Greek Gods, battles and mythical creatures. Acclaimed filmmaker Chris Columbus’ latest project promises to be a mind-boggling adventure, writes ELAINE LIPWORTH.
IT was his dyslexic daughter that prompted acclaimed filmmaker Chris Columbus to the film project Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (scheduled to open in cinemas on Feb 11).
The action/fantasy film based on the best selling book by Rick Riordan revolves around half mortal, half Greek god, Percy (Logan Lerman), a dyslexic-troubled teenager who has grown up completely unaware of his mind-boggling heritage. As he finds out the truth about who he is (his father is the great god Poseidon), an adventure begins that takes on epic proportions.
He embarks on a perilous journey that involves confrontations with Greek gods, battles and fearsome mythical creatures.
“My daughter happens to be dyslexic and was listening to the Percy Jackson books on tape. I walked by her room and started listening one day with her and became intrigued by the story line,” he said in an interview courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Films Malaysia.
“What fascinated me was the concept of utilising the world of Greek mythology, which we have not seen on film since, maybe, Clash of the Titans, the old Hammer picture. We really haven’t seen Greek mythology done in this way, particularly with all the tools we have in our hands now. In the story, Percy is joined by his new friend Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) — daughter of Athena and supported by Grover the Satyr (Brandon T. Jackson). He gets his training at Camp Half Blood, before tackling the challenges ahead.
Accused of stealing Zeus’ precious and powerful lightning bolt, Percy has to prove his innocence and stop a battle between the Gods that could have catastrophic consequences.
“I would only do a big movie like this if I felt it could be completely unique and original. What I loved about this movie was that I hadn’t seen this before, Greek gods and monsters co-existing with us in a contemporary society in the underbelly of America in 2010. “It is not like any other fantasy franchise that I’d seen recently. We have the ability to bring Greek mythology to life and I thought that was fascinating. As a director, that presented a visually exciting challenge for me, to create this world at this time.” Pierce Brosnan plays Chiron, Percy’s mentor and guide. The impressive cast also includes Uma Thurman, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson, Kevin McKidd, Melina Kanakaredes, Joe Pantoliano, and Catherine Keener.
Columbus is one of the most successful filmmakers of his generation.
Born in Pennsylvania, as a child he dreamed of becoming a cartoonist for Marvel Comics, but ultimately turned his ambitions towards movies. In high school, he began making his own 8mm films. He studied filmmaking at New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, then began his career writing screenplays (Gremlins in 1984, The Goonies in 1985).
Among the notable films he directed include Home Alone (1990) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Here’s an excerpt of an interview with Columbus.
Q: Who is Percy Jackson?
A: Percy is a boy who finds out that his dyslexia is in fact not a disability and that his brain is actually wired for ancient Greek. So the dyslexia enables him to translate ancient Greek into English.
His ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) gives him his battle skills, which enable him to be very strong and powerful.
He also finds out that he is the son of Poseidon. He is basically a normal American kid who finds out he’s being accused of stealing Zeus’s lightning bolt, which is considered to be the most powerful weapon in the universe.
Because of that he is being fiercely pursued by gods and Hades is sending some of his worst demons after Percy to try and get this bolt.
Q: How did you pick Logan Lerman for the starring role as Percy?
A: About 2½ years ago, I saw 3:10 to Yuma and I was completely taken by this kid (Logan).
I thought that was a pretty good performance for a 14-year-old and I kept him in the back of my head.
So when we were casting Percy, I asked Logan to come into the office and read and then we did the screen test and I have to say I was very impressed.
I think this kid is going to be one of the greats. I saw his performance and was very impressed. I think Percy Jackson is just the beginning for him. I think this guy is going to be like Matt Damon or Tom Cruise.
He is terrific and it’s an honour for me to know him because I know he’s going to go on to do great things.
He’s a teenager with the mindset of a 60-year-old. He’s committed, he’s so intelligent and I don’t think he’s concerned with fame or any of that nonsense. He’s concerned about creating really strong movies.
