Asher Angel is a proper dude. At the ripe old age of 20, he’s one of those insufferably talented blokes that seem to grow on trees in the LA sunshine: he’s starring in one of the biggest superhero movies of the year in Shazam! Fury of the Gods, he’s building a successful music career on the side, and he’s even producing his first movie for his own production company. (What’s your excuse?)
“I’m trying to build this empire,” he tells me with a smile and a shrug when I ask him how he finds the time. Ah yes, I should have mentioned the little bugger is also a charmer. Then there’s the good looks, the wit, the charisma… and, thankfully for Angel, a healthy dose of humility. Otherwise, I’d have half a mind to give him a clip around the ear.
He first graced the big screen when he was just five years old in American drama Jolene opposite another movie debutante Jessica Chastain. (What happened to her, eh?) The son of an actress and grandson of a screenwriter – the screenwriter of Jolene no less – it’s safe to say that arts were in Angel’s blood.
By the age of 12, the Arizona native was performing regularly in local theatre productions and had all but resolved that he was destined for the film industry for his future career. He begged his parents to take him to LA for the upcoming pilot season and they ultimately agreed – only after Angel had racked up more than “30-plus shows” worth of theatre experience.
Several years later, his parents’ faith was repaid when he bagged the role of Billy Batson, a young hero empowered with the gifts of ancient gods, in DC’s Shazam! The film brought levity and a joyous sense of family to the dark and brooding DC extended universe and swiftly thrust a 15-year-old Angel into the spotlight. In a way, you could say he’d been preparing for the moment all his life…
We sit down with the up-and-coming star to hear about the new Shazam! sequel, what the future holds for young Angel, and juggling a budding career in music.
Square Mile: You got into acting incredibly early, at the age of five. Where did it all begin?
Asher Angel: My grandpa, Dennis Yares, happens to be a screenwriter. At the time when I was younger, I got introduced to the arts from my mom and just my family background, with my grandpa being a screenwriter and my mom being a young actress. He wrote a film called Jolene, I auditioned for him and, luckily, I got the role.
I didn’t really know if this was for me, I was really young at the time and I was trying to figure my life out. I mean, I was five years old! I liked what I was doing, but I wasn’t sure this was my forever home doing this acting stuff.
I revisited it a few years later when I was around ten or 12. I started off doing musical theatre, did that for a long time and worked my way up from community theatre to professional theatre. This whole time I was trying to convince my parents to take me out to LA to try for pilot season. I worked my tail off, and I finally convinced them that I was serious. Things just started to roll from there. Yeah, that’s long story short.
SM: I read that your parents cut a deal with you that if you did 30 local shows they’d take you to LA. Is that right?
AA: Yeah, it was a process. It was something like 30-plus shows, some absurd amount. It wasn’t like I asked my parents and they said ‘yes’ right away. I loved it. It got to a certain point where I had one show on the other side of town and the other on the opposite side of town. I’d finished that first show, and then I’d get all of my stuff and I’d have to go to my next show, which is all the way across in Mesa, Arizona, for our 7pm show. So I was playing two different characters each day.
I was super young, but I was just working my tail off. Finally, my parents said they were convinced. They saw how much love I had for the arts and my passion for it and just how hard I was working.
SM: This might be a silly question, but I presume you always wanted to be an actor?
AA: I feel like in my heart and soul, I knew it. I loved sports growing up, but there was something different about acting for me. It made me happy. I feel like it was destined for me to do. Yeah, I think from the start I knew.
Luckily, I have such an amazing support system with my family. They’ve been by my side since the beginning, so that’s been very helpful through this process. It’s a crazy industry with crazy people, so it’s important to keep your circle tight because there’s so many young actresses and actors who have gone through the same motions as me. It’s easy to get lost in it all, it really is, being that young and being a child actor.
SM: There is a certain stigma surrounding child actors in terms of what fame does to the innocence of youth and that kind of thing…
AA: For sure. I’ve been in a professional environment since I was like 12 years old. Of course it feels like time goes by really fast, just working from a young age to then waking up and you’re 18 years old. But for me, I really enjoyed every second of it. I loved it and I loved being able to share it with my family. We travel everywhere together, while I was filming in South Africa, in Atlanta and Utah, and just all over the world.
For me, I really tried to take everything in, to be in the moment, and not take anything for granted. Ever since I started, I’ve made that promise to myself. I’ve been having the best time. And time flies by when you’re having fun! I’m 20 now.
SM: I feel like if that’s the attitude you have, I feel like you’re free. You know?
AA: Yeah, I don’t try to put any pressure on myself. I’m just trying to continue to work hard and perfect my craft. I mean, if you don’t enjoy it, then why do it?
SM: Did you ever just be a little kid as well?
AA: Oh yeah, of course. I mean, I was always a proper kid growing up. I was a prankster, I was hyper, I was fun, I was energetic. No, I definitely still felt like a kid during all of this.
I still have that kid inside of me. And I feel like that’s helped me to further my craft. It’s almost amplified me because that’s where I harness my energy in a way.
