SHAZAM – Interview with director David F. Sandberg

Boasting some of the strongest reviews of the year so far, (read the 4 star review here) SHAZAM tells the story of Billy Batson, a streetwise 14-year-old who can magically transform into the adult superhero Shazam simply by shouting out one word. The film is directed by DAVID F. SANDBERG, who is best known for his collective no-budget horror short films under the online pseudonym ponysmasher and for horror films ‘Lights Out’ & ‘Annabelle Creation’.

With ‘Lights Out’ and ‘Annabelle: Creation’, you’ve established yourself in the horror genre.  What drew you to making a superhero movie, and specifically the origin story of Shazam?

Well, it was specifically the origin of Shazam—it’s the perfect superhero story.  In this story, you have a little kid who gets the chance to be an adult superhero.  And that was the perfect concept for it, because it’s the ultimate wish fulfillment with the joy of him discovering his powers.

Is it the kind of story that you, as a kid, would have loved?

Absolutely.  I was a big comic book fan as a kid, and I wanted to be Superman, and this is a kid that gets to pretty much be Superman.

So how do you approach this
genre, the superhero genre, differently from horror?

It was a bit of a change.  But I like all kinds of movies and I’m certainly familiar with other genres.  For example, there’s a lot of humour in this movie, though I’ve tried to incorporate humour into my previous movies as well.  It was also a great experience to be part of a movie like this on a bigger scale.

What do you think makes Shazam so compelling as a Super Hero?

Everyone can identify with the dream of being a superhero.  But it’s also that Billy is a foster kid, and you feel very sympathetic towards him.  He’s looking for his mom that he believes is still out there, still alive, when everyone else thinks he’s been abandoned.  And he’s just trying to find hope and trying to find his family.

What do you think becoming Shazam does for Billy as a kid who, in the beginning, doesn’t have any connection to anyone?

He learns to grow up and discovers what is really important in life, and ultimately realizes that family isn’t always about blood ties.  Family can be rooted in more important things.

And does it give him a connection to another kid, Freddy?

Yes, Freddy, who absolutely loves superheroes.  And that’s also great, because it would typically be expected in a standard narrative that the superhero expert would end up with the superhero capabilities. However, that is not the case in this story. But Freddy still enjoys the fact that he can be friends with a superhero.  The boys together get to discover Billy’s powers.

Why is Zac perfect as Shazam?

Because Zac just feels like a big kid! [Laughs] We had quite an extensive search to find the right person for this role, and it was very important that everyone came in to audition. This is an interesting role as we expected a grown man to play as a kid. What I think a lot of people get wrong when they play kids is that they just act to lower the IQ.  What Zac does is different – he plays more curious and more enthusiastic.

How did you work with Zac and Asher, who are essentially playing the same character, to create some continuity in their performances?

Zac and Asher already look similar, however we tried to find little commonalities they could share across their performances.  It was actually kind of challenging because when we first meet Billy, he’s not the happiest person, and then when he becomes Shazam, he’s very happy.  He’s dynamic. So, we had to try to find those little moments where we can actually bridge that gap.

It’s unusual to start a character arc with one actor, and you finish it with a different one.

It is unusual, but it really works here.  There is that worry that if audiences identify with one actor, will they then feel a disconnect when it’s a different actor?  However, I don’t think that was ever an issue in this movie.  It actually feels cohesive – like, no, it’s just Shazam.

What about Mark Strong as Dr. Sivana—can you talk about working with him?

Yeah, I love that we could get Mark for this role, because he’s such a great actor.  He always came prepared, which really shows in the finished product.  He showed up every day, and he just nailed it on the first take every time.  And it feels like he really enjoys being a bad guy.

SHAZAM is at Irish cinemas from April 5th