Zachary Levi cheerfully admits that for his performance in ‘Shazam’, out this April, he is essentially channeling his own 14-year old self. This hero with a difference is actually a streetwise 14-year old kid, whose superpower is to turn into a full-size adult superhero with shoulders that could hold up a freeway.
So, how has the actor best known as for his performances in ‘Chuck’, as lead character Chuck Bartowski (the twenty-something geek who inadvertently downloads critical government secrets into his brain) transformed himself into hero material? By lifting heavy for a start – you can try our exclusive superhero workout at the end of this article for a taste of the training programme. Of course, Levi’s love for Comic Con and video games culture (he’s a Zelda completionist) has also placed him well to break into the heart of the DC Universe…
RSNG So, what is it like playing a superhero?
ZACHARY LEVI, ACTOR ‘Trying on the suit for the first time was insane and it turned everything that was previously feeling surreal, into something very real, right there. I mean, this movie isn’t even out until April, but we are all so hyped about letting the fans – and the world in general – know about it. People keep asking how much of the finished article I have seen. But you know the truth? It’s highly likely that I’ve seen as much as they have… the trailer. That’s all I’ve seen.’
‘I have no worries in having immense confidence in the director, David Sandberg, the producer, Peter Safran, all the executives at New Line Cinema and DC and Warner Brothers. They all believe in the project, they believe in me and I’m incredibly flattered that they do, to have the confidence to cast me in this role. A role that I thought may have passed me by.’
‘I am very excited about being that kind of guy! People always say that I don’t turn off and I’m just energy all day, haha! That, to me, is the 14-year-old that has always been in me and now I get to do that, and I literally don’t have to act half the time. I am just being myself but in a super suit!’
‘I got straight into the gym and was there at least five times a week eating 3000-4,000 calories a day’
RSNG You needed to bulk up to superhero proportions to fill that supersuit – how did you do it?
LS ‘From the day I was told I had got the lead role in Shazam, I got straight in the gym and was there at least five times a week, and was eating 3000-4,000 calories every day. That was to help me bulk up to the necessary weight I needed to be, to have the energy to go to the gym that amount of time. Then I began shredding until I got down to about 215 pounds.’
‘I have been around that weight ever since and I have to say I have never been so happy with my health and weight. The shape I’m in and my strength is so great for my mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health, and it’s the mental health side that has pleased me the most – especially living in today’s society.’
‘If I can do this, then anyone can. You got to love yourself, man. You really do. And doing this is my part of what as many people who can do, should be doing for themselves, not for anyone else, but just for their own mental health. So, the exercises that I have been doing to help me get to the shape and six-pack required, well they are pretty tough – let me tell you that.’ [Scroll to the end of this article for an exclusive RSNG superhero workout used by Levi to get stacked shoulders and that heroic, V-shaped torso.]
RSNG Let’s talk about Big because that’s the movie that you have compared Shazam to; Big meets Superman?
LS ‘Look, Tom Hanks is legendary he’s one of my idols and the movie Big is perfect to me, and one of the best movies ever made. Since I was a kid – obviously I loved it then, but it still holds up and it’s just really good storytelling. But I think at the end of the day whether you’re a writer, director or actor you’re also going to be giving homage to or emulating some of the actors that helped shape... some of the movies that helped shape you.’
‘We were not trying to make a film to fill the shoes of Big or try to fill the shoes of Superman, we’re creating something that is equal parts both, with little dashes of other things. Bringing our own experiences and hearts and minds, and Shazam as a character is so different to other characters in the DC Universe.’
‘Billy Batson is very different to Tom Hanks’s ‘Josh’ in Big. So, I think that we can provide people with a movie that gives a lot of those things and they feel that love, those homages and that nod to those classics. But it’s still really taking a brand-new experience and I don’t feel pressured to have filled anyone’s shoes… we are just filling our own shoes and they fit well. Does that make sense? Haha.’
RSNG Was it a challenge to bring Shazam to life as a character while preserving the humour in the story?
LS ‘Here’s the deal. This film is a tightrope of talent and balance between the levity, the gravity and bringing a badass superhero to life, who also has a lot of heart and a lot of humour. I think that David Sandberg is an incredible auteur who has been able to strike that balance really well, as we see in the trailer. Finally, we now get to show something that is tangible where people then know what the movie is.’
‘Before that, it was a still image and me sipping on a cup and chewing gum. Which is obviously lovely and awesome, because my mug is all over Comic-Con which was such an amazing treat. But the trailer gets to tell the narrative and that’s a huge relief.’
RSNG Where does Shazam come from, then?
LS ‘I am the product of two demigods, a titan and a man of God, Solomon. So, I have bags of power at my disposal and a lot of those happen to be mystical, magical powers. Superman is still really within the realm of science fiction, you know what I mean? Super strong… but I am magic.’
RSNG There seems to be a real dispute going on in the superhero world about who the real captain is. So, if the marvels went at it… who do you think would win?
