"Shazam! Fury of the Gods" will hit theaters in just over two weeks, bringing us the further adventures of the Shazamily. All the kids have superpowers now once they say the word "Shazam!", but they're in a rough spot. Their foster parents don't know about their superhero identities. They're all going in different directions. Some of them have crushes on goddesses. When a few deities show up on Earth to search for a dangerous artifact, our heroes have to find a way to save the day with the help of a wizard, a sentient pen, and some wild creatures. Zachary Levi once again leads the cast of kids in adult bodies, with Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zegler joining the ensemble.

I recently spoke to director David F. Sandberg about his cameo in the movie, the future of Shazam, nabbing Mirren for the cast, and why he prefers working with a lesser-known superhero.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

'[Helen Mirren] Is Hardcore'

I love the fact that this isn't dark, and I'd love to know how you balance the tone between some of the darker aspects of it with the sort of joyful feel of the whole movie.

Yeah, I think the joy is sort of there naturally in the character, and the actors certainly bring that to it. It's like being a child. But no, I think you need some dark moments as well to just make the threat and the danger feel real. Those are the kind of movies that I love the most. You have a little bit of that sprinkled in to make it all feel real and dangerous.

We spoke to you after the screening, and one of the things you were talking about is making a movie about a DC character who isn't one of DC's big three [Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman], so you don't get as much anger online. I'd love to hear more about your thoughts on that, and would you ever want to do something with one of the big three?

I think the trick is with someone like Superman, for instance, there have been so many different versions of it, and everyone has their own idea of what it has to be. That's the great thing about Shazam: There haven't been that many versions of him, and people don't know that much about it. There haven't been movies before. There've been TV shows and serials and things like that. So I think people are more open to it. They aren't so set in that, "This is what it needs to be" [mentality]. There're a couple of them like that.

There are always a couple of them.

But it is freeing — we can do our version of it. And now I think it would be quite daunting to take on someone that's more known.

I was watching "Graham Norton" and Helen Mirren mentioned that she broke her finger and that it was sort of bent, but she said no one knew on set. Did you know?

No, I found out afterwards. I was like, "Why? She didn't tell us." But I mean, she's such a trooper. She wanted to do her own stunts and everything and she does a lot of it. We put her on wires and got her up in the air and everything. She's hardcore.

How did you get her? Because just hearing that she was going to be in a superhero film was so cool.

I was surprised because that was sort of our reference of, "Oh, someone like Helen Mirren, imagine that." So we asked her to sort of just, "Okay, we'll get her 'no' and then we'll move on." But she actually said yes, and that affected the rest of the casting as well. Because the role of Kalypso by Lucy Liu, originally, we started just doing auditions and trying to find someone lesser known, but when Helen Mirren said yes, it was like, "Okay, we have to really up our game here and find someone who can act against her." And then we thought of Lucy Liu, and she said yes as well. It probably helped Helen Mirren already said yes.

'Can You Do A Dragon With A Hundred Heads?'

The three Hesperides [daughters of the titan Atlas; Hespera, Kalypso, and Anthea] almost seem like the triple goddess: the maiden, mother, and crone.

The cool thing is that because they're gods and it's magic and all that, we didn't have to look at age or anything like that. It didn't have to be the siblings that we usually know. We could cast whoever we want and just get the best actors.

You mentioned after the screening something about Zach being like a child, and he's the perfect guy to play a kid in a man's body. I know things that are sort of [changing] at DC now. Do you have ideas for a third film if it could happen?

Not really. I just focus on each movie at a time, make sure that it's a standalone thing with a good ending and everything, and then you go onto the next thing. So I had no sequel ideas when we did the first one. The cool thing is that they've told me that the Shazam movies, since they are pretty standalone, they don't interfere or contradict anything they have planned for the future of DC. So you could make more Shazam movies, but we'll see what happens.

With "Black Adam" coming out, did that change anything? And I do have to say, [Levi's] suit burning, I know you've said that wasn't intentional, but making it look a little Black Adam's outfit was pretty cool.

Yeah, he doesn't own the trademark on a black suit. No, it didn't change anything because we knew they were going to be separate, that "Black Adam" was sort of doing their own thing.

I'd love to hear you talk about the mythology of Hesperides because I know you've got Kalypso, who is a daughter of Atlas. You've got Anthea, who is sort of one of the Graces, and [the dragon] Ladon. What were your sort of decisions in terms of what you were going to bring?

Yeah, I mean certainly for the design. With the dragon, I was reading about versions of those, like, "Oh, it has a hundred heads." And there was a brief moment there where I was like, "Can you do a dragon with a hundred heads? Maybe a lot of tiny heads that create a bigger head, or he had heads all over his body." But that sort of went away. It's just too crazy. Maybe you could do five heads, ten heads. But a hundred heads? No.

But it was really cool to get to play with mythology and bring that into a comic book superhero world and then come up with some interesting new sort of superpowers they have. They have the power of chaos and the power of elements and things like that.

