It didn’t take long for Rachel Zegler to feel the power of “Shazam! Fury of the Gods.”
The superhero sequel is the New Jersey native’s second film and includes on-set moments that felt just as fantastic as the ancient magic and computer-animated dragon featured in the final cut.
Zegler plays Anthea, a 6,000-year-old goddess whose tyrannical older sisters, played by Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu, are hell-bent on reclaiming their stolen powers.
“There was a day when we sat on our thrones. We had a taste of the throne,” Zegler told the Daily News. “Obviously, Helen had done it before because she literally played the Queen of England, but Lucy and I had never done it. We were getting throne lessons from Helen Mirren, which is great.”
Surreal experiences are nothing new for the 21-year-old Zegler. She made her feature film debut as Maria in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of “West Side Story” in 2021 and earned honors from the Golden Globes and the National Board of Review. She has since wrapped production on Disney’s live-action film “Snow White,” in which she plays the title princess, and “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” a prequel film starring her. and Tom Blyth.
Zegler’s addition to the DC Extended Universe for “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” now playing in theaters, was unexpected. He loved the “Shazam!” original from 2019. — starring Zachary Levi as the heroic version of a foster teen with superpowers — but, with extensive experience in musical theater, she hadn’t imagined herself in the genre.
( ‘West Side Story’ starring Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose on how they ‘reinterpreted’ the timeless story for Steven Spielberg’s film )
Acting in a film filled with special effects was unlike anything Zegler had ever experienced, as was the brotherhood he formed with Mirren and Liu.
“They gave me a lot of advice as a young woman in Hollywood,” Zegler said. “’Shazam 2′ was the second movie I did and I really got lost in that period of time. I had been sitting on ‘West Side Story’ for a while at the time and it was postponed due to the pandemic. I was feeling really down on my luck and very confused. … They really brought me to light in a way that no one else has and taught me about women supporting women on a set.”
Zegler attended Immaculate Conception High School in Bergen County, where she starred in stage musicals such as “The Little Mermaid” and “Shrek.” She was 17 when Spielberg chose her for “West Side Story” out of thousands of applicants.
“Broadway was my original goal,” Zegler said. “I’ve been auditioning since I was 14 to be in Broadway shows, and it just never happened. I auditioned for ‘Hamilton’ and the Broadway revival of ‘West Side Story’ and so many different musicals. … It was never right, and I think I was just preparing myself for the chance of a lifetime, which was to play one of the most iconic musical characters in a Steven Spielberg movie.
“Booking that role propelled me forward in the film industry and got people excited for me on camera, and I’ve just gone with that flow,” he said. “But as a New Yorker and someone who grew up loving the stage, I would be honored to be able to do that one day.”
Zegler, who is of Colombian descent, is the first of several Latino actors to make their DC debut this year. Sasha Calle is set to play Supergirl in June’s “The Flash,” while Xolo Maridueña stars as the main hero in August’s “Blue Beetle.”
The opportunity to provide representation on the big screen excites Zegler, who was the first Latina actress to play Maria in a “West Side Story” movie.
“I’m very happy to do that,” Zegler said. “It’s not something I necessarily look for when I’m auditioning or when I’m offered things. I really just want to tell great stories, and one of my truest beliefs that I hold tight to is that true representation occurs when we simply come into existence in the world without necessarily having to acknowledge our heritage in the context of a story.
“Being able to play Snow White and being a young Latina in this industry is a big deal, because it’s not about her heritage. It’s not about how she looks. … Playing Lucy Gray in ‘The Hunger Games’ and coming into being in that universe, playing Anthea, is an amazing thing.”
Zegler was impressed by the way “Shazam!” sequel explores real-world themes like family dynamics within a foster home and the importance of a chosen family.
“In Anthea’s case, I think there are a lot of real-world applications to being a kid who grew up in one environment and was taught to think a certain way, and then when you’re exposed to a different environment, you change. your take on things,” Zegler said.
He enjoyed his character’s complex journey in a story full of humor and heart.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Zegler said. “There is so much action. There is also a dragon, reason enough for anyone to come.