Rick and Rebecca Riordan on ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’: ‘It is Percy Jackson the way we envisioned it’ 

Rick and Rebecca Riordan, who are executive producers on the show that Riordan has co-written, talk of the joys of adapting the beloved book series with a top-notch cast and special effects team

Updated - January 09, 2024 04:32 pm IST

Published - January 03, 2024 01:36 pm IST

Rick and Rebecca Riordan

Rick and Rebecca Riordan | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The movie based on Rick Riordan’s hugely popular novels about Percy Jackson, a 12-year-old who discovers he is the son of Poseidon, got mixed reactions. Although a commercial success, fans were unhappy with Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and Riordan was not particularly pleased with the adaptation either. That is not the case with Disney’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians, an eight-episode series that premiered on December 19, 2023.

With Riordan and his wife, Rebecca, executive producing the show as well as Riordan co-writing with Jonathan E. Steinberg, Percy Jackson and the Olympians is closer to the books, in terms of tone. “We were very involved,” says Riordan over a video call from New York. “So many notes,” chips in Rebecca with a laugh.

Building blocks

“It was a long and collaborative process to build the script. I had to learn a great deal,” says Riordan. To give a sense of time taken to write the script, Rebecca asks Riordan, “How many books did you write while developing the series?”

“I think I wrote three novels during the time it took us to write the script,” said Riordan. “That tells you how long it takes to get it right. I was in every writers’ room, reading every script that Becky (Rebecca) was reading with me.”

Aryan Simhadri, Leah Jeffries and Walker Scobell in a scene from ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’

Aryan Simhadri, Leah Jeffries and Walker Scobell in a scene from ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

How it came to be

The show, Riordan says, happened because Disney bought Fox, which had the television and film rights. “Disney has been my publisher here in the US for years. I went to Disney with Becky and said we would be interested in trying again to adapt Percy Jackson, but as a television show. Fortunately for us, they got excited about the idea and here we are (smiles).”

A television show, Rebecca says, gives more time to tell the story. “I would like to say thank you to The Hindu for all the wonderful book coverage that we’ve had over the years for the Puffin editions. It has been fabulous and heartwarming. We count on you all as early fans and we wanted to allow fans and readers to see the book the way it should be.” Riordan concurs saying, “It is Percy Jackson the way we envisioned it.”

Real reel

The show is handsome-looking with excellent special effects. “We had a great team,” says Riordan. “The best of the best went into making the special effects.” One of the tenets that the special effects team tried to adhere to, Rebecca says, is making a grounded fantasy show.

“It needed to feel real, like you could walk out of your building, and see a monster. It needed to have that kind of feel to it.” Cue the rhinoceros unconcernedly trudging along a busy street and the charging minotaur in white underpants.

Terrific triad

The cast is one of the major pluses of the show. “They are so great,” Riordan says. “Walker Scobell, Leah Jeffries and Aryan Simhadri who play Percy, Annabeth and Grover, our three main stars, are such incredible young people. They are talented, but also genuinely good, nice and professional. They have been a pleasure to work with and we’re so lucky to get them.”

Leah Jeffries, Aryan Simhadri and Walker Scobell in a scene from ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’

Leah Jeffries, Aryan Simhadri and Walker Scobell in a scene from ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The first season of the show is based on the first book in the series, The Lightning Thief. The plan, Rebecca says, is for the subsequent seasons to be based on the following books. “There are five books in the series and our hope is, we get greenlit for the second season, which will be based on book 2, The Sea of Monsters.”

With eight episodes to fill, Riordan says the script is not an adaption of only the book. “The books are told from Percy’s point of view and you are only in his imagination. One of the wonderful things about a television show is that we can include and tell the same story from multiple points of view because you are with the characters, even when Percy is not there.”

“We get to spend more time with his mother and father,” says Rebecca. “It is exciting to be able to explore all the possibilities.”

The first four episodes of Percy Jackson and the Olympians are currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar with fresh episodes dropping every Wednesday till January 31, 2024

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