Myth-ing in Action with the Cast of Percy Jackson

percy_jackson It’s been 29 years since we had a big-budget movie about the Greek gods. In 1981, Clash of the Titans, was released, featuring Harry Hamlin as the hero Perseus, Laurence Olivier as Zeus, Claire Bloom as Hera, Ursula Andress as Aphrodite and Maggie Smith as Thetis. But despite these names—some of them Oscar winners—the real stars of this show were Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion creatures, which included the winged horse Pegasus, the two-headed beast Diskilos, the serpent-haired Medusa and the sea-based monstrosity known as the Kraken.

Now, after nearly three decades, come not one but two Greek mythology-infused epics. Yes, Clash of the Titans has been remade, and is set to be issued to theaters on March 26. Once again, special effects will be employed with such big names as Sam Worthington as Perseus, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Izabella Miko.

But there’s another saga that’s all Greek to us, too. It’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, based on the first entry in Rich Riordan’s popular teen book series. Hero Percy is a high school student who discovers he is the son of the sea god Poseidon, and is accused of stealing the lightning bolt of Zeus. Along with help from his friends, Percy must return the lightning bolt to Mount Olympus and save his mother, who is being been held captive in the Underworld.

With a slew of special effects, direction by Chris Columbus and a cast that includes Sean Bean, Uma Thurman, Pierce Brosnan, Rosario Dawson and Steve Coogan, Percy Jackson will likely steal some box-office thunder from the newly refurbished Clash of the Titans.

But part of the success of Percy Jackson and the Olympians will rest on the shoulders of its young cast, who play both the real-life pals of Percy and their not-so-American idol offshoots.

After all, it’s who the kids familiar with the books have come to know and love. Besides Percy, there’s Annabeth Chase, the demigod daughter of Athena; Luke Castellen, the demigod son of Hermes; and Grover Underwood, who is transformed into a goat-legged satyr.

It was the four young actors that inhabit those roles who arrived in Philadelphia recently to talk about Percy Jackson and their outlook on movies and moviemaking. Although all are in their late teens to early twenties, they have extensive acting credits behind them, and if Percy Jackson lives up the popularity of the book series, they will return in at least two sequels.

The performers are:

Logan Lerman (Percy), who played Mel Gibson’s young son in The Patriot, the lead in Hoot, a featured role in 3:10 to Yuma, and Bobby in the WB series Jack & Bobby. He’s also currently in the forefront to be cast as the lead in the next Spider-Man film.

Alexandra Daddario (Annabeth), who spent a few years as a teen on the soap All My Children, and has appeared in The Squid and the Whale, the pilot episode of Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, and several independent films.

Brandon T. Jackson (Grover), who has done extensive standup comedy work, is best known as the actor-rapper Chino in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder and for his supporting part in Roll Bounce.

Jake Abel (Luke), who recently appeared in The Lovely Bones and played Greg Kinnear’s son in Flash of Genius.

MFF: Like the Harry Potter series, the Percy Jackson books seem to have gotten kids to read on a regular basis. With the movie coming out, do you think this trend will continue, and how will kids relate to the movie characters?

Logan Lerman: That’s partly what it’s all about. It’s really flattering that we’re going to these bookstores on this tour and these kids are waiting in line. They’re all coming down and they are all so excited about the whole series and they are big fans. The parents are coming over and saying, ‘Thank you so much. You really inspired my kids to read more and learn more.’ It’s a really great opportunity to get invested in this, it’s a nice vehicle. The book and the movies definitely act that way.

Jake Abel: People love films because they can relate to the characters. The gods might as well be human—big humans—because they have every human frailty. They lie, they cheat, they steal, they get mad and they also fall in love. All this is mixed in with the idea of finding the truth in the fantastic world. You add creatures to the mix, and what’s more entertaining than that?

LL: If you’ve studied Joseph Campbell you know it’s all interrelated to different audiences. We’re saying the same thing that many have said already, but it’s all related.

MFF: What inspired you to become actors?

LL: Deep passion for filmmaking and movies. I’ve always found that movies have been a religious experience. It’s not that I never really connected to my religion. But I’ve learned more from the characters I’ve seen in films and it’s made many movie experiences very meaningful. I really want to be part of all that because it’s been important to me.