Q: Everyone says you’re fun to work with. How do you do that and still stay focused?
A: Well, after the experience of directing the first two Harry Potter pictures and then producing the third one, I was physically exhausted.
So I did two small movies after that before I finally felt like I had enough energy to come back to do a big film.
I think the key is to treat everybody with a lot of respect and internalise things, rather than throwing furniture around the room and screaming at actors like some directors.
I try to make things comfortable for the actors, the cinematographer and anyone who is working on the set in order to create the best movie possible.
There was a lot of intensity in making this film because of the tight schedule and my own personal hunger to do something really, really great.
Q: Why did you pick Alexandra Daddario to play Annabeth?
A: It was a matter of screen testing. I was casting a demi-god and she came in and had tremendous chemistry with Logan.
But what struck me were her eyes. I couldn’t believe they were real. There was something other worldly about the way they appear on screen.
I said, ‘Well, I believe she is actually the daughter of Athena and a demi-god.’
Q: What about Brandon T. Jackson?
A: Brandon plays a satyr and I needed someone who was humorous. I was a huge fan of Tropic Thunder, which he was in and I desperately wanted to work with Brandon after seeing that film. Also, he had a tremendous amount of chemistry with Logan.
Q: What were you looking for with the well-known supporting cast?
A: Well, Pierce Brosnan is someone I worked with before on Mrs Doubtfire and I wanted to work with him again.
When I was casting Chiron the Centaur (Percy’s mentor), I had one of our conceptual artists do an illustration of Pierce as a centaur and I sent it to him with the script.
He looked very majestic with a beard and flowing hair. I wanted Pierce to see what we were going to do with his body on screen and he was intrigued by it and his sons loved the books, so he was on board.
I was concerned about putting Pierce Brosnan on stilts — we were worried about him getting hurt. But he had actually worked as a street performer in Dublin when he was younger and had worn stilts. So he was very agile on them.
He also brought a sort of horse-like movement to his performance, which fuelled the animators to create a body for him that looked like it was part of his own human body. It is all very complicated stuff when you’re half animal, half human.
Q: What about casting Uma Thurman as Medusa?
A: Medusa has always been portrayed as a hideous, monstrous creature. Yet at the same time, based on Greek mythology, she has to be very seductive and she is someone with 70 snakes on her head.
So I asked myself: who’s really got that sense of danger and terror and at the same time that sense of being extremely seductive? And the answer was Uma Thurman.
Uma was my first choice and she read the script and we got together and rehearsed it. Uma (Medusa) has been with these snakes for centuries, so they’re her best friends. With one movement of the eye or the twitch of her hair, she has the ability to control them.
So she’s wearing a green shower cap as we’re shooting, but the animators created the snakes, reacting to her every move, it is a wonderful combination of CGI and performance.
Q: Why did you want Steve Coogan as Hades?
A: Again with Coogan it’s that combination of the contemporary world and the world of traditional Greek mythology.
Hades has the ability to turn into a 15-metre flaming demon who is burning from within.
We created a very frightening, interesting looking Hades. But in his real life he’s fairly insecure and all of his feelings have been taken away.
He has no flavour, he can’t taste anything, he has no ability to make love to his wife and overall he’s not really fulfilled as a human.
To me that was a funny outlook on the character. He’s this incredibly powerful demon, but at the same time he’s powerless in his own underworld.
Q: What fascinates you about Greek mythology?
A: People from all over the world relate to these stories. They are timeless because they’re told over and over again. They’re like great biblical stories. Our children are still obsessed by these creatures, these stories, the battle of good versus evil, everything that Greek mythology has to offer and I think to have that in a contemporary setting is unique and exciting for everyone.
Q: How did you end up casting so many of the British actors in the film?
A: I spent four years in England and I really fell in love with the place. I would have stayed longer, but I had to get my kids back to school here in the States for a while.
