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SYFY WIRE Interviews

Mark Strong explains why his Shazam! villain looks like a Nazi and offers Green Lantern scoop

By Bryan Cairns
Mark Strong in Shazam!

Mark Strong knows how good it is to be bad. The 55-year-old actor has carved out a career playing antagonists in such movies as Kick-Ass, Robin Hood, RocknRolla, and, most notably, the ringbearer Sinestro in 2011's Green Lantern. Now, Strong is once again embracing his dark side as the villainous Dr. Thaddeus Sivana in DC's upcoming Shazam!

The movie finds teenager Billy Batson granted incredible powers by the ancient Wizard. When Billy yells “Shazam!” he transforms into an adult hero with such gifts as superhuman strength, endurance, and flight. However, those abilities almost belonged to Sivana, and with the help of the Seven Deadly Sins, he's determined to possess them — at any cost.

Last year, SYFY WIRE joined other members of the press on the Toronto set of Shazam! Strong shared his thoughts on signing on for another comic book franchise, Sivana's personal beef with Shazam, having a 14-year-old nemesis, and updating Sivana's classic costume.

With you being in this film, I'm curious if that means Green Lantern is no longer part of the DCEU?

It is part of the DCEU. But, you know, my version of Sinestro I think is going to be rebooted, as they say, no doubt when the new Green Lantern comes out, which I think they're doing.

It was a little interrupted because Sinestro was gonna go into the second movie and become the yellow Sinestro that we know and love, and cause havoc. It got cut short by the fact that they never made a second movie of that particular incarnation of Green Lantern and Sinestro. But, thankfully, I've now got a chance to maybe exercise my evil credentials with Doctor Sivana.

Besides that sort of DC redemption, what was it that you liked about Sivana that made you want to take on the role?

I think because in The New 52 incarnation that Geoff [Johns] did, he is a proper supervillain. He gets to fly. He can create electric fields in his hands and fire electricity. I love the whole notion that in his eye he has even sins that manifest themselves at various points, whenever they or he wants them to. So, it's a good, proper supervillain.

Sivana isn't as commonly known as some other comic book villains, including Sinestro. Do you feel like you get to make Sivana your own?

Yeah, I do. I feel like because we've gone through a whole process of many superheroes now, we're looking for the slightly more obscure ones, or we're discovering the slightly more obscure ones.

I was really surprised to find out that in 1940 when the original comic came out, Sivana was in the second edition. So he is a proper old-school villain and as nobody has done it before, I'm really excited at the idea that I get to invent my version of him.

Was it surprising to you to see that original version of Sivana and then come to set and see your costume is not the dentist outfit that he's so famous for having?

Well, as you all know, this is The New 52 version in which he's much more robust and much more powerful. Obviously, originally, he was a scientist and I think the story was he was thwarted, and the world didn't understand him. In fact, originally, he went to Venus and then came back. I don't think my Sivana goes there necessarily.

Nevertheless, he's able to sort of channel that thing that all great supervillains do, which is a need to have complete power and basically rule everything. That seems to me to be a standard of good old-fashioned evil characters.

We've seen your wardrobe. We've heard a little bit about him. He's very wealthy and very powerful even without his superpowers. Do you sense this is a character that feels he is entitled to his power?

What I love about this movie and the way they've written it is there is a reason he is how he is. Often villains can be painted in broad strokes. They are evil, and that's it. But, we get to see him young, we get to see a scene in which he's bullied not only by his older brother but by his family and is misunderstood as a young boy.

I think that is really beautifully explained in the movie because what the movie has at its core is this idea of family and who is your real family. You know Billy is looking for his real family. Is his family this new bunch of kids that he becomes part of? Is it his mother he's become estranged from? And I think the same is true of Sivana. He's looking for where he belongs, and I think he feels that because of the disappointments he had as a child. He belongs and feels more comfortable with the Sins and their power than he does with the Wizard and his so-called sense of good.

Do you feel like this character might have a redemption arc because he has a tragic past?

I don't think so. I think he's made his choice, and there's this wonderful scene between him and the Wizard where he explains to the Wizard why he's making that choice. He goes back to meet his family and it doesn't end well. Let's put it that way. So, I think he's made his choice.

I can't imagine what that redemption would be. It would have to be something cataclysmic to bring him back.

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How does he feel about his arch-nemesis being a 14-year-old boy?

He can't understand. He can't understand that the Wizard has chosen this boy as his champion because there was the opportunity there that he could be the champion of good but was rejected because he was considered not to be worthy. Yet, the Wizard's chosen a boy and he realizes that, obviously, that boy manifests into the man... the Zachary version of Shazam, and to him, it's a source of total incomprehension why this boy should have been chosen over him.

But it just justifies him in his quest to unify the good force and the evil force, and be in control of all of it.

In the process of playing Sivana, have you had a moment where you have to pull yourself back a little bit and think "This is just too dark"? We just talked about how he's going up against a child, so is there a line?

No. I don't think it could ever be too dark. There's some great comedy to be had with that idea that a 14-year-old boy in a grown-up man's body doesn't really understand or [isn't] able to cope with his powers.

I had this discussion with [director] David [F. Sandberg] and Peter [Safran], the producer, very early on and said, "I think Sivana should be like heat-seeking ballistic evil." The more frightening you make him, the more you feel that the kids are in jeopardy, and therefore the more that morality term of balance of good and evil plays out satisfactory. I think if he ever steps back and takes his foot off the gas of being dark, it doesn't serve the purpose of the story, which is he needs to be a terrifying nemesis.

Besides the age factor, can you talk a little about Doctor Sivana going up against Shazam in terms of the personality clash? Sivana has a very different idea of power versus Billy Batson when he becomes Shazam.

It's interesting how they view what's happening to them now that they've got the power.

For example, the Shazam suit is really an incarnation of a superhero suit as seen by a 13 or 14-year-old boy. That's the idea. It's a little bit garish. It's a little bit bright, but that's how he imagines it. So, consequently again, I had to think [about] what Sivana thinks is evil incarnate. So, he's chosen something long, a sort of Nazi-like, long leather coat with a fur collar and a pair of dark sunglasses. I suppose as he gets that evil power, this is how he chooses to manifest himself in the way that he looks.

So, you've got a young boy with the enthusiasm for all the power that he's given and you've got a cynical old guy with the opposite of that, who has chosen to take a darker path and really use that power for his own personal gain rather than to help other people.

Shazam! opens on April 5.