Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians series may not have risen to the heights of world-conquering success that J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books did, but to young, adventure-loving readers and fans of Greek mythology, the San Antonio-born author’s page-turners are indispensable. That they would eventually land on the big screen seemed a no-brainer.
The wait is over. Five years after publication of The Lightning Thief, Riordan’s story of Percy, the 12-year-old American son of the Greek sea god Poseidon, the movie has arrived – directed, not coincidentally, by Chris Columbus, the man responsible for the first two Potter movies. Whether any of its four written sequels make the same leap from page to screen will be decided by moviegoers this month. But if the talent assembled for The Lightning Thief is any indication, this on-screen saga should have legs.
Percy is played by Logan Lerman, whose name doesn’t have household cachet yet, but considering the strength of his performances as Christian Bale’s sharpshooting son in 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and as a tech-savvy teen in last year’s Gamer – not to mention the rumors, unfounded by Lerman, that he will replace Tobey Maguire as the new Spider-Man – that too seems just a matter of time.
Joining him in Columbus’ lovingly faithful adaptation are Brandon T. Jackson, who played Alpa Chino in Tropic Thunder (2008), as Grover, a helpful satyr; Alexandra Daddario, of TV’s White Collar, as the demigod daughter of Athena; and Jake Abel (The Lovely Bones) as Luke, the demigod son of Hermes. (The movie also features a deliciously wicked performance by Uma Thurman as Medusa, whose icy gaze turns all living creatures to stone.)
Were the four young stars familiar with Riordan’s novels before auditioning for The Lightning Thief?
Logan Lerman: “No. We discovered the movie before we’d ever heard of the books.”
Alexandra Daddario: “I think it’s for kids a little younger than we are.”
Jake Abel: “The books are for 12-year-olds, but the movie is for them and the same crowd that enjoys the Twilight movies.”
Brandon T. Jackson: “And it’s for adults, too. It’s just a real fun ride. Anyone can enjoy it, sort of like Ghostbusters. It's candy.”
LL: “This is a movie that does what Chris Columbus does best, which is appeal to all ages. And that’s why he made it. The first Harry Potter movie isn’t just for little kids, and it’s not just for the people who read the book. It’s for everyone.”
JA: “And it gets dark, too. When it comes time to fight, the books really go for it. They don’t hold anything back.”
On their favorite books as kids:
LL: “Catcher in the Rye. Absolutely.”
BTJ: “There’s a hooker in that book.”
LL: “There is, but I still read it when I was really young. My parents took me to see that Leslie Neilsen Dracula movie – Dracula: Dead and Loving It – and that’s a silly movie, but it’s also not the kind of movie most 4-year-olds see in the theaters. They allowed me to experience those types of things early in life.”
AD: “I think you can read something at a young age and appreciate it without fully understanding it. It goes over your head. You can go back to it when you’re older and find all the things you missed.”
BTJ: "My character in the movie is a bit older, so I have a lot of lines that a little kid might not understand, but it gives their parents something to appreciate, something to laugh about."
JA: "And it's very modern. The story of Percy Jackson is set in the present, and the way we talk reflects that."
On their whirlwind production schedule:
LL: "It's been a year to the day since I was signed to make this movie. We spent a year really working our asses off because the producers wanted to make the movie fast. We had a lot of competition with Clash of the Titans coming out, and we wanted to get our movie out first."
JA: "They were doing the CGI while we were shooting."
LL: "We knocked out all the big CGI setpieces first so they could work on them while we shot the rest of the movie. I don't even know if they're done with them. I hope they are!"
On the sudden urgency to bring Percy to the screen:
AD: "For a long time, I think Chris has been looking for a movie to do based on Greek mythology, and when he discovered these books it seemed like the perfect opportunity."
JA: "It's true. They've been trying to make these movies for a while now, and a couple projects fell apart before we got there. Once Chris came along, everything just clicked. His was the right team for the job."
On working with a green screen in a movie rife with special effects:
BTJ: "I'd done it before. All the helicopter scenes in Tropic Thunder were made using the green screen."
LL: "I didn't have much experience with it, but I found it very liberating. Sure, you don't have another actor to play off, but when there's an imaginary monster attacking you, it forces you to use your imagination, to create that moment inside your head. That's acting."
On working with Columbus, director of Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, among others:
LL: "It was definitely the most collaborative experience I've had. A lot of times, directors are focused on their vision, and you're just a tool to them. You're a puppet. Chris makes you feel like you're the filmmaker too. You are making this film with him, and that draws you even deeper into the experience."
JA: "He's into the microcosm of filmmaking, working hard on all the little things and trusting they'll add up to a worthwhile whole."
LL: "He also lets you see the dailies."
BTJ: "You do have to fit his vision, though. He has a certain tone that he works in, and if you stray too far out of it, he'll gently pull you back in. He has style."
JA: "And he's passionate about what he does. He's made all the money in the world, so he doesn't need the paycheck. I mean, we grew up on the Home Alone and Harry Potter movies. Who didn't? Basically, if he's going to be away from his family for the time it takes to make the movie, he will only do something he believes in. He needs a reason to want to show up every day. Percy gave all of us that, and that's why the movie turned out so well. It was a wholehearted effort at all times."