Three of the main actors and the two executive producers did a press conference for Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Here’s what they said!
On December 4, 2023, I attended a press event with Walker Scobell (“Percy Jackson”), Leah Sava Jeffries (“Annabeth Chase”), Aryan Simhadri (“Grover Underwood”), Jon Steinberg (co-creator / showrunner / executive producer) and Dan Shotz (executive producer) of the upcoming Disney+ series Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
I was one of many press outlets at the event to talk to the cast, and the topics ranged from favorite myth to what it was like working with a mostly teen cast.
I managed the first question, which was how familiar the cast was with the books before getting involved. Scobell responded that he’d been reading the books since third grade and has read them seven times. “It’s been really great to experience filming the books.”
Jeffries had been enough of a fan to have written a mini-essay on Percy Jackson for school before she had gotten the part.
“We were huge fans of the books before,” said Simhadri. “Me personally, I was a huge fan before I even knew they were starting a show, so getting to play such an iconic character has been just amazing.”
They were asked what they love about their characters, and Jeffries talked about mixing it up. “I made sure that I still had Annabeth, but also giving my natural self,” she said. “I think that really played a good part: like I would have a goofy side of me, but I also have that straightforward serious ‘let’s get straight to the point’ person. I think that’s what made the chemistry really good between all of us.”
“We tried to ground it a little bit more in real life,” said Scobell. “I think that it’s really important to remember that he’s still a 12-year-old kid. It’s much more of an emotional journey for him.”
“What I really liked about Grover is that he kind of starts out really skittish, a little cowardly,” said Simhadri about his character. “But you can still see that he’s always willing to put himself in front of his friends. Grover comes out of his shell a little bit more and is more willing to throw himself in front of danger to protect the people he cares about.”
Jeffries continued on this path later in the interview. “I would take Annabeth’s vulnerability from her, while bringing the focus of her. I can definitely be focused but also have a deep sensitivity to me.”
“For Grover,” said Simhadri, “one of my favorite things reading his character in the books was how connected he is to everyone he cares about, which is a trait I really admire in him and something I want to take from that character and put it in this story as much as I can.”
The relationship between Percy and Annabeth (ship name “Percabeth”) was also discussed. Both Scobell and Chase talked about how the Tunnel of Love scene was one of their favorite moments. “I think that’s really when you can start to see the chemistry and the intenseness of how the friendship is building into it,” said Jeffries.
Camp Half-Blood is one of the iconic sections of the books. The team was asked about what it was like filming those scenes. “It was really surreal,” said Scobell. “You’ve been imagining it for so long, and finally getting to see it – it’s not real, you know?”
“I’ve never seen people bring something that was a story that was written out to life so good,” said Chase. “I’ve never seen someone bring so much detail from a book. I walked out feeling like I actually lived in that book.”
“What was amazing for us,” said Shotz, “seeing it to come to life was it was the first time I’ve seen hundreds of background artists put a shirt on and their whole body changed. All the kids that were at the camp were so connected to the books themselves, being able to put these orange shirts and honor this book and play these roles, it was just a really powerful moment.”
Working with mostly teenagers was a new experience for the three. “It was kind of strange at first,” Simhadri said. “When we started, I was 16 or so, and Walker was like 12. It was strange because they carry themselves with so much more maturity than you would expect of like a 12-year-old. I got to work alongside peers rather than ‘babysit’.”
What excited Steinberg about the show, though, was the kids. “I think that these relationships between these kids were really what got me excited about the book the first time I read it, and got me excited about the project when we came on. I’m watching these guys inhabit that and take stuff and make it so human and so much fun. We’re very excited for people to see the book in a different way.”
“I think on this show, it was easy to forget [how it was mostly kids],” said Steinberg. “This show doesn’t behave like a show for kids or with kids, and I think a lot of that is really a tribute to these guys. Everybody was such a pro: not just showing up for work and not just working hard, but handling really complex emotional stuff that I think is hard for any actor. It’s a story about what it’s like to hurt people you love, what it’s like to be in a complicated relationship with a parent. And I think the more they were able to pull that off, the easier it was to forget that everyone was 16 and 13 and 12. They did an amazing job.”
“They just brought such a joy to the making of it to the set,” said Shotz. “Being silly, having a good time, coming with the greatest energy every day – it was contagious. The entire crew felt it and it was just having a ball the entire time.”
Shotz and Steinberg were asked about the line between staying true to the source material and making a television adaptation. “I think it’s a little more art than science,” said Steinberg about what to put in and what to leave out. “I think as you’re reading the book, it starts in terms of trying to form a sense of really what’s contributing to the sense of the journey. Once you’re in conversation with Rick [Riordan] and with Becky about the things that they feel like this wouldn’t be a Percy Jackson story or journey without. And then from there, you start planting flags in things, feeling like if this wasn’t in the show, I think as a fan, I’d be disappointed. Trying to figure out how to stitch everything together in a way where nothing feels extra: nothing feels like it’s there just because we wanted it to be.”
“What was so amazing about what Rick built,” said Shotz, “you could just find your way through so many different myths. We went back into so many myths to add for the series. It’s so amazing to immerse yourself in all this mythology.
“I think you have to be extremely respectful [of the source material],” Steinberg said. “I think you also at the same time have to not be afraid it. I think you commit to telling a story about this kid and making the story work on its own two feet. It’s a constant balancing act between a real sense of reverence for the material and a willingness to try stuff. I think having Rick and Becky on board makes that process possible. The ability to pitch something new and look at their faces to see if its working is invaluable.”
“There’s no one closer to this book series than the writer is,” said Shotz. What was so impressive about them was they were open to looking at it themselves. It was exciting to hear what things he wanted to do, how he wanted to explore different themes and ideas and dig deeper into all of it. It was kind of amazing to watch, and they were insanely collaborative.”
Want to know more behind the scenes? Read our write up of the NYCC panel about building the world of Percy Jackson.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians will have its two-episode premiere on December 20, 2023, on Disney+.
Author: Angie Fiedler Sutton
Angie Fiedler Sutton is a writer, podcaster, and all-round fangirl geek. She has been published in Den of Geek, Stage Directions, LA Weekly, The Mary Sue, and others.
She also produces her own podcast, Contents May Vary, where she interviews geeky people about geeky things. You can see all her work (and social media channels) at angiefsutton.com.
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