Zachary Levi is many things—namely a charismatic, triple-threat performer who may be able to do a little Kung Fu—but, mostly, he is passionate. Passionate about Chuck, the show that made him famous, passionate about nerd culture and his fans, and passionate about bettering the world by addressing social media bullying, abject poverty, and getting undiscovered talent into Hollywood: all things he spoke candidly about during “Spotlight on Zachary Levi,” his first panel at his first Dragon Con.
“I’m super excited to be here,” he said, calling the Con and its cosplayers “freakin’ stupendous” as he relieved his moderator and hopped up on the table to sit, often swinging his feet—clad in some coolly distressed boots—while giving a crotch shot to the camera/screens that was quickly remedied. But not before a few well-timed jokes and hearty audience laughter. Levi was, in a nut shell, entertaining—whether he was talking about his new favorite color (a reddish pink called awesome), rejecting a proposal, or reminiscing about his hometown, he was gracious, magnetic, and, clearly, full of hunger.
This is Levi’s first year on the con circuit, though he did attend one years ago with Chuck co-star Adam Baldwin in England and in 2011 founded Nerd HQ, a alt-con offering that usually runs in tandem with San Diego Comic-Con. Levi is now trying to take Nerd HQ, which has a website that brings pop/nerd-culture news to the world, on tour. “I can’t keep paying for it myself,” he teased as the audience cheered when he suggested it become a non-profit.
Levi may be a handsome actor with a seemingly devil-may-care attitude, but it’s clear he’s a social warrior (who is not interested in running for office). He’s dismayed by self-righteous social media bullies who attack people from behind the safety of computer screens and that Hollywood doesn’t always listen to the people it should be listening to: you, the fans.
“You are the power,” he told the audience, reflecting on how people have the collective influence to change things, be it the world, the Dakota Access Pipeline, or the pop-culture machine. “You are the producers of Hollywood,” he said, and later followed with, “We deserve to have the best of things.” Levi said he believes talent should be rewarded, but it doesn’t always make it to Hollywood, a fact that concerns him.
But, he also kept the mood light. “It’s just God-given talent, my friend,” he said when asked about his dance training, which was sporadic on Chuck until the title character started to get his physical powers and he actually had to learn the tango. Since he loves dance and music—both of which he called transformative and joy-bringing—he picks up moves fairly well. When he’s old, he and his wife may take waltz lesson. It just seems like something he should do, he said.
“I’m so grateful for [Chuck],” he said, calling the show a cornucopia of genres that had heart. “I feel how much it means to you guys.” Levi clearly enjoyed talking about it—answering questions about his favorite season (3 or 4, when Chuck got a better haircut and his personal and spy worlds began to merge), favorite moments (directing former James Bond Timothy “damn” Dalton), a Chuck movie (not likely) and what he thinks happens to the characters post-series.
“Well,” he paused for dramatic effect, “I think everyone dies.” He then admitted that, actually, his Libra, empath heart feels Chuck and Sarah found love again. “At the end of the day, Chuck was a hopeful show,” he said, wanting to believe all worked out in that world. Also, he did not get advanced notice that Morgan would get the Intersect in season 5. But, “you just kinda roll with the punches,” and appreciate that TV is a lot like an assembly line, where writers crank out tons of material quickly.
While Tangled (surprisingly) never came up, Levi was asked multiple times about his Broadway experiences while starring in First Date and She Loves Me. About the latter, he recounted how the intricate set once broke during the opening number, leaving the cast bewildered in what he described as a very funny moment. One performance, he managed to splash a drink all over his costar as he set it down.
“I don’t know that my dream role has been written yet,” Levi said when asked about what he’d like to do, though he enjoyed playing Huck in Big River and thinks The Music Man might be fun. During his Broadway debut on First Date, he felt a bit out of his element around veterans who would have been appalled that he didn’t know about legendary directors Scott Ellis or Tommy Tune. At the time, he also hadn’t been on stage in twelve years, calling the move to live performance “a little scary.”
“There’s no greater high in than world,” he then said, “than making a thousand people laugh.”
Levi was asked to sing multiple times, prompting him to say the panel was “not dance monkey, dance time.” Yet, the pressure mounted and sustained itself throughout, with people offering him money. Instead, he focused on fans, repeatedly expressing his admiration of fandoms and their power. “I love that people are creatively inspired by something like Chuck,” he said, calling out the art, cosplays, and even fanfiction begot from the love of something. He made a wide-eyed “I’m-not-so-sure-about-this” face while saying that fans have got “some minds” on them when it comes to fan-fiction.
Aside from touring the con circuit and continuing Nerd HQ, Levi has several films set to be released: the animated The Star, The Psyche Movie, and a Netflix-produced mini-series based on Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace. “I have all kinds of dreams and schemes,” he said, likening himself to Willy Wonka, while musing about doing a trivia game show in the future as well.
In his final moments, Levi talked about his support for the non-profit/NGO Operation Smile. The organization fixes cleft lips and cleft palates in developing countries, a mission he finds particularly poignant as these are relatively easy to repair, which is why you see so few in the U.S. anymore. Not addressing them can lead to serious medical problems and even death. Levi also talked about seeing abject poverty in the Philippines recently, where he realized that even the poorest strive for similar things: a clean home that they can take pride in.
He ended his panel with some empowering thoughts, telling aspiring actors to “do it because you have to” before imploring everyone—no matter their career or path—to not make decisions out of fear, but out of faith. He then encouraged the audience to break free of materialism.
“We are owned,” he shouted to applause, “by the things that we own.” And, we should break free. Well, said. Well, said, Mr. Levi: actor, budding activist, and renowned nerd leader.