Warning: spoilers for the third act of Shazam! are in play. If you haven’t seen the film yet, please bookmark this article, and come back once you’re caught up.
Despite the fact the comic history behind Shazam! has integrated the idea of an entire family of heroes, all signs pointed to the DC Comics film being centered solely around Asher Angel’s Billy Batson and his super heroic alter ego played by Zachary Levi. Prior to the film’s release, there wasn’t even a whisper about the rest of the family’s eventual appearance during a pivotal moment in the third act. This is a pretty rare occurrence in this modern age of spoilers and leaks, and director David F. Sandberg recently revealed the following strategy was what made such a unique surprise possible:
We cast the kids first, and then sort of looked for a physical resemblance. And then, to keep things under wraps, just because things leaked as much as they do, we actually wrote custom scenes for each character that weren't from the movie. So the people who came in to audition had no idea that they were basically reading for a superhero.
As seen in this weekend’s #1 movie, Shazam! eventually expands the roster of superheroes to include Billy Batson’s five foster siblings. Just as Asher Angel and Zachary Levi were cast to be the mortal and magic halves of the child/hero coin, there was obviously a need for other adult versions of all the other children in the family. Which eventually lead to the need to cast said adults, without letting them in on any big secrets that could accidentally leak into the world.
It’s an ingenious move that other top secret productions have used to help throw off the scent of any potential spoilers. Basically, instead of having actors like D.J. Catrona or Adam Brody reading for the big showdown at the Chilladelphia Winter Festival towards the end of Shazam, fake scenes were written so the actors would get the gist of their characters during auditions, without revealing the big secrets.
One can never be too careful when it comes to a project as high profile as Shazam!, or any superhero franchise entry for that matter, because while it’s easy to discredit any leaks under the guise of fake spoilers, the eventual truth comes out once those first showings hit. David F. Sandberg not only understands this, but he also broke down the strategy, and one of the alternate scenes written, in the example from his talk with Screen Rant:
It was just sort of everyday scenes with characters that had the traits of them. So for Darla, Meagan Good, she read for a scene with a girl that's doing a driving test, and she's like a fast-talking character... I hope we can maybe put that on the Blu-ray or something, because they're fun scenes with these great actors.
Based on the results shown in the film, this method paid off, especially in the case of Good’s portrayal of Darla, because it bases itself off of the very same sort of principal that any good comic adaptation like Shazam! builds its proper screenplay around. While nailing the look of a hero is important, getting the language and feel of the story into the script is paramount as well. If you can put that to bed easily, then you can write the characters you’re tackling in any context, as seen here.
With Shazam! in theaters now, and Shazam! 2 retaining that first film’s screenwriter, it’s probably a safe bet that whomever auditions for crucial roles in that film’s narrative might not even know it until they’ve signed on. So if you happen to be auditioning for Warner Bros and/or David F. Sandberg in the near future, you’ll probably want to make sure you take that SAT prep scene uber-seriously.