Shazam! Fury Of The Gods' Director Didn't Expect Helen Mirren To Actually Say Yes To The Movie

DC's onscreen universe is in a strange place. The DC Extended Universe is officially over, soon to be replaced by James Gunn and Peter Safran's DC Universe, which will commence with the arrival of Gunn's "Superman: Legacy" movie in 2025. But before any of that can happen, Warner Bros. has to churn through the last vestiges of the DCEU and Snyderverse, with four movies set to be released in 2023. The biggest of those is arguably "The Flash," which will debut on June 16 and supposedly reset everything with its multiversal adventure (à la The New 52 DC comics relaunch of 2011).

But Ezra Miller's Barry Allen is going to have to wait until after Zachary Levi has had a go at convincing everyone it's worth watching a DCEU relic. "Shazam! Fury Of The Gods" will release on March 17, with Levin once again starring as the leader of the "Shazamily" — that is, Billy Batson's foster family, who were granted powers similar to Billy's at the end of 2019's "Shazam."

This time around, they'll be facing off against the Daughters of Atlas, which looks as though it will result in much of the same cityscape-leveling action we've come to expect from superhero movies in recent years. We'll also be treated to the same light-hearted tone as the first movie, with Levi's superhero cracking jokes left and right while his native Philadelphia is razed and the world placed in imminent danger. But this time, director David F. Sandberg has some serious prestige on his side in the form of Dame Helen Mirren as the central villain, Hespera. And for Sandberg, landing the 77-year-old actor was somewhat of a coup.

'The dream would be Helen Mirren'

Alongside Lucy Liu's Kalypso, Helen Mirren's Hespera will represent the aggrieved Daughters of Atlas who, judging by the "Shazam! Fury Of The Gods" trailers, aren't too happy that Billy Batson and his foster siblings "stole the power of all the Gods." The esteemed Mirren looks to bring a suitably menacing aura to proceedings, and will no doubt elevate the tone of the film as a whole — something David F. Sandberg was likely counting on when he reached out Mirren in the first place. 

In the March 2023 issue of SFX magazine, the director revealed that he never really expected Mirren to say yes:

"We wanted to aim high. It was like, 'What would be the dream? The dream would be Helen Mirren. So let's try. We'll ask her first and when she says no we'll go down the line.' But she said yes! I think that emboldened us a bit, because then it was like, 'Ooh, can we get Lucy Liu to be the sister?' It probably helped that Helen had already said yes, because then we could say to Lucy, 'Do you want to play Helen Mirren's sister?'"

Whereas "Shazam!" was an outlier in the DCEU — a smaller production based on lesser-known characters that functioned as something of an experiment — this time, Sandberg obviously had a little more notoriety to work with. That and Helen Mirren is clearly in a phase of her career where she's looking to have some fun and branch out a bit (see also: her ongoing role in the "Fast & Furious" franchise).

Mirren even wanted to do her own stunts

Much like Harrison Ford, who similarly shocked the co-creators of "Shrinking" when he said yes to playing therapist Dr. Paul Rhodes, Helen Mirren's turn in "Shazam! Fury Of The Gods" isn't exactly in her wheelhouse. But for her, that's kind of the point. Amazingly, according to the veteran actor (who didn't even find international fame until her 40s), she's rarely ever played a villain. Back in 2021, she told Access Hollywood:

"I haven't often played the main villain. When they were doing James Bond I was [thinking] why didn't they have a fabulous female villain, all the villains were always male and like come on guys have a great female villain and they never did [...] so I actually haven't played a lot of villains, I think 'Shazam' might be the first one i've played and it's fun for you to kind of shake it up a little bit."

It seems the star of "The Queen" wanted to keep the surprises coming on set, performing many of her own stunts and reportedly injuring her finger in the process. In David F. Sandberg's SFX interview, he revealed that Mirren was quite keen to be part of the action: 

"We put her on wires up in the air and she's on these rigs, flying around. She wanted to do everything. We had to stop her from doing certain things."

Whether Mirren's dignified presence will be enough to make the "Shazam!" sequel worthwhile remains to be seen, but it certainly can't hurt the DCEU's chances of going out on a high note.

Once more, with feeling: "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" hits theaters on March 17, 2023.