I had such a terrific experience working with British actors. It wasn’t just necessarily that they were all Brits; it was a matter of finding who would be believable as gods.
They had to have an other-worldly quality about them. People like Sean Bean, Kevin McKidd and Pierce Brosnan all seem to exist in this world, and also in another world as well. It is hard to explain. I just believe that Brits have been around forever.
Q: What kind of mythological creatures have you created?
A: We have minotaurs and we have hell hounds — these creatures have to feel like they’ve been fighting for half a century so they’re battle scarred and worn.
Q: Which Greek god would you like to be if you had the choice?
A: Oh at this point after this amount of work, Dionysus, the god of wine! I really just need a glass of wine after I finish each day. (laughs).
Q: After this big budget film, would you be able to go back and shoot a movie with a very small budget?
A: To be honest, the cheapest movie I did was Adventures in Babysitting for US$8 million (RM28 million), and today that would translate into maybe US$19 million or US$20 million. Yeah, I could do that. The movie Paranormal Activity was shot on a minute budget. It was brilliantly done. It’s exciting that kids are finding new ways to create really great films on a very small level.
Q: Would you consider Percy Jackson sequels?
A: I would love to do more. I’ve managed to pace myself on this film, as opposed to the first two Harry Potter films, on those we worked for 150 days, back to back. By the time we finished shooting the first two, I was sort of burnt out.
Now I’ve finally had the energy to come back and this is a little more civilised in terms of post-production. So I could see myself doing one or two more.
Q: You started your career as a creative writer. How difficult was it to make the crossover from writer to director?
A: It wasn’t hard. I met Jeffrey Katzenberg early on when I was writing and he said, “If you have a couple of successful screenplays that make a little money, or that are successful, they’ll let you direct.” This was back in the ‘80s. Steven Spielberg picked up Gremlins and that was made into a film that did pretty well. Then The Goonies did well. Young Sherlock Holmes didn’t do much business. That was my third script, but they let me direct Adventures in Babysitting. I think it still holds true for a lot of screenwriters; if you can do a couple of screenplays, they may give you a shot at directing.”
Q: How do you stay in touch with the thrill of making movies?
A: Honestly, both of my parents were factory workers. I was not in a situation where I ever had a possibility or a chance to do anything but work in a factory.
That reality has always hung over my head. I know it sounds strange, because I’ve had some movies that have been considered successful and I feel that I’m in a fairly secure place, but that still hangs over your head, that feeling of: ‘Oh my God, tomorrow I could be back working at that factory.’ I worked at the factory for two summers, so I saw first hand what I never wanted to do with my life.
My father always said, ‘Never do a job you hate.’ This is what propels me every day, to want to do better work. That and having a film that fails at the box office.
You’re always proving yourself. I have a long way to go. I really do. I’m hopefully about halfway through my career and I have a lot that I still want to do.
$300m might be more reachable but I don't know. It depends on how well the books are known worldwide and quality of the film. But fantasy and event films tend to do well outside the U.S. (Even Eragon made $175 outside the U.S - then again the darker but better reviewed Snicket made less internationally - and Terebithia even better reviewed even less than that)
But it's getting a sizable push by FOX. It's having a premiere in Athens at the Acropolis. With Pierce and Uma attending
Percy Jackson Stars For Online Event Posted January 26th, 2010 b
Percy Jackson fans will have to set their alarms early this Friday, as there’s going to be a special online event.
The four young stars of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief will be holding a press conference from the Acropolis in Athens, and you’ll be able to watch them answer questions live. Afterwards, an exclusive clip will be aired from the film, which is released on 12th February.
An appropriate setting for Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario and Jake Abel to talk to the world, as Percy Jackson sees the teenagers thrust into a world where the Greek gods are alive and well. Make sure you’re at www.ustream.tv/percyjackson at 7.25am GMT on Friday 29th January!
