Zachary Levi on role of Kurt Warner in “American Underdog” – The Hollywood Reporter


Fresh out of high school and 19, Zachary Levi remembers “watching it all unfold in real time” as St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner led his team to Super Bowl XXXIV victory with a 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans. at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Jan. 30, 2000. What a moment in history it was when Warner earned MVP status for the Big Game, crowning what many call one of the greatest stories in the world. NFL history.

The Iowa native, who had stocked shelves at a grocery store a few years before, appeared stuck as an undrafted free agent after a remarkable college career at the University of Northern Iowa and was dumped by the Green Bay Packers. Warner enjoyed success in arena football with the Iowa Barnstormers before being finally signed by the Rams in 1998.

“It was that crazy Cinderella story,” Levi explained to Hollywood journalist Wednesday night at the premiere of his new film American Underdog. In the movie Lionsgate, Levi plays the role of Warner alongside Anna Paquin who plays his wife Brenda Warner. “This guy came out of nowhere to take the Rams to the Super Bowl and win it out of nowhere. It was so inspiring and when I read the script its story is even more inspiring because of the flesh of it. There is so much more detail and there is so much depth on who Kurt is, who Brenda is, their relationship, the kids, their faith in each other, the struggles they’ve had and their love through it all. that. Once I realized that this was the story being told here, I wanted to be a part of the telling of that story.

The story told is one taken directly from Warner’s memoir, All Things Possible: My Story of Faith, Football and the First Season of Miracles, and adapted by screenwriters Jon Gunn and David Aaron Cohen with Jon Erwin, the latter co-directed with his brother Andrew Erwin. All of the above were in attendance at Wednesday’s event, held at the TCL Chinese Theater on a freezing cold night in Los Angeles with temperatures dropping nearly 50 degrees. And it looked like a typical Hollywood premiere with a carpet, teams and celebrities in costume, but many guests wouldn’t be out of a seat at SoFi Stadium on weekends because there were dozens of people there. fans decked out in Rams gear. and even a group of Rams cheerleaders.

Lionsgate and event producers also made sure to amplify the authentic energy of football by displaying the Rams Super Bowl XXXIV Vince Lombardi Trophy on the mat and stacking the after-party with Warner’s jerseys and a wall full of trophies. But with that material and now a movie about her life set to hit theaters on Christmas Day, you won’t see Warner playing the role of a Hollywood diva. The NFL Hall of Fame never strays from its humble roots.

“We’re just two normal people who have lived life,” Kurt said. THR on the mat during a joint interview with Brenda. “We know that most people have lived life like us, with struggles and challenges and their own supermarket moments. Walking on a carpet like this, it’s easy to ask, “Why are they making a movie about us?” What have we really done other than live our lives and fight? But with that comes humility and if there is anything about our story that can impact and encourage other people and give them hope to show that the possibilities are endless no matter where you are. , it’s worth it. I am humbled by it all, it is the greatest emotion I have at the moment.

Ditto for Brenda, who also said she was honored to be portrayed onscreen by Oscar-winning actress Anna Paquin. “When I first spoke to her she wanted to know why I believe what I believe because she doesn’t necessarily believe what I believe and yet she accepted it and she said, ‘I want to do well “Said Brenda, whose faith permeates so much of the story.” I am honored that she has invested herself and got to know me. I have friends that I have known since I got to know me. I’m 10 and they saw her performance and said, “There were times I felt like you. She did a great job.”

Paquin said the two had “really amazing conversations” during the preparation for the show. “She’s a Midwestern American woman who has a very strong and beautifully deep relationship with her faith and religion. It’s not my past,” Paquin explained. “I’m a little Catholic, but it was not really much of what shaped me as a person, and I was actually incredibly curious as to what it looked like and what this relationship was like and the details of it. I wanted to know the details. , on a more granular level, to understand what it feels like and how their faith works. ”

Even the genre of American Underdog, an inspirational story about redemption, faith, family, love, and football, is not one that might appear on Paquin’s screen. “I listen to serial killer podcasts and watch a lot of really depressing documentaries, so happy and romantic movies in general don’t tend to show up on my algorithm on any platform,” she said. with a smile.

Yet it is right in the wheelhouse of the Erwin brothers, who previously teamed up on the hauls. I still believe and I can only imagine. Jon says, “We grew up in the South, not far from the Heartland, and all of these themes of faith, family and values ​​are so ingrained and important to us. This story is really, it’s a love letter to the Heartland. It’s a love letter to dreamers all over the world, and I just love the theme of never giving up on your dreams, your destiny, your vocation in life, and that’s what I hope people think when they see this, that maybe my dream is possible too. “

Andrew adds, “Kurt Warner is the holy grail. If you looked up the outsider in the dictionary, there would be his name next to it. He added that they were lucky to land Levi for the title role, thanks to a programming push on the next installment of his franchise. Shazam! due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “He was at the top of the list to play Kurt but he wasn’t available,” said Andrew. “Then COVID pushed Shazam! and we had to push too, and it finally became available. In the fate of things, it’s amazing how this came to be. Zach Levi was born to play this role.

American Underdog is in theaters on December 25.

Andrew Erwin and Mandii Erwin arrive on the carpet flanked by the Rams cheerleaders.
Amy Sussman / Getty Images

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Trophies on display during the after party.
Jon Kopaloff / Getty Images for Lionsgate

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James Carpinello, Lisa Gunn, American screenwriter Underdog Jon Gunn (who directs star Zachary Levi in ​​his upcoming film The unbreakable boy), Amy Acker, Drew Powell and Meghann Fahy catch up on the mat.
Amy Sussman / Getty Images

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Catherine Downes, Kevin Downes, Anna Paquin (in Zuhair Murad), Kurt Warner, Brenda Warner, Zachary Levi (in Etro costume with Christian Louboutin shoes and a Montblanc watch), Jon Erwin and Beth Erwin snuggle up before the screening.
Amy Sussman / Getty Images

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Anna Paquin with her actor-filmmaker husband Stephen Moyer.
Amy Sussman / Getty Images


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