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INTERVIEW – ‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’ Director and Writers Discuss Their Creative Process

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Scattered February showers over Century City did nothing to dampen the excitement of a private screening of Shazam! Fury of The Gods, and a Q&A with director David F. Sandberg that followed. Warner Bros. and Sandberg hosted a brunch with the director to discuss the upcoming film.

One of the most exciting new elements of the sequel is the addition of Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu to the cast. I asked Sandberg if the inclusion of the legendary actors was planned from the start. “I mean, Helen [Mirren] was sort of the first one where we thought like—’cause we wanted to aim high—like,  ‘What’s the best we could get?’” Sandberg said. “Helen Mirren would be the best, you know? And then, she actually said yes!”

On casting Kalypso (Liu) and Anthea (Rachel Zegler), Sandberg said, “after we got Helen and everything, for the studio as well, it was like, ‘Hey, we kind of need to get someone more bigger here.’ And that was when we started talking about Lucy Liu. Rachel, I didn’t really know about, ’cause, you know, West Side Story hadn’t come out yet and everything. So she just auditioned.”

So where does Shazam! Fury of the Gods fall into the timeline of the currently ongoing DC Extended Universe? “I’m not sure,” Sandberg said laughing. “I think [The] Flash will sort of mess up the continuity quite a bit.”

(L-R) Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu. Credit: Warner Bros.
(L-R) Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu. Credit: Warner Bros.

I asked about the perils of juggling so many characters and the challenge of fleshing them all out thoroughly, and Sandberg acknowledged the challenges. “It’s very hard. Just like on a physical sense, just like how you stage it and how you like frame it. ‘Cause sometimes there would be like eleven, twelve characters on screen at once and like, you know that last scene when The Wizard shows up at the house, … [we] just put everyone in a big, big line, ’cause it’s just so many people! Like how do we even stage it, you know?” Sandberg said.

When asked about what project he would want if he could work on any other DC property alongside James Gunn post-reboot, Sandberg maintained that his current project was ideal for him.

“I mean, Shazam is sort of the, the perfect one I think, because it’s like, it’s not too big, so it’s not too many expectations…if you make a Superman, you’re gonna piss off a lot of people, you know what I mean?” Sandberg said after some thought. “With Shazam, yeah, some people will be pissed off, but it’s like, it’s manageable. It’s new to a lot of people, and I like that.”

Just three days after that, I sat down with the film’s writers, Chris Morgan and Henry Gayden, to pull back the curtain on various plot points and creative choices.

Fury of the Gods sees Billy Batson (Zachary Levi) becoming a bit more mature in his leadership style, but also trying to hold onto some of his more childlike qualities, drawing some Peter Pan-like parallels.

“I feel like being in a grown-up body has made him think that he is older than he really is. And I think that the movie is showing him how immature he really is. The whole movie started with just being a movie about, like, a kid who needed a family, finally got it. And now that he has it, he’s unaware that he’s terrified of losing it,” Gayden said. “And it’s coming to the awareness that he’s actually hurting his connections with his family by holding on too tight. And that is one of the immaturities and weaknesses in his character that he kind of comes to terms with.”

(L-R) Jovan Armand, Jack Dylan Grazer, Asher Angel, Faithe Herman, Grace Caroline Currey, Ian Chen. Credit: Warner Bros.
(L-R) Jovan Armand, Jack Dylan Grazer, Asher Angel, Faithe Herman, Grace Caroline Currey, Ian Chen. Credit: Warner Bros.

Morgan added that the challenges that Batson and the Shazam family are dealing with in this film are very human experiences. “It’s just watching all the characters grow up and dealing with all the stuff that we normally deal with—except they have superpowers, and super-mess-it-up!” Morgan said.

On expounding on the large family’s individual story arcs, Gayden revealed that they had developed even more significant backstories that were cut simply due to time. “I mean a lot of them got cut, cut down. Like we had a lot more and it’s just been run time. We have to cut it down,” Gayden said. “But, like, I thought that they all interact so well together that we were able to tell the story of Mary (Grace Caroline Currey), who really kind of wants to move on and move to college. And you have, you have Eugene (Ian Chen), who’s like exploring the Rock of Eternity and like trying to crack the sort of rule book of what this place is. And Pedro (Jovan Armand) who is uh, longing for… maybe someone on a professional baseball team? Freddy (Adam Brody) is like, you know, knows that he can be a superhero, but no one sees him as that, and he wished he could be seen as that. And then Billy, like I said, is like kind of coming to terms with how to be in this family.”

(L-R) Ross Butler, Adam Brody, Grace Carolin Currey, Zachary Levi, Meagan Good and D.J. Cotrona. Credit: Warner Bros.
(L-R) Ross Butler, Adam Brody, Grace Carolin Currey, Zachary Levi, Meagan Good and D.J. Cotrona. Credit: Warner Bros.

Reflecting on the creative process, Gayden said smiling, “We, we’re really proud of it.”

Morgan talked about the nature of an ensemble film that is part of a larger franchise, saying that as a writer, the goal is to give the various characters a moment that could lead to future stories. “It’s the great characters that you wrote and put together, and the audience cares about them, but that’s the thing about ensembles. It’s like, if you get a really good one, in the case of Shazam, you know…you just wanna spend more time with them,” Morgan said. “And you just have to…realize you’re gonna have to give people their moments. And here, some people are gonna shine and move the story a little bit farther down the field here. And then, knowing that it’s a franchise, that hopefully people like really embrace and love, we get to share more of those moments down the road.”

Shazam! Fury of the Gods is in theaters March 17, 2023!

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Elijah Isaiah Johnson is a writer/illustrator/animator. His most recently published works include the Amazon best-seller Nightmare Detective, Noir is the New Black, the Comixology Indie best-selling series Leaders of the Free World, The Formula and much more.

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