SM: You had your big break in Shazam!, which is a big ‘hello, world’ kind of moment. How did you feel about landing the lead in such a beloved comic book?
AA: It was surreal for me. Growing up, I was a huge superhero fanatic. My two goals and aspirations were to be on the Disney Channel and to be a part of a superhero franchise. That wish being granted so early was just a crazy moment for me.
I was 15 and had a lot of eyeballs staring at me, but I just thought it was so cool that I got to take on such an iconic character for the DC Universe. I remember, I was so excited and I couldn’t wait to start working. Just to know that I am somewhat involved in the universe was so cool for me because I grew up watching these kinds of movies.
It’s funny. I knew in my heart that I wanted to do Billy Batson justice for the fans and everyone out there who’s a fan of him and his journey. I did feel some pressure for that because I really wanted to make the fans happy and the people watching. But because I was 15, everything that I did in the acting space at the time I just relied on my intuition. I trusted myself from the get-go.
SM: One of the things that’s interesting about Shazam! is the relationship between Billy Batson and his superhero alias, Shazam, played by Zachary Levi. Did you guys work together to try and create this shared personality – how easily did it come?
AA: We spent a lot of time together just working and talking about everything and really bonding, because I think that’s super important for us because we’re playing the same character.
Luckily for Zach, he’s got just this kid-like energy just inside of him. He’s just a big kid at heart, so I think that made the process a lot easier. He’d observe a lot of the things that I was doing just when he’s around me and things that he could pick up, little ticks and things that we could implement into our performance.
For the most part, besides that, I’d say we went in and really winged it. It worked because we both just mesh really well together. To be honest, it was totally symbiotic.
SM: Just from seeing you guys together in interviews, I get the sense that you’re both a pair of goofballs. You really just have a lot of fun together.
AA: Yeah. I love doing interviews with Zach and Jack [Dylan Grazer]. We have the best time. We’re so close, they’re like my family, so I can always count on both of them for anything. I’ll always be there for them, and I know they’re always going to be there for me.
It’s nice to have that kind of bond, especially when you’re working with these kinds of people. We’re about to go on our second press tour together. It’s a great group – I can’t wait.
SM: That’s very appropriate considering what’s so unique about Shazam! is that family sits at the heart of the story.
AA: Absolutely. I feel like there’s not a lot of superhero movies out there right now that incorporate this family dynamic the way Shazam! has. I think that family dynamic is what a lot of people relate to.
The wish fulfilment of being a kid and wanting to be a superhero, then getting those powers and not knowing how to harness them and having to figure all this superheroing stuff out, I just feel like in a way that process is super relatable.
In the new film, I feel like it’s way more elevated than our first, especially with our character development and our additional characters with Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu and Rachel Zegler. I think there’s so many things that make it unique and special with the superhero family.
I think getting to be a part of such an amazing property like Shazam that tackles so many different things in the superhero genre is really cool. I think that’s why people like it so much, because it’s not your average superhero movie.
SM: When it came out in 2019, I think DC had created a reputation for itself of being a little bit darker and a little bit grittier than Marvel. Then all of a sudden Shazam! comes along and turns that on its head. Can we expect more of the same in the new film?
AA: Let’s see what I can say. We continue the story of the teenage foster child named Billy Batson, who has superpowers. We saw Billy in the last film where he finds his new family has these superpowers and life’s great.
A couple years down the road, he’s grown up a little, adulthood’s on the horizon for him. Billy doesn’t really know what’s going to happen when he turns 18. He doesn’t know if he ages out of the foster care system or what’s going to happen in terms of his life. He’s just struggling to figure that out. You’re also going to see an epic battle between the daughters of Atlas and the Shazam family.
Billy’s struggling to protect his family, his city, and possibly the world. I’d say the stakes are higher. Like I say, we’ve really taken the values of the first film and elevated it.
SM: Is it really difficult not to give spoilers away? You’ve seen the film, so you must be so excited for everyone to watch it.
AA: Oh, definitely. I’ll go into a full conversation about the film and this and that. I’ll get excited about a certain thing, and then something might slip out and it just happens.
I remember on our first press tour for Shazam! we were doing something with the foreign press and we were talking about the movie. Somebody asked what was your favourite moment from the movie? I just randomly came out and said, “It was so awesome when the Ferris wheel fell down at that big ending moment at the carnival scene where we’re fighting against Mark Savinna, Mark Strong.”
Obviously, sometimes it just slips out, there’s really nothing you can do about it. A little look over our shoulder, “Did I just say that?” It happens. But I’m not too bad; Jack’s worse than me.
SM: As you’ve mentioned, Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu have joined the cast for the new film. Did you personally get to spend much time with them on or off set? Did they give you any advice going forward for your career?
AA: Off set, I spent a lot of time with them. They’re such amazing, incredible people. It’s so cool, because they’ve been in the business for so long and they have such a profound body of work. I’m so excited to go on this press tour with them.
I remember after Comic-Con, I was with Helen. It was Helen, Zach and I, and we flew right from Comic-Con back to Atlanta for our re-shoots, so I got to spend a lot of time with Helen. She’s just such a great person and it was so cool getting to just talk to her, someone you really look up to in the industry, to see her work and just pick her brain.
