Interview: Chris Columbus And The Cast Of Percy Jackson
After having seen Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, I was somewhat disappointed upon reaching the top of the Empire State building and not finding a doorway to Olympus. I may not have met Zeus, Poseidon and Athena, but I was lucky enough to be in the presence director Chris Columbus and stars Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario and Pierce Brosnan.
Based on the popular fantasy book by Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief tells the story of Percy Jackson, an average teenager who finds out heís the son of Poseidon. After receiving guidance from the wise Centaur Chiron, Percy teams up with his protector Grover and Annabeth, the daughter of Athena, to rescue his mother and identify the individual who stole Zeusí coveted lightning bolt. The trio goes on a cross-country adventure battling any ungodly creature in their way.
Columbus has the stellar source material and the impressive cast, but the question remains; did he kick off a franchise with the potential to follow in Harry Potterís footsteps. My hopes are high, but only time will tell. What I can say for sure is that if The Lighting Thief does spawn a film series, Columbus will have a team of humble and hardworking actors in his company.
With this filmís high franchise potential, do you think itíll change your lives? Do you expect people to be mobbing you like at the filmís premiere?
Lerman: It was only at the theater because thatís where they really recognize you. This is a movie that Iím really proud of. Because of that itís the biggest compliment when people recognize you for a movie that youíre very proud of. Itís the biggest pat on the back.
Daddario: For me itís already changed my life a lot. I have opportunities that I never had before and Iíve learned so much and Iím incredibly lucky as far as anything beyond this point Iím sort of taking it day by day. Iím just really excited to be doing what I love and I think thatís the best part about all of this.
Jackson: Okay, we canít say itís not weird leaving a theater and weíre being dragged out in a crowd surf of kids that are screaming. But at the same time itís very inspiring to see everybody love the movie and thatís the best thing.
Brosnan: Well, Chris was very sly. He went straight to my vanity and he sent me this beautiful portrait of me as this Centaur, which I looked magnificent. Of course my sons were instrumental in me playing in this film. They have read the books and they loved the books and Chris and I had worked together on Mrs. Doubtfire all those years ago and Iíve just admired him as a filmmaker and as a man and his passion and compassion for actors and storytelling. But we didnít really discuss how to play this role or what to do as a Centaur. I love horses and I ride horses. I had a portfolio in my script of photographs of Centaurs. Then you begin to use your imagination. Chris obviously had a defined image because the portrait that he sent me of myself as Chiron was beautifully rendered. Then came the blue tights, which I really had no idea what to do. Itís very hard to keep ones dignity and humility when you stand looking resplendent from the waist up and then you look at yourself in electric blue tights with orange fluorescent spots.
Jackson: I feel your pain.
Brosnan: You feel my pain. You did! I saw you, Brandon, and I thought, ĎOh! Iíve got a friend! Weíre in this together!í
Columbus: For me it was just a matter of finding the gods themselves. I cast actors who had a larger than life god-like quality about them and who better to play a trainer of heroes, people like Hercules and Michael Jordan, than Pierce Brosnan? Originally I just wanted to work with Pierce again. We had a great time on Mrs. Doubtfire and it was really the case with all of these gods and goddesses. How do we find someone who you can believe as a god? Danny DeVito might have been a stretch, so we needed to find someone who really had that air about him.
Chris, howíd you find the balance between entertaining older and younger audiences?
Columbus: Iíve got four children of my own and Iíve spent the last several years going to various childrenís movies and sitting through a screening of Pokťmon one time. I almost physically deteriorated and thought about suicide so I realized that thereís a point where you canít entertain the parents enough and for me, this film had to work on two levels; first level is make a wild ride for the seven to 16-year-olds and then for the older kids and the adults in the audience make it something that makes them feel like theyíre 12-years-old again. So that was it. It was really the goal and so youíll see that thereís a balance where kids are laughing at something when theyíre watching a movie and then the parents giggle at something that goes over the kidsí head. You learn that from some of the best, the better childrenís films over the past decade.
Lerman: Are we going to be told old later on? Chris and the creative crew aged it up for a reason, right?
Columbus: Yeah, the point of aging it up, which I just want to address because a couple of the fans of the books say, ĎWhy isnít Percy 11?í and I thought, well, youíre dealing with a character whoís got an extraordinary amount of baggage in his life. Heís dealing with parental abandonment, he thinks his father abandoned him, he wants to know who his father is, heís dealing with dyslexia and ADHD, dealing with the fact that heís a troublemaker and been sent to various schools. I needed some complexity in the actor who was going to portray that. When I saw Logan in 3:10 to Yuma and when I saw Loganís screen test I realized this is the guy. I had no qualms about making the character older. I thought it can only make it a better film if I have an actor of that quality and then surrounding him with actors as talented as Alex and Brandon and Jake Abel just was the goal all along. These kids are battling for their lives. Theyíre training to be heroes and warriors and gladiators and 11-year-olds running around with paper hats and wooden swords seemed a little lightweight to me.
What about the sexual tension concerning 11-year-olds?
Columbus: I canít answer that. Iíll be with Polanski! [Laughs] That was quite the question, but I know what youíre saying. Thereís just a certain amount of romantic tension that Ė thereís no question that Logan and Alex have a tremendous amount of chemistry. We looked long and hard for someone like Alex because I saw a lot of young actresses who werenít eating properly and they could barely lift a fork from the table. I needed someone who felt like they could hold a sword and be a formidable opponent for Percy. The romantic tension was always something that I thought would be great in the film and they pulled it off beautifully.
