Zachary Levi Breaks Silence on Losing Lex Luthor Role

By Sam Hargrave Posted:
Lex Luthor, Zachary Levi

Shazam actor Zachary Levi was once up for the role of Lex Luthor in The CW's original Superman series Smallville.

Smallville debuted in 2001 on The CW as a series starring young farmboy Clark Kent as he builds toward becoming the Superman that the world knows and loves.

In many ways, the series, despite not taking place within the Arrowverse, marked the saga's foundations along with those of modern superhero television. Star Tom Welling even teased plans in 2021 to bring the influential show back for an animated spin-off.

Smallville featured many DC characters including Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, and the usual Superman cast, along with Justice League members like Aquaman, Green Arrow, The Flash, Cyborg, and more.

Shazam's Zachary Levi Almost Played Lex Luthor

Zachary Levi, Justice League

Speaking at Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo on Friday, March 31, Zachary Levi touched on his failed attempt to land the Lex Luthor role in The CW's early 2000s Superman prequel series Smallville.

The Shazam! actor confirmed he originally auditioned for Superman and didn't get the part as they thought he was "more Lex Luthor" and asked him to take a look at some slides:

"When it came to Smallville... I originally auditioned for Superman... Didn't get it. Wasn't meant to me, wasn't meant to be. But at the audition for Superman, they go, 'Hey listen, you did a great job. But we actually think you're more Lex Luthor. Would you mind taking a look at these sides?' And I was like, 'OK.'"

Levi revealed that he participated in reads as Lex Luthor for the casting team, producers, and later the network, who were the ones who decided he was "not really [their] guy:"

"And I took a look and these things and I came back in and I read for Lex and they were like, 'Yeah, that's great, we're going to have you read for producers.' And I read for producers, and they're like, 'Oh my god, yeah, we're going to send you to studio test.' And I studio-tested, and then I went all the way to the network and David Nutter, who directed the pilot, I had work sessions with him, I was like, 'I'm going to be Lex Luthor!' I was convinced I was going to be cast as Lex Luthor, move to Vancouver, and shave my head. It was all happening, and then it didn't. I went all the way to network and they were like, 'Nah, not really our guy.'"

The role went to Michael Rosenbaum - an actor eight years older than Levi - who appeared as Lex Luthor in the first seven seasons of Smallville before departing the show to move on with his acting career.

Luthor exited at the end of Season 7 after an epic confrontation with Clark Kent at the Fortress of Solitude that ended with the Kryptonian hideout destroyed and both parties presumed dead, although the Superman-to-be resurfaced in Season 8.

Despite how it "wasn't meant to be," Levi firmly believes the things that don't work out in life are all leading to "a really beautiful, prosperous time:"

"It's OK, it wasn't meant to be. And obviously, I say that with a little bit of a wink. But truthfully, it wasn't meant to be. The things that don't work out in our lives, guys, are actually working out for us. Life is happening for us. I know that's hard, some of the shit that happens to us is really, really messed up, and it's really hard, and I'm not saying it's not. I'm not saying, like, 'Hey, that should be fine, just move past it!' No. Metabolize that pain. Metabolize whatever dark shit happens in your life. Work through that. But know that that dark period can lead to and will lead to, if you allow it, a really beautiful, prosperous time in your life. But that's the hard stuff that we have to go through. So anyway, not to tangent too much... So that was ultimately my auditioning journey with Smallville."

Series creator Miles Millar revealed to The Hollywood Reporter in 2021 that Zachary Levi "did an amazing audition" to play Lex Luthor, but his further audition in front of Warner Bros. was "kind of a disaster:"

"Zach Levi did an amazing audition for Lex. Incredible. We all went into The WB with Zach to be Lex. That audition was kind of a disaster. In leaving the audition, I remember thinking 'Oh, that was the biggest chance of his life.' And then he went on to incredible success. So you just never know."

Zachary Levi's Superhero Past, Present, and Future

With Smallville Season 1 kicking off in 2001, the same year as the first entry on Zachary Levi's IMDB page, this was a 20-year-old, truly unproven, early-career version of Levi pushing for this Lex Luthor role. So, it's not surprising they went with someone slightly more experienced like Michael Rosenbaum, who had already done some animated voice work with DC before then.

Before he actually became Shazam, Levi had auditioned for Superman and Lex Luthor for DC years prior and even spent some time at Marvel Studios as The Warriors Three's Fandrel in Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok. So, clearly, Levi is an actor with deep roots and a firm interest in the superhero genre.

With his Shazam future potentially in jeopardy as the DCU looks toward an imminent reboot amid Fury of the Gods' financial failure, what comes next for Levi?

Well, even if James Gunn isn't looking to keep Shazam around, perhaps he could still be on the cards for another role, there has already been talk of Jason Momoa giving up Aquaman for Lobo after all. Even at Marvel Studios, select actors have had multiple roles; maybe, with Fandrel dead, Levi could play another hero.

Levi has certainly shown his passion for DC and Shazam since Fury of the Gods released as he has tried to push audiences on social media to give the movie a shot despite its mixed critic reviews. If Billy Batson will be rebooted for the DCU, Levi will likely be disappointed, but his career will continue to thrive.

Maybe he could even take another go-around at auditioning for Lex Luthor in this new universe, although the chances of that happening are pretty slim.

- About The Author: Sam Hargrave
Sam Hargrave is the Associate Editor at The Direct. He joined the team as a gaming writer in 2020 before later expanding into writing for all areas of The Direct and taking on further responsibilities such as editorial tasks and image creation.