'Shazam!' Star Zachary Levi Will Need to Train "8 Days a Week" to Face The Rock

The star and his cast closed down Hollywood Blvd. to celebrate the DC film, which eventually could lead to a confrontation between the superhero and the Dwayne Johnson villain Black Adam.
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Asher Angel, Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer at the 'Shazam!' premiere.

For the Shazam! team, finding a grown man who looked like a superhero but acted like a kid was such a challenging task that for a moment, it felt like the DC movie might never lift off.

"We auditioned 100 people. It was almost getting to the point of, 'Are we ever going to find the right guy?'" director David F. Sandberg told The Hollywood Reporter at Thursday's carnival-themed Shazam! premiere.

Then came Zachary Levi, who sent in a self-tape, even though the actor wasn't convinced he had what it took to be a superhero. Sandberg instantly saw that Levi was his leading man.

"He's a big child in a man's body. He's perfect," said Sandberg of Levi, who was then known for starring in TV's Chuck and his supporting role in the Thor movies.

Warner Bros. and New Line's Shazam! is perhaps the most kid-friendly superhero film ever made, so it was appropriate that the premiere featured a Ferris wheel and other rides on Hollywood Blvd. The film centers on teenager Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who, after meeting a wizard, is able to transform into an adult superhero (Levi) by saying "Shazam!" Along the way, he grows closer to his foster brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer), a superhero aficionado who helps him in his new heroic ways, and runs afoul of the villainous Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

Shazam! required Levi to get into superhero shape — and fast — after he was cast in October 2017. He spent six days a week in the gym and was "eating insane amounts of calories." But that could just be the start of his challenges. Dwayne Johnson has long been attached to play the classic Shazam! villain Black Adam, and is getting his own spinoff movie before potentially facing off against Levi's Shazam in a future film. Will Levi have to up his gym regimen to seven days a week should that happen?

"If not eight days a week," he told THR with a comically frightened look on his face.

Shazam! comes as Warner Bros. has been on a hot streak with its DC films. Aquaman has grossed more than $1 billion globally since opening in December, and already has a sequel and a spinoff in the works from producer Peter Safran, who also produced Shazam!. Safran, who is one of the minds behind The Conjuring Universe, is known for slowly building out franchises, and sees those opportunities with Aquaman and potentially Shazam!

"The goal with both of those movies, very specifically, was to make one great stand-alone origin story movie. And the idea is, if those really work, we have other avenues we can go down," said Safran, who also is a producer on The Suicide Squad, the 2021 movie that will see Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn move over to DC.

"That is a totally original tone and vibe. When you have a guy like James Gunn at the helm, you know it is going to be something special," said Safran.

The buzzword at Thursday's premiere was "family." The film is built around a makeshift family of foster kids and their foster parents, and the film's young stars say they were encouraged to bond on and off set — taking excursions to museums and having movie nights. The kids also helped Levi get in touch with his inner child.

"He'll take notes," said Angel, who plays Levi's younger counterpart. "Watch us be kids, roughhousing, playing around."

Strong has starred in a number of comic book adaptations, including Green Lantern, Kick-Ass and two Kingsman films. For playing Shazam!'s villain, a magic-obsessed man who comes to power decades after a traumatic childhood incident, Strong opted to make him "traditional, proper dark nemesis," rather than wink at the audience.

"You've got a kid in a man's body and all of the humor that entails. We had to go the other way. Make him a very traditional bad guy, very old school," said Strong.

For Levi, walking into the TCL Chinese Theatre proved to be a milestone experience.

"I've been so lucky that I've gotten to come to premieres in this theater and always dreamt that I would be able to be a part of something that shut down Hollywood Blvd. — with a Ferris wheel for that matter — and that I would get to walk into the Chinese Theatre and have my friends and family here," Levi said moments before the film rolled. "Thank you for being here."