Zachary Levi was just a normal TV actor when something extraordinary happened. As if by magic, he gained superhero-sized muscles. Here’s the story of the real hard work behind the special effects that filled out that lightning-bolt suit.

Character Development


It’s every child’s dream: a sudden ability to rock outlandishly-sized guns and display some superhero sizzle. Zachary thought the same about his character. “Playing Shazam has been surreal and awesome,” he says. “It was this incredible combination of things that drew me towards the character. He just has this enormous amount of humour and heart. Often you have a superhero who is begrudgingly pulled into the more heroic elements. With Shazam, Billy Batson is just pumped to save the world. He loves being a superhero – he gets a real kick out of it. He’s optimistic and isn’t jaded. That’s such a great thing to play, and to be honest it made it so much easier because my excitement in playing the character was something to tap into when playing Shazam. This was huge for me; I’d never played the lead role in a movie that hit theaters, and for it to be a character like Shazam was a bit nuts.

Genuinely, I can’t believe I get to play the kid in the superhero, and therefore not have to restrain my enthusiasm. It’s sort of Big meets Superman: I’m a man-child so this is the greatest thing for me. It’s fun as well, it’s a nice twist on the superhero genre.”

zachary levi in the gym

Dream Physique

You don’t get your ideal job without putting in the hard work and while there were a few accusations of the Shazam suit doing all the heavy lifting in the muscling-up department, Zachary scoffs at those claims because he rose to the challenge by raising the weights. “That was another thing I was stoked about, this great opportunity to get into the best shape in my life,” he explains. “And the working out, it’s something you have to do on a film like this, you have to do it for the fans but also it’s a big part of the character – it’s a big way to inhabit the character both physically and mentally.”

As Levi proves, getting a mental picture of the man you want to be physically is an important part of achieving your goal. Clarity is vital to success, explains a paper at Virginia Tech. The researchers discovered that making goal attainment a visual task gives you more motivation than reaching for abstract goals. Also, having a progress bar, like the one you see when you’re downloading a file, is more motivating than just trying to picture the end result. Make yourself a chart that you can map your progress on and you’ll be more likely to stick with the regime you need to succeed.

Love of the Game

Zachary was not a natural pick for the role – his facial appearance perhaps, but his physique certainly wasn’t up to the task of boosting the Justice League’s armaments. However, by changing the routine he put his body through, he’s also altered his mindset. “Doing the training and preparing for the role, I found that such a blast and genuinely… genuinely life-changing,” he says. “The training didn’t just help my physical health and my strength, it also helped my mental health and emotional health. I was really just taking good care of myself and that makes such a difference physically, nutritionally, mentally and even spiritually. It’s a lifestyle change and it really emphasizes this self-love, you know? I’m continuing on the journey, it’s really sparked this focus on health, wellness and strength for me.”

He’s not a rogue agent on this quest either because all the research backs up his claims. A paper at McMaster University found that kinesiologists have discovered exercise is an excellent way to fight depression by encouraging muscle-spawned mood boosters. Exercise turns on the genes within your muscles that influence the metabolic pathways that promote mood-enhancing chemicals such as serotonin in your brain. In other words, if you want to give your brain super powers, be sure to exercise regularly.

The Heavy Lifting

When you devote a little time and effort towards the tried and tested strategies for building muscle, the results come faster than you could imagine. Even though you may not have a trainer or a nutritionist at your disposal, you’re made of the same flesh and blood as Zachary and his improvements were staggering.

“With the working out, I immediately put on about 24 pounds, but then we carved down about half of that so I was around 215 pounds,” he explains. “I was lifting weights six times a week and at times I was doing two sessions a day. My trainer Grant Roberts was incredible. For six days a week, we just pushed as much weight as I could possibly bear, and I ate an insane number of calories, but then lowered that when I was doing the carving phase. The training was lots of compound moves and your bodybuilding moves, but also some movement and then boxing. I’ve been training for a year and a half now, going through phases of bulking up and carving down.”
As you can see, there’s no secret formula behind what Zachary did – it was just downright dogged determination that helped him achieve his ultimate goal.