Early last year, when Shazam! was still filming in Toronto, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters. While I was optimistic going in based on everything I’d heard about the upcoming DC film, being on set left me even more excited. One of the main reasons was director David Sandberg. Even though he was coming off two smaller scale movies (Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation), both showed someone who clearly knew what he was doing behind the camera and I was excited to see what he would do next.
During a break in filming, I got to participate in a group interview with David Sandberg where he talked about a myriad of subjects like how he was going to handle the magic, what comics he was looking at for guidance, how it’s a very different tone than Justice League, why he wanted to helm the project, how he put together the cast, how he was trying to do a lot of the film practically, how the film is both self-contained but is also part of a bigger universe, how the 3rd act isn’t about the end of the world, and a lot more.
Scripted by Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo) from a story by Gayden and Darren Lemke (Goosebumps), Shazam! tells the story of a 14-year-old boy named Billy who, when he shouts the word “SHAZAM!”, can turn into an adult superhero. Asher Angel plays Billy, while Chuck star Zachary Levi plays the adult Shazam. It breakout Jack Dylan Grazer plays Billy’s best friend Freddy Freeman. Shazam! also stars Djimon Hounsou, Grace Fulton, Faithe Herman, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Cooper Andrews, and Marta Milans.
Check out what David Sanberg had to say below. Shazam! opens in theaters on April 5th.
Question: We learned a lot about the story, and I’m curious during the development process, how much did this story change along the way, and how much is it what you first discussed?
DAVID SANDBERG: The core of it didn’t change so much. There’s some things about like the sins and stuff like how they worked, and yeah. I can talk about that right?
SANDBERG: No, just having fun with sort of how the sins worked and everything, because I wanted to do something a little different from … like in the Geoff Johns versions you have … they look very different, because you have one that looks like a person, one that looks like a monster, and I wanted to go more sort of monster route and also do cool stuff with the mechanics of how they go between solid form and ghost form and how challenging that is to fight and stuff like that.
You’re the first DC movie to in production after Justice League. I want to know how the result … the critical reaction, and sort of everything reacting to that movie changed this movie at all. Obviously, this is a bright movie. It’s sort of dark. Was there any …
SANDBERG: I mean, it’s such a separate film that I don’t think it changed anything really. It’s very different from Justice League. It’s still the same universe, but just has a very different tone, and it’s not … yeah.
Do you think about any of that, the past criticism of DC movie?
SANDBERG: Not really.
The comic Shazam is lesser known for some people.
Is there any character you were particularly interested in when the project came up, or that you knew about?
SANDBERG: He was lesser known to me as well when they approached me. Yeah, I was just vaguely familiar, so I did like a deep dive research kind of thing after.
What was it about the character that made you want to take on this project?
SANDBERG: Well, basically they told me, “Oh, it’s like Big with superpowers.” It’s like, that sounds awesome. Like there’s so much you can have with that wish fulfillment of this kid who gets to become a superhero and try out all these things. Yeah, it just felt very unique.
Is there any talk, or was there any talk about putting the Zoltar machine in the amusement park, and can you still do this?
SANDBERG: Well, yeah, maybe we can. Well, we actually have other references to Big.
Does it involve the Chopsticks?
SANDBERG: You’ll have to see exactly what they are. Yeah, there’s a couple of them actually.
You kind of briefly touched on it, and it’s something we keep hearing a lot about, is the tone of the movie. So like, can you break it down maybe in your terms what you consider the tone?
SANDBERG: It’s sort of a … Yeah, it’s a fun movie…Like, it’s not like a pure comedy, because you still have those … touches some pretty dark subjects and some pretty scary monsters, but it’s more of … I like to compare it to like ’80s movies, like Goonies, and Ghostbusters, and Back To the Future. Like, that sort of like, “Oh, it’s a family kind of … ” It’s not dark and gritty.
This movie deals with this magical corner of the D.C. universe that has never been explored on film, so there-
SANDBERG: Which is great when it’s like, “Well, how do we explain that?” Well, it’s magic so it’s like, finally.
But the sins and this set in particular, like, there is this kind of very serious magical vibe to it, and it’s so different than the warmth we’re seeing with Asher and Zach and everything else. How do you balance that duality within the movie?
SANDBERG: Yeah, you just have to sort of take the magic sort of seriously and have it like a very real world thing to make it feel like, “Oh, it’s actually … ” You have to not have it feel too foreign or weird, so it’s, yeah, playing the magic very straight and the sins and stuff like that, but it’s almost like a little … Yeah, it’s my monster movie that I’m finally making.
Can you talk about the casting a little bit? How did you end up with Zach, what did he bring to the table?
SANDBERG: We did very extensive casting. We read, I think it was over a hundred people for the role of Shazam. I mean, that’s usually the case. You just read tons and tons of people until you see some … You see right away that it’s like, “Ooh, that’s the guy.” And that’s kind of what happened with Zach once I saw … He had self-taped and sent that in. And so, I … “Ooh, that’s the guy.”