LS ‘Shazam, obviously. But I think Brie Larson is a real force to be reckoned with… The film takes place right at the very heart of the DC Universe and I would probably say is the movie most aware of that universe in itself. Because, all of those characters that we have seen, like Batman and Superman and Aquaman and so on, exist in this world.’
‘So, Freddy Freeman is the massive superhero aficionado and knows anything and everything about these actual people, or superheroes or whatever you want to call them. Then, instead of being fictional and in movies, we’re actually watching television newscasts about Batman and Superman actually having a fight. So, it’s right in the heart of the universe.’
RSNG You have such a strong association with Comic-Con and you have been going for years. There have been near-misses – had you let go of the dream of being the superhero? Did Shazam come at a time when you were still hoping to do something like this?
LS ‘No, no, no. Actually, quite the opposite. Yeah, you’re right – there had been some near misses and in this business, it’s a pretty gnarly one and it can really beat you up if you’re not careful about it.’
‘And I am someone who cares a lot and I have always cared about the jobs I have gone after and also the ones that I have been a part of. Yeah, those things kind of knock you around and I sort of got to the point in my 30s and it made me think that I didn’t know if that role was going to be out there for me anymore. But that was OK.’
‘I had finally come to a peace about it and like people always say kind of philosophically, when you really relinquish something in your life to the universe, or God or whatever, then all of a sudden it was like… boom! Star Lord would have been amazing… obviously Chris Evans destroyed that and it’s such a great role for him. This, I couldn’t have asked for a dreamier part where I get to be my 14-year-old self. Which, you know, I try to be a responsible adult… but I am also a giant man-child. And I get paid to do it! Haha.’
‘We both want to be Justin Timberlake and we’re going to fight each other to the death about it’
RSNG So, you and Asher Angel basically play the same character but at different points in your life. Did you have to have long chat about how you would mirror things to make it believable, with mannerisms for example?
LS ‘Well, as I am so difficult and don’t even know myself what my own body is going to do next, it was pretty hard. Haha! No, we had some rehearsals and really just kind of broke some bread, had some food and talked about life and his growing up, and mine, and just try to match that. David was also guiding us through that and unfortunately, Asher is a very busy man. He’s in demand and he’s on Andi Mack a lot of the time!’
‘Right as soon as he finished up that last season, he jumped into shooting with us up in Toronto, but I think we got a pretty good vibe for one another, plus we both like to sing and dance and act. We both essentially want to be Justin Timberlake and we’re going to fight each other to the death about it… and that’s fine!’
WHAT NEXT? Want to get superhero shoulders and a V-shaped torso? Then check out one of the workouts Zachary Levi used to bulk up for Shazam, with exercise notes from the man himself (if you have not done one of these moves before ask a personal trainer to coach your form to avoid injury).
Seated Shoulder Press, Sets: 4 Reps: 12
‘We have a seated shoulder press where I am in a seated position and it’s just the upper body doing the work, the legs are just used for balance and to keep my posture right. You basically do it like a normal shoulder press exercise and you keep the elbows a little bit tighter. You press straight up and push your head through the top position, you also elevate your traps at the very top to contract the trapezius muscles, to stabilise the movement, and then bring the weight down to its bottom position.’
Lateral to Front Raises, Sets: 3 Reps: 10
‘You will bring the dumbbells laterally first, rotating to the front and then down and then into a front raise, into a lateral and then bringing them down. Man, you feel the burn with these with the lateral portion of your arms and shoulders, the interior and the front. Also, a little bit in the rear because once you bring the dumbbells up and rotate them back through, it will activate the posterior deltoids and help stabilise that motion.’
Arnold Press into a French Press, Sets: 3 Reps: 10
‘With this exercise, you will be working your shoulders along with the triceps, as well. The good thing about these, and any others where you use the same motion with your shoulders or your chest muscles, is that the triceps can be the secondary muscle group. It’s already working, and it has been warmed up, and this will isolate the trips with the French Press being the second part of the exercise. Make sure that your core is tight and much like the Seated Press, start with your palms facing in towards you and then press and rotate, with the dumbbells behind your head, then extend up and then bring them back down to the starting position.’
Cable Tricep Extensions, Sets: 3 Reps: 10 3 – With… Arm Blaster, Sets: 3 Reps: 10
‘These exercises – I was reliably informed – were to make my shoulders look unnaturally big, like most superheroes are. Also, because that’s where people notice the difference straight away. So, a smaller waist and larger deltoids and arms is called a ‘V Taper’, which is a classic superhero look.’
Tricep Dips, Sets: 3 Reps: 10
‘The angle of my arms in this exercise helps to isolate the triceps, with the shoulders and chest involved slightly, but it is primarily a tricep exercise. You get a 45lb weight on your lap, and lower yourself down from the bench, with your feet resting on a small footstool and then do dips, extending back up to a straight arm.’
Barbell Biceps Curls, Sets: 3 Reps: 10
‘It is a classic exercise, but I was told that a lot of people don’t do this correctly. They don’t use the right weight for themselves and also, as this is the final exercise the biceps will already be in some stress before this. So, choose a correct weight, it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it is comfortable for you. Then, keep your elbows locked into place so you are focusing on the bicep.’
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.