'We Can't Rip Off Doctor Strange'

When this was all coming to fruition, did you have an idea of what those powers would look like? And did the actors know what they would look like?

No, because the powers, especially Anthea's power — she can rearrange the world — that was something we worked a really long time on. So I didn't even really know what it was going to look like. It was tricky, because it's somewhat similar to things we've seen in "Doctor Strange." So it's like, "Oh, we have to do something different. We can't rip off 'Doctor Strange.'" So it was carefully trying to come up with ways of showing that it's similar to that. So we didn't really know what their powers would look like until pretty late in the process.

The Skittles conceit is so funny, and I'd love to hear about how that came about, as well as dark unicorns.

Yeah. The Skittles thing was something Henry came up with, I guess — Henry Gayden, the writer. We went with a real brand because it's kind of lame when you have movies where it's obvious, "Oh, they made up their own version of something." Like, "Oh, they eat Skamples." So we used that in the script and then reached out to Skittles to ask for permission, which they thankfully approved, so we could do it.

And I love doing the dark scary version of a unicorn because they're so associated with fun times and good things. But to do brutal murder unicorns was like, oh yeah, that's right up my alley.

Brutal murder unicorns. I like that. That's how they should be listed. But it's interesting that you still have the little girl be the one to tame the unicorn.

Yeah, I mean, Darla is the youngest and the most naive. So of course, she loves unicorns, and she's very sort of stereotypically girly in some ways, but it's fun to lean into that.

That was really cute. And Meagan [Good] managed to totally embody [Faithe Herman, the actor who plays younger Darla].

Yeah, she's great with that. She really — you feel that sort of young, naive, very innocent [aspect], but then you have little moments where it's like, "Okay, she probably picks up on things."

'It's The First Time You Actually See My Face In A Movie'

I have to ask you about the creature design, because I know you've mentioned Ray Harryhausen as an influence before. Was that you? Was that the effects department?

Yeah, it's a big collaboration. You work with the concept artists first and sort of talk through like, "Oh yeah, the dragon needs to be made of wood, and we need these things to think about, and I want them to have four legs and wings." So it's not the typical sort of "Game of Thrones" approach where the wings are arms kind of thing, just to make things different. And then when the VFX team takes over, the designs sometimes change as well because it's like, "Oh, the legs are actually too small on the Minotaur for him to really walk and do the things we need." So it's a constant process of figuring out the best look and design of them.

How did you pick which monsters you wanted to use?

We had quite a list of all these mythological creatures, but we had to settle for five or however many different versions there are. But it was really cool, with the cyclops and the harpies, to do Ray Harryhausen-inspired designs. And especially getting to do a manticore, a lion with a scorpion tail and bat wings that breathes fire.

Can you talk about your cameo? I don't think it's too spoilery.

Yeah, it's the first time you actually see my face in a movie. I've had my voice [in a film] and been a creature performer before, but it was actually supposed to be a stuntman doing that. And people on the crew were like, "Hey, you should do that." I was like, "Well, I don't want the stuntman to lose his job." But he had other things to do, so I was like, "Okay, I'll do it." And it was really fun to do wirework and get hoisted up in the air and get 3D scanned and things like that, so they have a 3D version of me to play around with.

That was really fun. And it's slow enough that you're recognizable, which is fun.

Yeah, and I get to speak a little Swedish, so it's a little bonus for the people at home.

'I Actually Couldn't Ask Her To Say The Full Word Because It Felt So Wrong'

I have to ask you about having little Darla say some things that had to be cut off at the end.

Yes. And actually when we shot that, I was like … I mean, Faithe is so innocent and kind of cute that I actually couldn't ask her to say the full word because it felt so wrong. As soon I knew it was going to be cut off at a certain point because got to keep it PG-13, I made up a different version of the word for her to say.

What was it?

It was something like "mother forkers" or something. "Mother fun." Something that sounds right up until a certain point.

Oh my God, that is so cute. And finally, you have creatures in here, you've got the library scene, so there is some CGI, but it really felt grounded in an actual set, in actual reality. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.

Yeah, with the creatures, we had performers on set. We hired the really tall guys walking around with gray spandex, so they can sort of may have an interact with things and with people, lifting people up and things like that. Because you need something there for people to interact with. And then, yeah, we had a lot of real sets and partial sets when it was really big environments that are needed, and then you fill it out with lots of CGI that takes a very long time to get there. It's interesting because it takes so long before you actually get to see the movie, how it's supposed to look. You live with it with very bad visual effects for a very long time. So it's towards the end that it gets really exciting. "Okay, now it's starting to become a movie."

"Shazam! Fury of the Gods" will hit theaters on March 17, 2023.

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The post Shazam! Fury of the Gods Director Talks Mythology, His Cameo, and Cursing Children [Exclusive Interview] appeared first on /Film.