She’s the Queen, after all! It’s been a real learning experience. She’s absolutely lovely.
SM: Do you ever pinch yourself when you’re on these huge sets surrounded by stars that you’ve idolised growing up?
AA: I think sometimes you forget, you have to remind yourself how lucky you are and how anyone would die to be in the position that I’m in. I think it’s important not to take that for granted.
I feel like in the first film, it was more of a ‘pinch me’ moment. It’s still like that a little, but for me now, I’m just happy with what I’m doing and to be around talented great people who have so much humility. It makes the process even more fun. Now I’m trying to take it in and be present, like: “OK, this is happening now. How do I maintain this forward momentum that I have?”
SM: On that point, with the curtain falling on the Snyderverse and the dawn of the James Gunn era, what do you think the future holds for Shazam! going forwards?
AA: Yeah, obviously I think Peter Safran and James Gunn are absolutely amazing. Those two were actually my top picks before we knew who was taking over the DC extended universe. The fact that we have both of them and Peter being a producer of our movie is really cool. I can’t wait to see everything that they’re going to do with this new universe.
But yeah, I mean with Shazam!, I feel like there’s so much left that’s untold. There’s more character development and more character arc left for Billy. Obviously I’d love to put more energy into that and to do that in the future.
For now though, like I said, I’m just trying to be in the moment and enjoy this one that we have coming out. I know people are going to love it. I’m excited to see what the future holds because I don’t know either. I guess we’ll see what happens.
SM: In terms of Marvel versus DC, do you feel like you guys have a friendly rivalry, or do you just love all superhero movies?
AA: I don’t really look at them as a rival. Obviously, Marvel’s doing their own thing and DC’s doing their own thing, but I think it’s important to have two separate universes that are telling two separate and distinct stories. I think that’s what makes it cool.
If we only had DC then that’s still cool, but I think it makes it even cooler that we have these two different universes that are telling their own stories about these characters. It’d be repetitive in a way if it was all the same. So I don’t think it’s at all a rivalry, that’s not the way I look at it.
SM: Going forward for the rest of your acting career, is there anything that you would really like to do?
AA: I would love to do a biopic about someone’s life. As an actor, that’s the kind of project that really gets you excited, something you can really dive deep into and challenge yourself in new ways.
I would love to incorporate my passion for music as well. I’m still looking for a project like that, and I’m reading scripts and just trying to find something that fits. I loved Austin Butler in Elvis, so the opportunity to tell someone’s life story through music would be an unbelievable privilege, it would be the role of a lifetime, for sure. Hopefully in the near future I’ll find the right script.
SM: It’s just about the right scripts sliding across your desk at the right time, isn’t it?
AA: Exactly. Seriously, I feel like the best scripts come in the most unexpected time. But when I’m looking for something, it doesn’t really happen. When I’m doing my own thing and I’m not really searching for anything, that’s when a script comes in. I’m not sure why, but something about that perspective makes it different.
SM: Would you consider screenwriting later in your career and follow in the footsteps of your grandfather?
AA: I would love to step into another department in the future. I think my next step will probably be producing, and then I’m sure that’ll lead on to other things. But that’s where I’m going to start.
I’m definitely going to start producing more, I have my own production company. We’re producing a movie right now, so that’s in development. I’m really excited about it. Hopefully it’s another string to my bow.
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SM: We’ve touched briefly on your passion for music, but that’s obviously a separate avenue for you. Do you view it as a bit of a side hustle or would you love for it to be a bigger part of your career?
AA: Well, my mum’s side is very musical: my uncle was in a band, my grandma used to be a singer, and so I have the arts built in my family. It’s definitely in my blood. That’s why I love it so much. Growing up I was looking up to the greats: Elvis, Prince, Michael Jackson. That’s who I aspire to be like.
I started off doing musical theatre, so I found my love for the arts through music and acting. Acting just happened to take off first. But, yeah, I definitely plan on pursuing both with the view to trying to build this empire.
That’s my goal, doing the two things that I love. So hopefully I can do both… actually not hopefully, I will! If you want it, you’ve got to go get it. So let’s go!
SM: Would you like to take your music on the road and go on tour? Is that something we might see in the near future?
AA: For sure, I would love to go on tour. I’m just trying to work out all that stuff on the music side. Right now, I’m dialling in the sound, my tone and the songwriting. Once that’s finished, I can’t wait to go on tour again.
SM: Is that for the plan after the excitement around Shazam! Fury of the Gods dies down, to give yourself a bit of a break, focus on music? Change things up a little bit?
AA: I’ll always be go-go. Right after our press tour, I go right into another project – it’s another movie, but everything’s still under wraps so I can’t talk about it just yet.
I have an incredible team, and we’re able to manage it all very well. I mean, I’ll probably still be recording and still be figuring out everything. I definitely should be releasing a lot of stuff this year.
There’s a lot of good forward momentum, my friend, a lot of spinning plates for sure, but I’m hoping it’s going to be a great year. Let’s get it!
Shazam! Fury of the Gods is out on 17 March.