For Zachary Levi, there has never been a backup plan.
For the 22-year-old actor and co-star of the ABC sitcom Less Than Perfect, acting was his calling; it was what he was supposed to do. After being cast in supporting roles in two NBC sitcom pilots (which weren’t picked up) and the TV movie Big Shot: Confessions of a Campus Bookie, Levi wasn’t satisfied. As a Christian in Hollywood, the most intensely competitive atmosphere in the entertainment world, he is constantly working to maintain both his positive attitude and his personal ministry in a jaded industry.
[RELEVANT magazine:] You were a mainstay in the Ojai Theater for several years doing The Outsiders, Godspell and other plays. What did you learn from live theater that is helping your career now?
[Zachary Levi:] Theater has been my entire training process because I never took any acting classes—any kind of conventional training. I learned everything that I know now from doing constant theater, working with different directors, writers and other actors. The actor that I am today would not exist had it not been for everyone that I’ve worked with before, God working within me, constantly keeping my eyes and my ears open to act as a sponge to soak that stuff up and then be able to spit it out when I needed to.
[RM:] Was your family involved in your acting at that point? How did they encourage you?
[ZL:] My family was always very supportive. Whether you’re an actor or not, everybody hears the horror stories of people going to L.A. and trying to be an actor, and their dreams are crushed, and they end up working for the IRS. So they were always protective to the point that they wanted me to have a backup plan, which is understandable, but there was always something inside of me that knew: backup plan, schmackup plan.
[RM:] Before Less Than Perfect you were a hard-working actor in Hollywood like a lot of people are today. What advice would you give others about going to audition after frustrating audition?
[ZL:] The first advice that I would give is to really spend time in prayer to make sure that this is exactly what God wants you to be doing and not just something that you really feel like you should be doing. Many times I have come home from a really devastating audition, and I’d be really thoroughly depressed because it was a role that I really was hoping for. I realized how crucial having a walk with God was because I could turn around and say, “It didn’t happen, but obviously it wasn’t God’s will.” People who don’t have God in their lives only have themselves to blame. So they look back at the audition and they say, “I didn’t do a good enough job.” But so often it has nothing to do with how good you did in the audition; it has to do with the fact that you’re a brunette and they were looking for a blonde. So, to me, the most important factor in all of the rejection was that I had a walk with God. As far as being an actor is concerned, you have to have passion. If you’re not bringing the passion of the character into the room with you, you might as well not come into the room at all.
[RM:] Now you’re part of one of the hottest casts in TV, and you’re playing the role of the archenemy. How have the last few months been for you?
[ZL:] It has been really crazy. You get free stuff; you get to be in the newspaper, in magazine articles and on television shows. It’s weird. To me, it hasn’t all completely sunk in yet. But at the same, I hope it never does. I hope it never completely sinks in. I hope there’s always at least a small part of me that’s always surprised, always taken aback, always childlike or innocent in the whole process.
[RM:] Is it hard to maintain that innocence in this environment?
[ZL:] Overall, as a human beings its hard to maintain that innocence. Even now sometimes I’ll find myself in a situation, and I’ll think to myself—and not in a really negative way but—“I wonder if they know who I am.” And not like, “Don’t you know who I am?” like I’m this huge guy, but I wonder if they know if that I am this guy on this TV show, more out of curiosity than anything else. But the problem is that the curiosity, in an instant, can turn into conceitedness. To me that’s what makes putting on the full armor of God everyday so important. Even saying that right now I feel like such a hypocrite, because reading your Bible and really spending alone time in prayer with the Lord every day, I stumble in that.
[RM:] Is Hollywood a difficult atmosphere to be in as a Christian?
[ZL:] Absolutely. The atmosphere in Hollywood in general is very anti-conservative, very anti-Christian. The liberal segment of Hollywood, which is 80 percent of it if not more, they look at Christians as hypocrites that are false and fake. The tough part is that in many cases I can’t argue with them. My job on my set, I believe, is to first just love people and gain that trust with people where they know that I really do love them and care about their well-being, so that when they are running into problems, they will hopefully, at some point, come to me and ask me, “What is your peace all about? What is your comfort all about? Where do you get your love? Where do you get your talents? And I can turn to them and say without blinking, “Jesus Christ.”
You can’t just come out there and say “Hey, I’m a Christian, and I’m gonna beat you into thinking the way that I do.” You can’t do that. It’s not about manipulation so much as it’s about getting in on someone’s life on the ground floor. So more than anything, that’s what I’m trying to do now. Just build relationships with everyone that I work with.
For more on Zachary Levi, check out RELEVANT magazine.
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