Zachary Levi has been in Hollywood for nearly 20 years. Since 2001 he has been working his tail off and has come a long way. With at least 57 credits to his name, from bit roles, to starring in TV series, to playing the lead in blockbuster films, and even singing on Broadway, the multi-faceted performer has paid his dues. The versatile star already has multiple characters fans will always link him to, which is extremely fortunate considering most actors hope for just one, and his star is still growing.
Lighting up the big screen as DC superhero Shazam adds another iconic role to Levi’s roster. Levi, an amazing person on and off screen (he founded The Nerd Machine, a multimedia company that donates its proceeds to Operation Smile – a charity that provides safe, effective reconstructive surgery for children born with facial deformities such as cleft lip and cleft palate), deserves all the recognition he is getting. Even with the whole world recognizing him as Shazam, he is staying humble. He full-heartedly believes he is in the business of bringing joy and wants to make people happy. Seriously, a role like Shazam could not have gone to a better person. Before we celebrate Levi’s superhero debut, let us look back at the roles that got him here.
10 TOBY – ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL
2009’s sequel to Alvin and the Chipmunks does not paint Levi in a good light. Alvin (Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler), and Theodore (Jesse McCartney) move in with their new caretaker, pathologically shy Toby, while they attend high school and attempt to have a normal childhood. Toby is a grown man-child who lives with his grandma (Kathryn Joosten) and goes “pew pew pew” all day playing video games.
The incompetent nerd is horribly insensitive to the chipmunks’ needs. “Taco Boy” should not be taking care of a houseplant, let alone three walking, talking chipmunks. It is no wonder Theodore runs away from home. The boys probably would have been better off with Toby’s grandmother, except klutzy Toby accidentally pushed her down an escalator backwards in her wheelchair sending her to the hospital.
9 FANDRAL – THOR: THE DARK WORLD & THOR: RAGNAROK
Not every role in a Marvel film is life changing. Levi portrayed Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) best friend Fandral, a charming Viking space God and a member of the Warriors Three, in Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok, replacing Josh Dallas who replaced him in Thor.
The potential for the character was there, Marvel just never did anything with it. They gave multi-talented Levi nothing to work with. Such a waste. In Dark World, he has minutes on-screen and, if you blink, you will miss him in Ragnarok. The film cut any lines he did have. He is only on screen long enough to die. Talk about a small role. The movie would be no different with or without Fandral. Hey, at least Levi got trips to London and Australia out of it.
8 THIN WHITE DUKE – PSYCH: THE MOVIE
In 2017, Levi acted alongside his real-life friends in Psych: The Movie. In the made-for-TV movie, Levi played the David Bowie-inspired villain, Thin White Duke. Seeking retribution for the time he spent behind bars, Thin White Duke terrorizes detective Juliet O’Hara (Maggie Lawson) and Chief Vick (Kirsten Nelson).
Luring Vick, O’Hara, and company to him, he kidnaps Vick’s daughter, Iris (Emma Tremblay), and locks her up in Alcatraz. In the prison, Duke’s boss shoots him dead. In real life and most other roles, Levi is a charming hero, so it is odd seeing him as a bad guy intent on harming fan favorite characters. As weird as it was, it was still fun to see Levi play around on-screen with actors who are actually his friends.
7 JAMES MCMAHON – TELENOVELA
In the short-lived series, Telenovela – a telenovela about life behind the scenes of a telenovela – Levi played James McMahon, the president of the network, VivaVision, and love interest to star Ana Sofia Calderon (Eva Longoria). The comedian, never afraid to be too silly, played it up as the eccentric McMahon.
In Levi’s five episodes, his character went from being Calderon’s boss to boyfriend to ex. All in McMahon was way too much way too fast for Calderon. The final straw for her was McMahon singing a proposal to her, even if it was an invitation to his cousin’s wedding. In the end, McMahon left to slow down and figure out what he wanted out of life. In classic telenovela fashion, he fell off a cliff in Tibet and, assumingly, died. Only to reappear in the series finale to interrupt a wedding.
6 LUKE COLLINS – HEROES REBORN
In 2015, NBC revitalized the TV show Heroes as a mini-series, Heroes Reborn. Levi played Luke Collins, a hero with heliokinesis – he can manipulate the sun to create and radiate light, fire, and heat. For jokester Levi, this role was a lot more serious than a lot of his others. He played a father with superpowers he did not want, avenging the death of his extraordinary son.Though the series was only 13 episodes long, Levi’s character changed and grew. His family fell apart, but he found a new one in the similarly evolved friends he made. Throughout the series, he became a better person; ultimately playing a vital role in stopping a human extinction level event.