Whatís it like for the three of you to work with such a prestigious cast? Did you look at them as mentors?
Jackson: I had a stupid question for Rosario. I actually made a goof out of myself. I actually literally asked her to be my mentor. Besides the goofball of me I think looking at Pierce and looking at Steve Coogan and Uma Thurman and Rosario and everybody, itís just always a pleasure to work with people whoíve been in the business longer than you. Itís always good to learn and bounce off energy with people who you watched when you were a child. To actually be on screen next to them is always a pleasure and is very humbling and at the same time you get to learn so much so it definitely is a blessing.
Daddario: These are actors that Iíve grown up with and admired my whole life. Itís really an honor to have the opportunity to work with people like this and learn from them and listen to them and Iím very very lucky. Itís a really a dream come true.
Lerman: Iíve always put it this way; acting for me is like a kid walking into a playground and, you know, these great actors like Pierce and Uma and these people that are so seasoned and so talented, they have a huge playground. And going into a scene thereís so much to explore with them because they have many places to go. So itís just a lot of fun to see your heroes and work with them.
Brosnan: Likewise. Itís amazing with the three of you, really. I mean, your instincts are so sharp. They made me real. It was a joy.
Did you have an interest in Greek mythology before the film?
Jackson: I was very interested in Greek mythology always. We learned a lot about it in school, but, to be honest, we had to really brush up on our Greek mythology because we realized that you guys would quiz us Ė and please donít quiz us today. [Laughs]
Daddario: I think one of the wonderful things about this series and about the movie, Iíve heard that kids have gone and learned more about Greek mythology just because of the movie and because of the books and I think that thatís really wonderful.
Columbus: It was fun to go back to the stories because some of the stories are very very dark and adult-oriented and not appropriate for a childrenís movie, so we wanted to avoid some of those. Our version is almost more the Classics Illustrated version of the books. Hopefully the kids will be inspired enough and interested enough to start to read about Greek mythology and then that will truly scare them out of their wits!
Howíd you approach the scene in Las Vegas?
Columbus: That was just a little homage to Pinocchio, to fantasyland in Pinocchio. Remember, people are saying, ĎOh, itís druggies,í but that was 1940 and the kids went into a bar and drank pints of beer and smoked cigars. They, of course, turned into donkeys. So there are ramifications, obviously, for eating a lotus flower.
Jackson: Itís telling kids do not go to Vegas! [Laughs] And also youíve got to look at the underlying message: if you have too much fun in life, you lose track of time and your quest doesnít get done. So it teaches you how to get out of there and get focused and listen to that thing inside you that voice inside you. I love to have fun but I donít let it get in the way of my work, in the way of my quest.
Lerman: Working with green screen you always hear actors say that itís so difficult to act opposite nothing. For me, I thought it gave us a lot of freedom as actors to create the other character and just kind of lose yourself in your imagination. Chris creates this comfort level, a set that you can just lose yourself so easily. It just becomes a workout for your imagination so itís a great time.
Jackson: Chris always does a good job as a conductor. Heís like Mozart with his notes. Itís like he yells out things that you donít see. Heís like, ĎThereís this fire breathing at you!í and you donít see anything there, itís a tennis ball, and you just have to act like itís there and they draw it in later.
Daddario: Yeah, itís a little like being a kid again. You get to use your imagination. You can imagine the monster as big and scary as you want it to be. Itís a lot of fun. Itís really amazing to see what you imagined brought to screen.
When did you first read the book? Did you want to maintain certain elements of the characters from the book or did you try to stay away from that and focus more on the ones in the screenplay?
Daddario: I read the book before I read the screenplay. I read it on my way to the screen test. I didnít have the script available to me and I got a great sense of what the film would be like from the book and what Annabeth would be like. I think it only helped develop the character and after I read the script you start to make comparisons at first but then you just start to rely on the script.
Lerman: It would be cheating the audience if you didnít read the book in the first place, so of course I read that to understand the basis for the movie. I used the script as my bible more than anything, just used that as a reference and based a lot of Percy off of that.
Jackson: I have two little sisters who are obsessed with Percy Jackson and I told them that Iím just auditioning for Grover and they went totally crazy and thatís when I read the book. Iím going through the book and going through the book and just trying to hurry up and learn it and I feel in love with it. Then I read the script; I feel in love with the script too. So it was like the way I developed the character. And Chris did a great job with helping me develop Grover because in the book heís real timid and heís real kind of nervous and I wanted to play him a little cooler. A little bit more swag, as we say.
Chris, have you ever wanted to act?
Columbus: Yeah, I was a horrific actor. I saw myself one time, I was in Home Alone. We had a newscast and my assistant director and I decided to be the newscasters and I saw the footage and I would have fired me if I had the opportunity. I was horrible.
Pierce, you did a lot of your role on stilts and this skill went back to your youth in Dublin. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Brosnan: When I started as a young actor I was about 17 and I had a street theater company called Theater Spiel and we would do childrenís theater. I learned how to do fire eating and stilt walk was part of it as well. It was a very fertile time in the theater, experimental theater.
Is it like riding a bike? You never forget?
Brosnan: Kind of, yes. Painter stilts are quite comfortable to wear. They have a little platform and a foot in a spring. I didnít fall over. I didnít disgrace myself. That was my main worry, especially in the tights.
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