Imagine meeting a wizard, absorbing his powers and suddenly transforming into a superhero. Pretty crazy, right? Add having a teenage body that transforms into an adult every time you say one word to that and it gets even crazier. But that’s the story of DC’s Shazam!
Sixteen-year-old Asher Angel (known for his role as Jonah on Disney Channel’s Andi Mack) stars as Billy Batson, a streetwise foster kid who obtains the powers of Shazam, known as Captain Marvel in the old comics, from an ancient wizard (Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou). Soon Batson is jumping off of rooftops, screaming the iconic word to transform into a godlike superhero with the heart of a kid played by Zachary Levi (Tangled, Chuck).
“When I got the role, I would practice it over and over in the mirror,” said Angel, referring to the word Shazam, and going on to say the word in different tones as though he were practicing. “I know that sounds weird, but surprisingly when I got on set it was fine. They were like, ‘That’s how we want it.’ I was like, ‘Do you want me to try it a different way?’ They were like, ‘No, keep it like that.’ I was definitely nervous about that because that’s the iconic phrase that everyone wants to hear, so it went really well and I guess they liked it.”
Angel got the chance to try out some stunts, like the one seen in the trailer for the movie, where he runs and jumps off the ledge of a building.
“They put this platform in front of the stage and I jumped off it,” said Angel, who also explained he was able to do some fight scenes and sliding on stairs. “It was pretty high actually. I jumped off it and landed on this pad. That was kind of scary but fun.”
Scenes like that come after enlisting his superhero enthusiast friend Freddy Freeman, played by Jack Dylan Grazer (It, It: Chapter 2), to help him test to the limits of his abilities.
“I’ve always loved superheroes, I’ve always been fascinated by them,” said 15-year-old Grazer. “I grew up with the DC universe, so now being part of it in my career is mind blowing. I did a lot of research for Freddy, everything he’s into. I’ve become a lot more in touch with that realm. I went through a lot of comics. I read a lot of them on the internet, I read the [The Power of Shazam! Family Feud! comic], [Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox comic], there were so many that I read. I wanted to get the real gist of the lore behind this story. I think being the character of Freddy I had to do even more research because he knows everything there is to know about superheroes.”
Similarly, Angel hit the comic store after finding out he booked the role after just coming out of an airport restroom and proceeding to run around in excitement despite looks from security.
“I’ve dreamed about this since I was a little kid and now it’s actually happening,” said Angel. “It’s surreal. It’s insane. I dressed up as Superman almost every Halloween; I idolized Superman. That’s who I wanted to be, fly across the world and chase bad guys. It’s insane to be part of this type of movie.”
While Angel’s character transforms into a superhero, in the comics, Freeman’s character becomes Captain Marvel Jr. Will comic book lovers see him turn into a superhero?
“You’ll have to see,” said Grazer.
While the plot follows Shazam as he finds out the powers he possesses, from flight to shooting lightning out of his hands, he must also fight the deadly forces of evil controlled by Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, played by Mark Strong (Kingsman movies).
Both Batson and Freeman are foster kids, which Grazer explained he finds “heartwarming” and “enlightening” as he feels not many movies touch on this subject, let alone superhero movies. And while Grazer explained their relationship on screen starts with reluctance as the two meet at a foster home, off-screen the cast immediately bonded, as Angel explained the “Shazam! Fam” would go on excursions, like attending Toronto Raptors basketball games together.
“We pranked each other a lot on set,” said Angel, who went on to tell the tale of the baby powder incident. “We wrapped and Jack comes in and he’s like, ‘Hey there. He brings this baby powder over to me, he looks at me and he’s like, ‘watch this.’ I see a little go up, and he thinks it’s like the coolest thing ever. I’m like ‘Jack, I don’t want any of that on me.’ He’s like, ‘yeah, I get it.’ He’s playing with it then hits it, it makes a huge puff and then it goes all over me. I’m covered in baby powder from head to toe and then he runs away.”
Grazer recalls the situation similarly, except he made it sound a bit more accidental as he claimed, “It blew out so much baby powder, way more than I thought would come out of it. It got all over his face, hair, clothes—it’s hard to get out of clothes. I just ran so far away.”
Working with Levi was just as fun and natural. Was it difficult to pretend that Levi was actually a teenager? Absolutely not, said Grazer, who spends a majority of the film, which is presented by New Line Cinema and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, alongside Levi.
“It was not hard to do that,” he said. “He’s just a 14-year-old boy trapped in a man’s body. That wasn’t too difficult.”
“When working with Zach, we didn’t get to work together that much, but we spent a lot of time together,” said Angel. “We had a couple of transformation scenes together where I say Shazam and he appears.”
Because transforming is a large part of the film, Angel and Grazer said if they were to get a superpower, it would have to be flight.
“I feel like if someone can fly, you immediately assume they can do more,” said Grazer. “No one just flies. If I said I can fly, someone would think I can do anything.”
Directed by David F. Sandberg and produced by Peter Safran, the film, set in the DC universe with the idea that everyone has a superhero inside them, opened on April 5.