Backstage at the Longacre Theatre — backpack by his side, his 6-foot-4 frame ending in black Converse sneakers — the 32-year-old set the record straight, his conversation peppered with the words “journey,” “amazing” and “blessed.”

He was born Zachary Levi Pugh — that Welsh surname’s pronounced “pewww!” — which led to no end of “brutal comments” in boyhood and beyond. His agent suggested the young actor might just want to change his name.
It wasn’t an easy decision.

“I’d made a rule that I wouldn’t change or bend for Hollywood,” says the actor, who grew up in Southern California, in the shadow of Disneyland. But after he “prayed about it long and hard,” he decided to simply lose the Pugh.

That, Levi says, led to another difficulty: “I’ve had casting directors call my agent and say, ‘Yeah, you know — he’s a little too Jewish.’ ”

As far as the creators of “First Date” were concerned, Levi was just right.

“Zachary’s like a better-looking version of me — the me I’ve always wanted to be,” says Austin Winsberg, the show’s bespectacled book writer. While writing for “Gossip Girl,” which shared offices on the Warner Brothers lot with “Chuck,” Winsberg saw in Levi what he calls “the sweet spot — someone who could sing, dance, be funny and play the romantic leading man, the one women want to be with and the guys root for. ”
As it happened, Levi was free, and Broadway was on his bucket list. He’d been singing and dancing in regional theater since he was 6 (“I was a ham”), and he and his “Tangled” co-star Mandy Moore sang a duet together at the Oscars.

His only hesitation: getting typecast as a nerd, even if he sees himself that way in real life. He and a friend run a business he describes as “Nike for Nerds” — the Nerd Machine, which creates duds and gizmos for sci-fi fans and gamers like Levi himself, who put his arm through a light fixture while hitting an overhead smash during a Wii game of tennis.

“I believe in using the platform you have for good,” says Levi, who calls his business dealings “conscientious capitalism — get a buck, give a buck.” He’s an avid supporter of Operation Smile and other charities, and arranged for a week off at “First Date,” just after previews started, to honor his commitment to appear at Geek Central, a k a Comic-Con.

And his love life?

“That I won’t get into,” he says, pleasantly. Despite a well-publicized breakup with singer Caitlin Crosby, he’s managed to keep his private life on the down low.

“I’m not a big dater, honestly,” he says. “I’m a go-with-the-flow kind of guy . . . I’d rather hang out with someone in a group and see if they check these various boxes with me before we go out together — get to know each other very casually and coolly, and if there’s chemistry, then we’ll go on a date.”

Judging from the ecstatic applause Levi’s drawing in “First Date,” a lot of people would be very happy to know him better. [ Source ]



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