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Zachary Levi: You Got to Love Yourself

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Superhero Zachary Levi spent hours in the gym preparing for his role in Shazam! Here, he explains how he did it, how it changed his life and how, if he can do it, everybody else can too.

Mostly known as for his performances in Chuck as lead character Chuck Bartowski, geekboy-turned-Superhero Zachary Levi is about to impress as the main character in Shazam! The American actor’s own elevation from action hero nearly man to box office star is indeed like something from a fantasy arcade game, though as the 38-year-old explains to BESTFIT.

Where does Shazam! come from, then?

I am the product of two demi-gods, a titan and a man of God and Solomon. So, I have bags of power at my disposal and a lot of those happen to be mystical, magical powers. Superman is still really within the realm of science fiction, you know what I mean? Super strong… but I am magic.

Let’s talk about Big because that’s the movie that you have compared Shazam! to. In effect, it’s ‘Big meets Superman…’ Those are some, umm, big shoes to fill, so did you find that to be a challenge?

Look, Tom Hanks is legendary, and he is one of my idols and the movie Big is perfect to me and one of the best movies ever made. Since I was a kid – obviously I loved it then, but it still holds up and it’s just really good storytelling.

But I think at the end of the day whether you’re a writer, director or actor you’re also going to be giving homage to or emulating some of the actors that helped shape some of the movies that helped shape you.

We were not trying to make a film to fill the shoes of Big or try to fill the shoes of Superman, we’re creating something that is equal parts both, with little dashes of other things. Bringing our own experiences and hearts and minds and Shazam as a character is so different to other characters in the DC Universe.

Did you really have to work out that much, given that in the film you’re playing a 14-year-old version of yourself?

Sure, I was ripped when I was 14 [laughs]. The truth is everything in this film is off the scale – it’s beefed up and a dream world, so we had to big up everything in there, including myself.

What was your preparation like then?

From the day I was told I had got the lead role in Shazam!, I got straight in the gym. I was there at least five times a week and was eating about 3-4,000 calories every day. That was to help me bulk up to the necessary weight I needed to be to have the energy to go to the gym that amount of time. Then, I began shredding until I got down to about 215 pounds.

I have been around that weight ever since and I have to say I have never been so happy with my health and weight, the shape I am in and my strength is so great for my mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health. And it’s the mental health side that has pleased me the most – especially living in today’s society.

So this is superhero becoming reality?

I think the point is, if I can do this, then anyone can. You got to love yourself, man. You really do. And doing this is my part of what as many people who can do, should be doing for themselves, not for anyone else, but just for their own mental health.

What sort of routine have you been doing?

The exercises that I have been doing to help me get to the shape and size required… well they are pretty tough, let me tell you that.

I will start with a seated shoulder press (four sets x 12 reps) for real upper-body extension. I’ll then move to Lateral to Front Raises, and Arnold Press into a French Press.

Then, for my triceps, it’s a combination of cable triceps extensions, triceps dips and barbell biceps dips. Most of that stuff after the seated shoulder press is three sets x 10 reps, and man, I can tell you when you’re done with all that you really feel like you’ve been putting the hard stuff in.

Are you strict in your routine?

No, I can’t be. I’ve always found it’s a fine line between structure and boredom. You have to listen to your body and be sensible in mixing it up if that’s the way to keep it fresh and functioning. If you don’t do that you’ll find ways to cut corners because the training is too mechanical – perhaps you’ll cry off ill from training, or won’t extend properly on stretches.

The beautiful thing about repetition is it’s the only real way of showing you how far you’ve come; but on the other side there is always that real threat of boredom.

Had you let go of the dream of being the superhero? Did Shazam! come at a time when you were still hoping to do something like this?

No, no, no. Actually, quite the opposite. There had been some near misses and this business is a pretty gnarly one – it can really beat you up if you’re not careful about it.

I’d like to think you build mental strength out of physical strength and that gives you the resilience to bounce back, no matter what you
do or what you go through in life.
I have certainly sweated out a lot of frustration over the years, so looking after myself has helped me work a lot of stuff out, definitely.

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