When the world found out that Shazam! would be brought to life in the DC movie universe by Zachary Levi, plenty of his fans lined up to call it the perfect choice. But even if Levi possessed the inner child needed to play a teenager in a superhero's body, the star reveals he initially passed on the role... and how getting it made a missed shot at Marvel's Star-Lord seem like fate, not failure.
We spoke with Levi during our visit to the set of Shazam! back in April of 2018, before the world had officially seen his version of the DC Comics hero (aside from some set photos). Those interested should be sure to read our entire interview with Zachary Levi, but one anecdote is guaranteed to be of interest to fans of both DC and Marvel's movie universe. In hindsight, Levi may be thankful Marvel killed off his Thor character, but it wasn't a simple swap from supporting character to solo hero.
In fact, Levi reveals that he passed on the role of Shazam believing he never stood a chance. But the story of how he landed it sounds just as important to the actor as playing the star of the Guardians of the Galaxy once did.
You are a huge nerd, so when you get a script that has SHAZAM at the top, what was your reaction? Did you think, 'This was made for me,' or--
No, as a matter of fact... I guess I can go into this first, because you guys are the audiences to start this with. The truth is I had an appointment slip set up about two months before I got the job. My agency sent me an appointment slip for the role of Shazam, in the movie Shazam. I knew that the Rock had been cast as Black Adam, so my first reaction is, '...Why the hell are they sending me this right now?' I emailed them and I said, 'Hey, aren’t they looking for a) massive stars, or at the very least, b) someone who is a massive person?'
Even as a cursory Captain Marvel person, who knew very little, quite honestly, about the character at that point, I knew enough to know that. So I emailed them back and I said, 'Aren’t they looking for big stars or big guys?' There was kind of a non-committal, 'We’re not really sure.' So I said, 'Well I think I’m going to pass because I think that might be a waste of time. This doesn’t seem like I’ve got a shot at getting this job, to be perfectly honest.'
I got another audition for a completely different role. I had no idea exactly what the role was, but they were sides that were written specifically for auditions. I was like, 'OK, there’s one scene where I felt I could probably portray this character.' I put myself on tape, and that was sent to the creative team. Then I get a call from my agent and they said, 'Hey, so... what about that role of Shazam that you passed on two months ago? Because they think you actually might be very right for this.' Then at that point, I got very happy. But I was also still kind of confused. I camera tested probably five days later, or six days later. Then the next day I found out that... David [F. Sandberg] called me. I was at the gym--I think that was a propos--I got a call from David, who said, 'You are my Shazam.'
Nobody can blame Levi for his reservations at the time, since everyone even aware of the DC movie schedule was just as confused as to why Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson was cast as Black Adam before his hero had been found. Of course, that didn't take into account the exact type of personality and actor that director David F. Sandberg was searching for. And as Levi eventually proved, even a comedic actor can pack on muscle to look the part of a superhero (yes, with some help from Shazam costume designer Leah Butler).
That experience of passing on a role others would kill for took on new meaning, it seems. Before Chris Pratt landed the part of Peter Quill in Marvel's Guardians - a role he underwent a similar physical transformation to play - Levi was reported to be on James Gunn's shortlist. The twist of fate isn't lost on Levi, who found himself in Pratt's shoes just a few years later:
It was oddly or ironically reminiscent of when I was camera testing for Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy. I knew that Chris Pratt had also passed on that role, and I wanted it so bad. There was definitely a strange thing of, 'Wow, when you are not holding onto something so tightly...' If it’s not something you’re dying for, but you can have an unbiased, somewhat clear idea of what you are trying to go after, and know that you are just being you, you are bringing your essence. Ultimately, that’s what I think got me this job. It’s what New Line saw. It’s what Warner Brothers saw. It’s what David saw and [producer] Peter Safran saw. They knew they needed to cast someone that could be as exuberant or optimistic or sassy as a 14-year-old boy. And damn it, that’s me in a nutshell.
My particular energy has gotten me into a lot of incredible jobs like Chuck, like Tangled, like Alvin and the Chipmunks or whatever. It’s always something that’s got a lot of heart to these characters. There was definitely a part of me that felt like, 'Maybe I’m never really going to have my shot at something like this, because you need to be... I don’t know, one of the Chrises.' Either starting super-ripped, or super-moody, or super-sexy, whatever that is. I always felt like I was more of an every-guy. I felt like I was following in a Tom Hanks kind of trajectory.
But then when I realized that we genuinely were making something between Superman and Big, I was like, 'Damn, this is a dream job.' I couldn’t have prayed or thought about this more. So, there: that’s how I became me… in this.
Reality can be stranger than fiction, and noting drives that home like the fact that James Gunn is now directing Suicide Squad 2. So after missing out on the role of a lifetime as Gunn's leading man, Shazam might just get to rub shoulders with members of Gunn's Squad, too. Assuming he isn't needed on the DCEU's version of the Justice League, of course.
- Shazam! (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
- Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) release date: Feb 07, 2020
- Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
- The Suicide Squad (2021) release date: Aug 06, 2021
- The Batman (2021) release date: Jun 25, 2021