The Disney+ original series adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Olympians is here! Book fans and those entering this world for the first time will be introduced to a story that's lovingly told. The series has a lot to live up to for viewers that have lived with these characters since the first book in the universe created by Rick Riordan was published in 2005. It's also carrying the weight of the film series led by Logan Lerman which disappointed fans and the author as well. Luckily, it's not going to be dragged down by it.
I had the opportunity to speak with executive producers Jon Steinberg and Dan Shotz along with director James Bobin about the series ahead of its premiere and a common thread emerged. This is a team that loves Percy's journey as much as book fans do because they, too, are fans of the books. Steinberg described it as being "critical" that they be able to balance honoring the original material and welcoming new people into this world.
"You’re always trying to be your own audience. If you’re doing it right, you’re always trying to be a number of different audiences at the same time and watching the story develop with different sets of eyes.
I think with this one, those two sets were really important to make sure, as a fan of the book, for fans of the book, when you watch [Percy Jackson and the Olympians] you feel like this was made by people who understand why you love that book and [they] loved it, too, and were excited about it. At the same time, it can’t be a kind of a thing where if you haven’t read the book you feel like you’re missing the joke and that this is a story for someone else. So you have to get those two things to cooperate.
"One way to do that is to ensure that the author of the story you're adapting is a part of the ride and an integral part to the creation of the adaptation. Riordan, and his wife Rebecca, is an executive producer on the series and co-wrote the two episode premiere and episode 5 "A God Buys Us Cheeseburgers” with Steinberg. And, though season 2 hasn't been greenlit yet, Riordan has continued on with the show for its second season. The writers room opened in March before the writers strike commenced in May.
But as important as the writing is, it's also essential that casting goes the way the team hopes. As Steinberg pointed out during the interview, Percy's story "couldn’t be more universal. It’s about a boy who doesn’t fit in going on an adventure. It’s as mythic as it gets before you even get to the mythology." So you need a lead who can embody the titular character to the fullest. That's where Walker Scobell came in.
As the young actor shared in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians press conference, he's been reading the books since third grade. In total he's read them seven times. As a fan, he knows Percy's story front to back. So do his co-stars Aryan Simhadri, who plays Grover Underwood, and Leah Sava Jeffries. In fact, when Jeffries got the role of Annabeth Chase she'd been writing a mini essay about Percy Jackson for school.
It was a match made in the team's dreams for all three actors to come aboard the series because it's a fantasy adventure led by young adults which would require much of them and hinged upon their chemistry. Executive producer Dan Shotz put it this way:
"You need to find the right kids. This does not work if you don’t find the three perfect kids to inhabit these iconic roles. We got very, very lucky not only did they each fit so perfectly but also their chemistry as well. I think there was a lot of nerves when you set out on a global search to find these kids who you’re going to need to ask to work for like 160 days straight. It’s a huge ask and these kids just nailed it."
Director James Bobin added to that sentiment referring to the trio as "hard working and considerate and caring" and that because they love each other so much and like being together they bring a joy to set and the crew. A part of that work has been the stunts the actors do. If you were wondering if Scobell, Simhadri, and Jeffries do their own stunt work in the series, you'll be happy to know that they do. They did it all according to Bobin.
"Walker [Scobell] is a very good swordsman. He is. He’s good at it. He wanted to do it from day one and all his spare time was basically sword fighting. And, of course, they did a lot of flying work which was very fun. We had a great stunts team and these guys worked incredibly hard and the kids enjoyed doing it. Also, with stunts it’s not about perfection it’s about effort. It’s about the idea that it’s real, that they are vulnerable, and they have the physical limitations of children and that’s supposed to come across."
Having seen the first two episodes of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, I can assure you that it does. Bobin emphasized that the stunt work needed to clearly denote how hard these fights would be for the characters and the progress they've made as they continue to learn their strengths and adapt to the fighting styles of their opponents. The director specifically pointed out Percy's action sequences in episode 1 and 2.
"If you’re fighting a Minotaur that’s 12 feet tall that’s hard and it should feel hard. Walker’s very good at making it look hard because it is hard. They were just fantastic at that and I think that’s part of the believability of the fight sequence [at Camp Half-Blood] because they are vulnerable within them. They are not perfect. They’re learning as they go. Percy’s learning how to sword fight in that sequence where they fight Clarisse and he gets better in that sequence and that alone is a good story for that little beat. Narrative is always important in any short of action sequence and that particular one is very important for Percy’s character. That was a fun one."
What's great about this Disney+ original is that it's geared toward a middle grade and younger audience. Preteens are a forgotten age demographic in media. Content for them is not a dime a dozen, so Percy Jackson and the Olympians' debut is not only important but also necessary. It's an opportunity for children to enjoy a fantasy adventure that's meant for them and that's fun, too.
I'll leave you with these parting words from Jon Steinberg on what he hopes younger audiences get from the series.
" I hope they have fun. I think if you’re 8 and you’re not having fun then nothing else really matters. I think that when they’re having fun to be told a story about despite whatever power you may come into or whatever temptation you may face to get angry, to be your worst self, to find the strength to be your best self which is what I really think, on some level, this whole story is about. It’s a thing I’m glad my [son] will get to watch and it’ll be a part of the language of how he meets this world and this story.
"Percy Jackson and the Olympians streams Wednesdays on Disney+.