5 GEORG NOWACK – SHE LOVES ME
From February 19, 2016 to July 10, 2016, Levi starred as Georg Nowack, the shy assistant manager of Maraczek’s Parfumerie, in the Broadway revival of She Loves Me. In the musical, Nowack writes love letters to his pen pal, who is, unknowingly, his co-worker, Amalia Balash (Laura Benanti), that he constantly bickers with.
For the role, each night, 6’3″ Levi sang, danced, and even did a cartwheel. The performance on June 30, 2016 was the first Broadway show in history to be live-streamed to audiences everywhere. During the show’s run, Levi earned a Tony nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical.
4 KIPP STEADMAN – LESS THAN PERFECT
Levi’s first major role was as jerky assistant Kipp Steadman in the wonderful ABC sitcom Less Than Perfect. The series lasted four years, from 2002 to 2006, of which Levi was in all 81 episodes. Jealous, Kipp is out to get and ruin the career of the successful main protagonist, Claude (Sara Rue), who is assistant to news anchor Will Butler (Eric Roberts) at GBN television network.
Eventually, Kipp does become “secretary” to a news anchor – Jeb Denton (Patrick Warburton). Throughout the series, Kipp is in hilarious, ridiculous situations, allowing Levi to utilize his verbal and physical comedy chops in a major way for the first time. Levi is very naturally funny in this great role. It is definitely worth a watch for any fan.
3 BENJAMIN – THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL
Levi joined Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in season two as Benjamin, Midge’s (Rachel Brosnahan) first serious love-interest since her split from ex-husband Joel (Michael Zegen). Benjamin is perfect for Midge. He is a Jewish doctor looking for a wife who is odd, challenging, and surprising. Benjamin wants someone that can make life fun, à la Midge with her stand-up comedy.
Seems like Benjamin found what he was searching for, as at the end of season two he was ready to propose. Too bad for him, she slept with Joel. We hope Benjamin is in season three and ends up with Midge, even though odds are not looking in his favor. Nevertheless, whether or not Levi returns to the series, it still earned him, and the rest of the cast, a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series in 2019.
2 FLYNN RIDER/EUGENE FITZHERBERT – TANGLED
In 2010, Levi, a self-proclaimed Disnerd, voiced Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert, in Disney’s instant classic, Tangled. Factually the most attractive animated Disney male character, Flynn Rider is a wanted criminal with a dark past who falls completely head over heels in love with adventurous Rapunzel (Mandy Moore). It is only a voice, but it is an iconic performance. Rider’s whole personality is due to what Levi can do with his voice. He gives the bad boy his charm, sass, edge, and humor. Levi brings, arguably, the best Disney (male) character to life. If it were not for Levi, Flynn Rider would just be a flat image on a screen.
Levi loves Rapunzel as much as Rider does and it truly comes through. Levi is the reason the rebel is so ridiculously soft, romantic, loving, caring, sweet, and patient with Rapunzel and Rapunzel only. Rider literally dies for her. (Making this the fifth character on the list that died. Why do writers like killing off Levi’s characters?!) When the ne’er-do-well realizes he is falling in love with Rapunzel, he sings the emotional “I See the Light” in a duet with her, which Levi sang with Moore at the 2011 Oscars where it was nominated for Best Original Song. (Which begs the question: Why is Levi such an underrated singer?!)
There is a thin line between Levi and Rider, which is actually a good thing. Levi did not stretch his voice to play Flynn Rider. Whenever he talks in any other role or anything at all, if you close your eyes, it is as if Flynn Rider is right there. Flynn Rider and Zachary Levi will always be synonymous with each other, which is a compliment to both of them. Levi really lucked out with this one.
1 CHUCK BARTOWSKI – CHUCK
Arguably the role that made Levi a household name, he starred as the titular character, Chuck Bartowski, in Chuck, for five years. Chuck was a sad geek with a small life who, literally overnight, became a government asset. For 91 episodes, Chuck, CIA agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski), and Major John Casey (Adam Baldwin) thwarted crime and bad guys together.
The cult classic series may not have won Levi any prestigious awards, but it did skyrocket him to fame in nerdom and allow him to pursue passion projects, such as The Nerd Machine, which he does not take lightly. Even though the series ended in 2012, with an emotional two-hour episode, Levi has still not let it go. He hopes to make at least one Chuck movie someday.
Which Zachary Levi role is most notable for you and why? Let us know in the comments below.
NEXT: SHAZAM! EARLY REVIEWS: A SPECTACULAR COMING-OF-AGE SUPERHERO TRIUMPH