Percy Jackson and the Olympians Aims to Get the Spirit of the Story Right

Matt Fowler
TV Streaming
TV Streaming Fantasy Disney

Young demigod Percy Jackson, the son of Greek God Poseidon, seemed like a shoo-in for a successful blockbuster movie franchise. Especially given the then-recent success of the Harry Potter series and the huge fandom for author Rick Riordan’s Camp Half-Blood Chronicles. Sadly, the Percy Jackson films stopped after the second outing, leaving the rest of the story untold on screen.

But now, there’s a Percy Jackson and the Olympians streaming series headed to Disney+, on December 20, which will allow for a much more detailed and thoughtful adaptation of the books. A show that will take the “one season per book” approach, allowing for an eight-episode first season to tell the full tale of debut novel, The Lightning Thief.

With three new young stars playing Percy, “daughter of Athena” Annabeth, and satyr protector Grover – as well as a tremendous ensemble cast (including Megan Mullally, the late Lance Reddick, and filmmaker Jay Duplass) playing the Gods and monsters the trio meet upon their journey – Percy Jackson and the Olympians is determined to be true to the books while also offering up something new for even the most die-hard of fans.

L-R: Leah Sava Jeffries, Aryan Simhadri, and Walker Scobell in Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

Fandom spoke to stars Walker Scobell, Leah Sava Jeffries, and Aryan Simhadri as well as co-creator/showrunner/EP Jonathan E. Steinberg and EP Dan Shotz (both from Starz’ Black Sails) about embarking on this new quest, to bring Percy Jackson to the screen once more, casting the Gods, working with Reddick, and sword fighting with WWE/AEW wrestling legend Adam “Edge” Copeland.

The Creator

Author Rick Riordan co-created the new Percy Jackson series with Steinberg, even co-writing some of the episodes with him, which meant that there was always someone to make sure things fell in line with the vibe of the novels. “I think what always felt more important to me, or what felt to me was more important to Rick and to Becky [Riordan, EP] was more about tone and voice and the spirit of the story than it was about any particular set piece,” Steinberg shared.

Walker Scobell as Percy Jackson.

“I think there’s always a bit of an exercise you go through to figure out what parts of the plot are going to stay in and what aren’t,” he added, “but there really wasn’t a lot of disagreement. I don’t think about it, nor was there really any sense that there was something we all desperately hoped would be in the show and we didn’t have room for it. I think this format allowed for this story to play itself out in a really organic way where everything that I think is a core part of the adventure and the experience you’re going on found a really clean home in these episodes. And I think the fact that Rick and Becky at the end of the day can look at this and feel like this feels like it’s Percy Jackson to us was the hope, and the big win at the end, that whatever the show is, it lives squarely within the right universe.”

And for the young actors too, Riordan wanted things to feel as organic and natural as possible. As the show’s new Percy, Walker Scobel, put it, “[Rick] kind of just wanted a piece of ourselves to be in it too; in these characters. And I think that was really important. It kind of brings realism. It adds realism to our performances.”

“I think we already have a very similar relationship to each other as Percy and Grover (Grover being Percy’s sworn guardian), doing the show, so that’s helpful.”

Gods and Monsters

The adults of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians world can come in all forms, from nurturing and helpful to spiteful and violent. Whether it’s Virginia Kull’s loving mom, Sally, or Megan Mullally’s ferocious “Ms. Dodds,” Percy’s trek allows for a dangerous modern day Greek odyssey to play out. The ensemble ranged from comedian Jason Mantzoukas to composer/actor Lin-Manuel Miranda.

“It was a little daunting at first,” Simhadri, who plays Grover, said. “It’s such an insane thing to say out loud that Walker, say, gets to have a sword fight with Adam Copeland. And I got to work with Jason Mantzoukas and we got to work with Virginia Kull too, who is so good. You learned something new from each of them. And they were so welcoming from the second you got to know them. All of the nerves and the fear kind of went away. They were fantastic.”

Lance Reddick as Zeus.

The tremendous cast came together quite easily, it turns out. “This was a dream come true, with this cast. Some were incoming phone calls,” Shotz explained. “You realize when you’re part of something like this that there are a lot of actors who have kids who they love these books and wanted to be a part of this. So we got lucky on that front, and then we also there are amazing actors out there that we just tapped into.”

Reddick sadly passed away after the show had completed production on the season, and Shotz remarked, “The Lance Reddick loss was pretty rough, as you can imagine, for the whole film and television community and we felt so fortunate to have him play Zeus. He was so dynamic. He was just epic and his relationship with the kids was great and we’re just really proud of that. That one of his last great roles is going to be Zeus and we just actually reached out to his family again and they’re really proud about the show coming out and that Lance is fitting right in to be the most powerful guy in the show.”

Black SailsToby Stephens and Jessica Parker Kennedy also pop in as rather impactful characters on the show, as Poseiden and Medusa, respectively, which was something that just lined up perfectly for Steinberg and Shotz. Said Steinberg, “I think when you’ve worked with somebody before, you definitely have a really good sense of what their strengths are and what kinds of things, if you ask them to do, they’re going to do with exceptional levels of brilliance. And it turned out there were a few holes in the puzzle that when you thought about Jessica Parker Kennedy, and when you think about Toby Stephens, you knew that they were going to be perfect for it. And it’s always gratifying to have the right answer to a tough question and it’s also nice to be able to hang out with friends.”

Adam Copeland as Ares.

The inclusion of Adam Copeland, as Ares, came about through the wrestling Hall of Famer’s audition tape, as Steinberg recalled. “I’m gonna be super honest, it took me a few seconds when I was watching his tape to realize what I was watching. It doesn’t say ‘Edge’ is auditioning, but here’s the thing: 10 seconds in I was like ‘I love this’ and then it occurred to me ‘Oh, this is why I love this.’ Because this is who it is. He’s perfect. He was just exactly what we were hoping that character was going to turn into in every way. And in ways that I don’t think I even imagined.”

When that audition came in we very quickly found out his children, his daughters, were huge fans,” Shotz said. “And so this was a very big deal for him. He was so excited when he got the role. And he’s one of the nicest human beings I have ever met. He is awesome and just his dynamic with the kids was hilarious. Walker having to realize like ‘Wait, I have to fight that guy?’ It was so sweet.”

The World of Percy

All three young stars – Scobell, Jeffries, and Simhadri – were big fans of the books before getting cast in the series, which contributed to how impressed they were by the production.

“I think we were all massive fans of anything Percy Jackson,” Simhadri noted. “Logan Lerman was such a good Percy Jackson. He’s one of the coolest people ever. It’s insane that we get to follow up that kind of adaptation and his imagining of the world. It’s just great having the support from everyone. It puts a lot of good pressure on you because you don’t want to disappoint anybody else but most of all, you don’t want to disappoint yourself. Because we’re such big fans of this show, we want to put something out there that we would want to watch too.”

L-R: Aryan Simhadri, Leah Sava Jeffries, and Walker Scobell in Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

One of the most impressive sets that Jeffries experienced was, naturally, Camp Half-Blood, a crucial location in the Percy stories. “They had so much detail,” she said. “But then we saw it on the show and it was even more amazing. It was like this open field where Percy and Chiron [Glynn Turman] were walking, and there’s five different sections in the background. And there was that waterfall that wasn’t even there. We were actually filming outside so it was just crazy to see that on the show. It’s so amazing because they’re taking so much detail from the book and putting it into real life, so it’s really cool to live it.”

Percy Jackson and the Olympians debuts with two episodes on Disney+ on December 20.

Matt Fowler