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‘Shazam!’ star Zachary Levi plays another kind of hero in NFL movie

Updated December 10, 2021 - 6:12 am

It’s noon at L.A. Comic Con. Do you know where Shazam! is? He’s actually standing next to the woman in fishnets and a thong accompanied by a guy who believes that he is Batman.

Actor Zachary Levi, who plays the above-mentioned exclamation-pointed superhero, has never looked more comfortable. These are his peeps. “I love mixing with the fans who talk to me about another holiday,” said Levi, wearing a thin parka and jeans, skipping past Christmas and looking ahead to 2022. “They tell me they’ve seen ‘Shazam!’ so many times that it’s like Groundhog Day at their house.”

Levi, 41, is best known for bringing a little humor to the DC Universe in his 2019 hit film. A rabid following also remembers him from the TV series “Chuck” and for playing Fandral in two of the “Thor” films, plus Dr. Benjamin Ettenberg on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

The Ventura, California, native is showing his dramatic chops these days in the holiday film “American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story.” Levi plays Warner in the story of the NFL MVP and Hall of Fame quarterback who went from stocking shelves at a supermarket to becoming a football superstar.

Next up for Levi is “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” due out in 2023.

Review-Journal: What is a good Sunday for you?

Zachary Levi: I love a Sunday in L.A. I grew up in Ventura. A great Sunday is going to Disneyland. I’m not kidding. Big kid here. I’ve gone maybe a zillion times, if we’re counting … which we are not, or maybe we are. Other Sunday joys: sleep late, a big breakfast, take the motorcycle out for a spin. Maybe I’ll play a few video games. I’m a gamer.

How did you land “American Underdog”? What was the pull of doing a serious drama?

It’s an incredible Cinderella story with a lot of obstacles in his way. I’ve always loved those underdog stories. The movie is like 25 percent football and 75 percent just living life — meaning marriages, kids and scraping change out of your car doors just to put a little gas in the tank. A lot of us can relate to the life part of this movie. You don’t have to be an NFL star.

Is there an added responsibility playing a real person who is producing the film and on set?

He’s hovering over us now! I think the most important thing is to tell this story as honestly and authentically as possible, with the essence of the real people in it. It was tough because this movie came together really fast. I was lucky to have a few days to meet Kurt. He was also on the set, which was tough and scary. I tried to get some of his football mannerisms, like his weird hand motions. My goal was to bring all the good things. And the happiest part was, his kids were excited. I loved when I heard, “Oh, he is doing Dad.”

What’s tougher: Playing a superhero or a guy in football pads?

I just like the hero part of it. I’ll take both. Also, both of their outfits mean when I used the restroom, it was impeded in some way. But I’m not really complaining. I pinch myself. So many of my friends have Hollywood dreams that have not materialized. I made a really good movie about a superhero and a really good movie about a football player. Both are inspirational naturally. Kurt’s football story and his love story with his wife inspires. Look, I love playing superheroes. The geek in me could do that all day. But as a performer I hope to do a good deal for the world, and this one does it in spades.

Why act in the first place? Were you that kid?

As a little 4-year-old kid I figured out that I could intentionally make people laugh by just being funny, so I tried to be funny all the time. There I was, just geeking the hell out for friends and family. But it made sense. I figured this thing out. When I was even younger, I would stumble into my laughs. I’m thinking, “What did I do?” This was quite different at age 4. I was putting on a show. It was planned. This was by choice. I learned I could make people feel good with my nonstop antics. Later on, I began to do the same thing for a living. And now to be the superhero and wear my own spandex is just dream-come-true time.

What is the strangest part of being Shazam!?

I have action figures. Come on! That’s just stupid. The other odd thing is the suit. I have a little codpiece in front so you can go number one if needed. That’s helpful yet strange. How many others go to work in a uniform with a codpiece? And it’s necessary?

Will you go back to your career in music?

When Dua Lipa calls.

How do you feel about Dwayne Johnson joining the DC Universe and playing Black Adam?

I think it’s great. I hope the Black Adam movie rocks. Totally unintentional pun there, because he is The Rock. I do hope that one day we come to what I call “fisty cuffs,” but that’s way above my pay grade. I just show up when they tell me to show up. Like today.

Do you have a favorite film? Maybe something you’ll watch over Christmas?

If I had to choose based on how many times I’ve seen it, well, then it’s “Forrest Gump.” Man, I remember I cried my damn eyes out the first time I saw that movie at age 13. I was crying all through the credits. Weeping. Loudly. People were looking back at me and my family wondering, “Are they hurting this child in Row 10?” I just loved him so much. The guy was bullied endlessly and he still loved everybody. That is someone who inspires me to be a better man.

What’s next?

I’d love to make a “Chuck” movie. … A lot of “Chuck” fans miss it, and we left people on a bit of a cliffhanger. The show was designed to make you feel good, and we could use a little of that these days.

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