Alexandra Daddario: I started acting professionally because I grew up in New York. I got an agent when I was young. It’s something I gravitated to and I just love. It is a difficult business and you focus on the art of it.

JA: I’ve always lived in my imagination, and, like Logan, I’ve always had a passion for film. I played with my parents’ video cameras when I was a kid. I experimented with stop-motion animation and it worked. So it made sense to pursue it once I got out of my hometown (Canton, Ohio) and really go after it and see what happens. So I’m very happy so far.

Brandon T. Jackson: Not to be repetitive, but we are all film geeks, as you can see. I love film; I’m obsessed with it. I’m a lover of life and energy and anytime I can reproduce life I put it out there. I like to change things for the good. I try to make sure the things I do have deeper meaning. I got in trouble for that the last time, in Atlanta, when I was in a film.  You know those urban comedies where the character goes ‘Yo, we’re in the hood! They’re cooking crack in the kitchen.’ I’m like, ‘No, let’s have some meaning with this.’  I got into an argument with the studio with this. And they saw it my way. They went, ‘This is cool.’ Right now what the world needs are people who care about the art of film. That’s what drew me to this project, the art form of the film, even though were doing a big commercial movie.

JA: We made a pact to base this fantastic world in truth.

MFF: With Chris Columbus directing, don’t you think comparisons to Harry Potter are inevitable?

LL: Do we want it to be as good as Harry Potter—sure! Do we want it to be as big as Harry Potter and have as many fans—yeah. But it’s different, it’s its own entity.

BTJ: There’re four of us, and I don’t have red hair.

LL: I guess once you see Chris Columbus’ name attached to a fantasy film about a kid thrown into a big situation, you’re going to think Harry Potter, but this is different.

JA: And Chris Columbus isn’t a director who isn’t going to repeat himself or do the same thing he did in previous films. He’s going to stretch himself. He throws kids in extraordinary situations, but the films are classic and separated.

BTJ: We all signed for three films and if we act up, we’re going to get replaced by Don Cheadle.

MFF: What are the biggest differences between the Percy Jackson movie and Percy Jackson books?

JA: Luke has a big scar on his face (in the novels) and I fought for it tooth and nail. I know it’s important for the fans. I knew, being a fan of the books. I understand the storyline has to change, but does it affect him (the Luke character) emotionally?  It was a scar given to him as a punishment, and it gives him reasons for his actions. I fought for it tooth and nail and I didn’t win. You choose the battles you fight. I played him as if he had a scar. It doesn’t make a difference to the film. But this just didn’t work out.

AD: Kids are attached to these books and the details are very important to them. They picture the characters in their minds, and it’s difficult to see it in a different way other than how they imagine it. The essence of the characters and story are maintained, but it’s a different kind of medium.

MFF: What were the difficulties of making a film that utilized lots of CGI special effects?

BTJ: I walked on my tippy toes all the time for the effect that I had hind legs. It’s not hard, just annoying. They said get on your toes, do the walk. Sometimes I had shoes on, sometimes pants on. But everything regarding the CGI was easy.

LL: Chris gives you a lot of freedom to use your imagination and create a skill you want. There were lessons–fighting, archery, kickboxing, fencing. You name it. You can do what you want but you are just a puppet to the director. You never know what the final project will look like. It’s like being a kid. You think there’s a monster and then it’s there. You are terrified. I remember being a kid and really believing that. And now you’re doing it again. But you’re stabbing the air. But in your imagination you’re stabbing a creature.

MFF: Can you tell us who have inspired you?

LL: I tend to go with directors: David Fincher, Kubrick, Bogdanovich. Christopher Nolan.

AD: I’m on a Steve Martin kick. I just moved to L.A. and watched L.A. Story a bunch of times.

JA: I’m inspired by actors who disappear into their roles—Christian Bale, Heath Ledger. I’m also inspired by writers like Aaron Sorkin.

BTJ: James Dean, James Cameron, Scorsese.

MFF: What was it like working with big-name actors like Pierce Brosnan and Uma Thurman in Percy Jackson?

AD: We usually worked with one big actor at a time. Then the experience was rejuvenated when someone new came in, which happened every every few weeks.

LL: They’re just names. They’re just as talented as these guys. But they are a little older, have a little more credibility, and of course one of them is James Bond.