam?

I think you can’t really question the original comic books. If they felt that he was a worthy nemesis and that there was enough to do with him to enable him to create constant complications for Shazam, maybe that’s why there aren’t other villains in that universe or there aren’t many anyway because he’s really quite a good foil, and they do always say that a hero is only as good as his villain so I’m hoping to make Sivana really iconic.

In the process of playing him have you had a moment where you have to pull yourself back a little bit, like we just talked about he’s going up against a child, Is there a line? When you talk about Sinestro, Sinestro is always in the same purview of his rivals. That’s not true for Sivana at all. Has there been a moment when you have to step back and be like this is way too dark?

No. I don’t think it could ever be too dark. I think especially the more lighthearted the rest of the film is, and this one is. I mean there’s some great comedy to be had with that idea that a 14-year-old boy in a grown up man’s body doesn’t really understand or is able to cope with his powers. I had this discussion with David [F. Sandberg] and Peter [Safran] the producer very early on and said I think Sivana should be like heat seeking ballistic evil. The more frightening you make him, the more you feel that the kids are in jeopardy, and therefore the more that morality term of balance of good and evil plays out 'satisfactually.' I think if he ever steps back and takes his foot off the gas of being dark.. it doesn’t serve the purpose of the story, which is he needs to be a terrifying nemesis.

Talk a little bit about that action scene in the toy store with Zac and basically kicking the shit out of him.

It was very early on in shooting for me and I love the fact that we were literally crashing through mirrors, crashing through walls into toy stores... he was throwing toys at me and flying out of windows. I mean the physicality... I love, because there’s the possibility obviously because the powers they posses they could end up standing at either end of the room and just fire electricity at each other. I’m not saying that they don’t do that, but it’s wonderful that we get close up and dirty as well and there is some proper hand-to-hand combat as well. So, those scenes I love very much.

Shazam Trailer - Sivana

Can you speak of David’s approach? His name came as a bit of a surprise for a blockbuster superhero movie and he seems to have brought some really interesting vision to it. He was talking about how much more work a movie this size is but what have you seen in his direction that seems right for this story?

I think... you know, he has this website where he creates his own little movies in bits and pieces online. I think he’s incredibly tech savvy. I think he has a mind that enables him to make these little stories and things online. So already, he’s a builder of ideas and scenes. And all that’s happening is that he’s being given a bigger canvas to play that out on and I’ve really enjoyed seeing how he is putting stuff together because he seems to know exactly what he needs from each moment, and when he has it, we move on.

What are your thoughts and feelings now about the comic book genre in general? It's blown up. It’s the most popular genre. Does that feel like a good thing to you or does it feel like, 'Well, I have to get into those comic book films cause that’s what’s most popular?'

When I started acting these big comic book movies didn’t really exist. They were extremely rare if they did. So now that they’ve become the staple fare of cinema, and I think what happened is... because the technology has advanced so far, and I’m sure you’ve all heard this before, and because television is now having its golden age, so a lot of the writers of drama have moved from film to TV, which leaves the kind of cinema to take care of these big spectacles and it just so happens comic book movies are spectacles, especially with the advent of the technology that is available nowadays.

So it’s a good thing because I think everything is informing everything else. You know as a Thor comes out that now has a sense of humor... or should I say Guardians of the Galaxy comes out that has a sense of humor that now infuses Thor which gives that a bit sense of humor. Now we’ve moved into the world of Black Panther and now we’ve got a female superhero in Wonder Woman. It’s as if everything is pushing the genre onwards, and that I think can only be a good thing. But, to answer as an actor, it’s really exciting. I mean the truth is if you shoot a film that is more of a drama it tends to be more dialogue scenes and less CGI heavy. You do a film like this... it’s incremental moments that then get put together in the edit, so the kind of work you’re doing in either of those worlds is very different but the payoff  for movies like this is that I can’t wait for the day I sit down and I watch it on the big screen.

Besides just the age factor, can you talk a little about Doctor Sivana going up against Shazam in terms of the personality clash because Sivana has a very different idea of power versus Billy Batson when he becomes Shazam?

It’s interesting how they view what’s happening to them now that they’ve got the power. For example the Shazam suit is really an incarnation of a superhero suit as seen by a 13/14-year-old boy. That’s the idea. It’s a little bit garish, it’s a little bit bright but that’s how he imagines it. So consequently, again I had to think is that what he thinks is evil incarnate? So he’s chosen something long, sort of Nazi-like long leather coat with a fur collar and a pair of sort of dark sunglasses because I suppose as he gets that evil power, this is how he chooses to manifest himself in the way that he looks. So you’ve got a young boy with the enthusiasm for all the power that he’s given and you’ve got a cynical old guy with the opposite of that who’s chosen to take a darker path and really use that power for his own personal gain rather than to help other people.

Stay tuned to Screen Rant for more coverage from our Shazam! set visit.

MORE: SHAZAM! DRAWS FROM KINGDOM COME, NOT JUST NEW 52?

Key Release Dates
  • Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
  • Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
  • Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
  • Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) release date: Feb 07, 2020
  • The Suicide Squad (2021) release date: Aug 06, 2021
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