"Oh Sh*t, we have Helen Mirren!"

“Oh sh*t, we have Helen Mirren, we need to step it up!” Director David F Sandberg on Shazam! Fury Of The Gods

We exclusively speak to director David F Sandberg about wrangling multiple superheroes and getting Helen Mirren on board for Shazam! Fury Of The Gods.

It’s been four years since we were first introduced to Billy Batson and his adult superhero alter-ego Shazam – and his whole adopted family of superheroes. But now Billy, Freddy and co are back, they’re a little bit older, not much wiser, and facing a world-ending threat. We sat down with returning director David F Sandberg to talk about Shazam! Fury Of The Gods.

There were some adjustments required between the two films, not least the fact that the sequel is now a team movie, rather than about a solo superhero. Zachary Levi’s Shazam is no longer the only hero in town, and that leaves Sandberg with a hell of a lot more plates to keep spinning. “Six superheroes and three gods and lots of monsters. It’s difficult, partly on a story level, everyone needs their moment, you need to fit everyone in there, but also a technical level, just shooting it, where do you put everyone, where do you put the camera, how do you move it around, how do you wrangle everyone?”

There were a lot of characters, gods and monsters to wrangle in Shazam! Fury Of The Gods.

The other big adjustment Sandberg and his team had to make was that, unsurprisingly, kids grow up a lot in four years. Billy (Asher Angel) and Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) are 17 in this film, a very different proposition to the excitable young teens they were in the first movie. How much did Sandberg and Levi have to modulate the character of Shazam to fit in with his slightly more mature age? “I think we tried to do it a little bit more grown up, but the joy of youth is still there in Zach, that’s what the character is all about, it’s what makes him fun, so you don’t want to make him too serious. But this one is a little bit more serious, especially towards the end, where it’s like, it’s time to grow up for real now.” For Billy, approaching 18 brings a very specific anxiety: he’s about to age out of the foster system. “He’s afraid of losing his family, the family that he found in the first [film],” Sandberg explains.

“The joy of youth is still there in Zach.”

Aside, perhaps, from Mary (Grace Caroline Currey), who is increasingly concerned with college and nursing hangovers, the rest of the Shazam family are still kids, and nowhere is that more evident than in the redesigned Rock of Eternity, which the kids have turned into basically the coolest treehouse in the world. “It was so cool coming in there and seeing all the video games and toys, they have toys of themselves and fan art of themselves, all the newspaper clippings of things they’ve done. It was such a fun set to be on as well. It was hard getting the actors off the set because those were real video games,” Sandberg says.

The Shazam family wouldn’t have much to do without a good villain to face, but Sandberg admits to having trouble pinning down a baddie for this film, finding that many of the comic book villains weren’t quite grounded enough. In the end, this film’s villains – the Daughters of Atlas, rooted in Greek mythology – were created entirely for the film. “[Shazam’s] powers are from gods and mythological figures, what if his powers were stolen, and now [the gods] want them back? We felt like that gave the villains a motive that you can understand, because they have a point, you know. The powers don’t actually belong to Shazam because they were stolen from somebody else. But they go about the whole thing the wrong way. And it isn’t Shazam’s fault, he didn’t know that, he didn’t ask for it.”

Those villains ended up being Hespera, played by Helen Mirren, and Kalypso, played by Lucy Liu. “I’m so lucky with actors, that we got Helen Mirren to do it,” Sandberg gushes. “I expected her to say no, but we thought let’s try it, we can only get ‘no’, and that led to Lucy Liu. That role, we originally just started casting looking for unknown people, but then it was like, oh shit, we have Helen Mirren, we need to step it up! So I said how about Lucy Liu? And that’s the great thing about them not being humans. Yeah, they’re sisters, but we don’t have to care about age or ethnicity or whatever.”

“I’m so lucky with actors, that we got Helen Mirren to do it.” Shazam! Fury Of The Gods director David F Sandberg (left) with star Helen Mirren.

As for the future of Shazam, Sandberg isn’t taking anything for granted, but he does admit that the aging young actors poses a problem, as the series risks losing the childish glee that is its unique selling point. “Definitely, that’s a worry. Thankfully they’re different ages, so we’ve still got Darla, the youngest, and she can be more innocent and sweet, but yeah, if you were to do a third one it would have to change even more, the dynamic.”

Shazam! Fury Of The Gods is in cinemas from 17 March.