Shazam! star Zachary Levi is set to play former NFL star Kurt Warner in the inspirational sports drama American Underdog from Lionsgate and the Erwin brothers’ Kingdom Story Company, it was announced Wednesday.
Jon Erwin and Andrew Erwin will direct from a script credited to David Aaron Cohen (Friday Night Lights), Jon Gunn (I Still Believe) and Jon Erwin. The Erwin brothers will produce with Kevin Downes and Mark Ciardi, the latter of whom is no stranger to sports movies, having produced Invincible and The Rookie. Kurt and Brenda Warner will co-produce the film, which is based on interviews with the Hall of Fame quarterback as well as his memoir, All Things Possible: My Story of Faith, Football and the First Miracle Season.
American Underdog chronicles the incredible true story of quarterback Kurt Warner, who went from stocking shelves at a supermarket to become a two-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP before being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Levi is a strong choice to play Warner, as he’s a rising star with the right physique to play a pro athlete, and the fact that the two look alike certainly doesn’t hurt.
“Kurt’s story is one of relentless faith — in his own abilities but even more so in a higher power. When I read Kurt’s story, I identified with the quiet strength he found to persevere — that’s something I think anybody can recognize in their own lives,” said Levi. “This is the kind of underdog story that sports movies are all about, and the fact that it’s true makes it even more special. I’m thrilled to be part of bringing his story to audiences.”
“Zachary was our first and only choice,” said Jon Erwin. “He brings a combination of humble charm and charisma as well as an intense physicality to the role. For our last several films, we have brought inspiring real life stories to the big screen and there is something magnificent and magical to Kurt’s rise as a champion.”
“This is about an everyman who never let his dream die. Zachary was born to play this role — and when you add in his uncanny resemblance to Kurt Warner, we’re thrilled to be working with him,” added Andrew Erwin.
Lionsgate will distribute American Underdog, which is poised to be Levi’s next film, as production is expected to start later this year. Lionsgate executives Jim Miller and Chelsea Kujawa will oversee the project on behalf of the studio, whose Phil Strina oversaw the negotiation with Levi.
The Erwins previously directed Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions’ faith-based film I Can Only Imagine, which grossed more than $83 million at the domestic box office to become the highest grossing independent film of 2018, and the fifth-highest-grossing musical biopic of all time. The Erwins soon signed a long-term partnership with Lionsgate, and I Still Believe was the first film under that deal. Their other films include Woodlawn, October Baby and Moms’ Night Out.
Levi starred in the NBC series Chuck before landing the lead in Disney’s animated musical Tangled. He won a SAG Award as part of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel ensemble, and his family-friendly superhero movie Shazam! grossed over $365 million worldwide. Levi will soon be seen alongside Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch in Kevin MacDonald’s Prisoner 760, and he’s also set to star opposite Cole Sprouse in Lionsgate’s Under Cover.