Zachary Levi might now seem the obvious choice to play the superhero Shazam, but “Shazam!” director David F. Sandberg says he and producers looked at “over 100 people” before they set their sights on the 38-year-old actor.
“We looked at over 100 people,” Sandberg told TheWrap’s Beatrice Verhoeven. “Doing auditions, having them send in self tapes, and everything, it actually got to the point where we were like, ‘Oh, are we ever going to find our Shazam?'”
And then Sandberg saw a self-tape from Levi, the former “Chuck” star who played the comic Asgardian warrior Fandral in the last two “Thor” movies. “He had taped for a different character, but I saw him and I was like, ‘This guy feels perfect, he feels like a big kid, he has that enthusiasm and excitement,’ so right away, when I saw it, I knew,” Sandberg said. “I pitched him to the studio and they flew him out here to come in and audition in the room and he got the part a few days after.”
When asked which character Levi actually auditioned for, Sandberg said, “That’s a spoiler, it’s another character that shows up at the end and has a smaller part.”
Although Sandberg directed New Line’s $100 million budget film, the Swedish filmmaker is perhaps best known for his horror films, including “Lights Out” and “Annabelle: Creation,” which cost just $5 million and $15 million, respectively. Working with a bigger budget on a huge tentpole film was a different kind of experience for Sandberg, he said, one which was sometimes difficult to grasp.
“Budget wise, it was quite different, and there was a lot to learn in terms of stunts and visual effects that I hadn’t done on that scale before,” he explained. “Everything takes twice a long. This was like a two-year project but at the same time, there’s almost nothing you can’t do. You can just come up with cool s—.”
He added: “It was actually when I was finishing up ‘Annabelle: Creation’ and the studio called me up — and they were very happy with it — and they asked me if I would be interested in directing ‘Shazam!’ I didn’t know who Shazam was — it’s not like I grew up with him. They were pitching it to me as the movie ‘Big’ but with superpowers, which sounded amazing.”
By combining comedic elements with horror aspects, Sandberg wanted to make a movie similar to the ones he remembers from growing up.
“To me, this was a chance to make the kind of movie I grew up with and loved and made me fall in love with movies, like ‘Gremlins’ and ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘The Goonies’ was a big inspiration,” he said. “A lot of those movies have a fun sense of adventure but also have real stakes. Those were the movies I loved as a kid — ‘The Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ which is fun and an adventure but then you have people’s faces melting and it’s like, oh, a little scary.”
“Shazam!” also stars Jack Dylan Grazer, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Marta Milans and Djimon Hounsou. Henry Gayden wrote the screenplay, while Peter Safran produced. Dwayne Johnson, Geoff Johns, Hiram Garcia, Dany Garcia and Jeffrey Chernov executive produced.
The film hits theaters on Friday.
Watch the video above.