Book Buzz: Upcoming film gives a jolt to 'Percy Jackson' Posted 1h 19m ago
Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson & the Olympians series was popular among young readers before Hollywood discovered it. But the five books in the mythology-inspired adventure have been rising on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list since the trailer was released in November for the film version of Percy Jackson &the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, the first book. That 2005 title climbs to No. 5 this week. The movie hits theaters Feb. 12. Publisher Disney/Hyperion reports it has sold nearly 10 million copies of the series in the USA, including nearly 3 million in the past three months. The first book in Riordan's next series, The Kane Chronicles, Book One: The Red Pyramid, about Egyptian gods unleashed in the modern world, will be released May 4.
We all know that the internationally renowned actor, Pierce Brosnan is philhellene and once a year visits Greece for holidays or business purpose. This time the actor visited our country for the premiere of "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" and certainly did not come alone but with the actors of the film. The presentation was scheduled to take place in the background of Dionysus Acropolis, since this film is in ancient Greek mythology. So Saturday the Pierce Brosnan and other actors of the film visited the Acropolis. Cheerful, smiling, friendly, always playing with the lens and signed autographs for everyone. Indeed, the actor said in an interview: "The Elgin Marbles ... must return to Greece. They're yours. They belong. "
For Bond fans the world over, Pierce Brosnan was the archetypal British secret agent. Smooth, sophisticated and seductive, he encapsulated the very essence of 007. It’s something of a surprise then to hear him talk about the trials of becoming “a horse’s ass”.
The horse’s backside he refers to is his latest incarnation, the half-man, half-horse god, Chiron the Centaur he depicts in the forthcoming family action-adventure Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief.
“I play a teacher, Professor Brunner, who’s a paraplegic philosopher of the gods and then he goes into this ’other’ world where he becomes this powerful horse’s ass,” says Pierce.
Based on Rick Riordan’s New York Times best-seller, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and directed by Home Alone’s Christopher Columbus, the movie introduces Greek mythology to a modern-day setting.
At the centre of the story is the trouble-prone Percy Jackson, who’s forced to embark on an adventure of epic proportions when he discovers his real father is Poseidon, god of the sea. A demigod, (that’s half-human, half-god), Percy is sent to Camp Half Blood, where he’s trained by Chiron to harness his newly-discovered powers in order to prevent a devastating war among the gods, secure the fate of the world and save the life of his mother, whom Percy must rescue from the depths of Hell itself, no less.
“I think it’s great storytelling in the hands of a very fine storyteller, Chris Columbus,” says Pierce in his recognisable languid voice. “Christopher has done this for many years and his enthusiasm and passion and creativity I think is as potent now as it was back when he was working on Mrs Doubtfire,” he adds, referring to the 1993 film in which Pierce starred alongside a cross-dressing Robin Williams.
“And I think Rick Riordan’s done a magnificent job of blending the here and now with the world of Greek mythology. For a young audience, it lends itself to a wonderful exploration, to get them delving into and looking at the Iliad and Homer and see the genesis of storytelling in society.”
Making fun of himself for his “long-winded answer”, Pierce continues to attribute what he hopes will be a successful franchise, not only to “good film-making” but to a wonderful cast, led by 18-year-old Logan Lerman in the title role.
“They’re really cool, young actors who are ferocious for the golden light, ferocious for being part of movies, who have a burning passion to be out there,” says Pierce, who says he wasn’t tempted to pass on his own wisdom to them.
“No, didn’t need to,” he says. “Stayed well clear of that one. Just hung out with them. They all have their own vibe going, you know. I came in, did my job and went home.”
Like many of Colombus’s films, the parent-child relationship is at the heart of the story and that’s something that resonates with 56-year-old Pierce, a father to five. There’s Sean, 26, his actor son by his first wife, Cassandra Harris, who died of ovarian cancer in 1991. He also adopted her two children, Charlotte, 37, and Christopher, 36, when their father died in 1986. He also has two sons, Dylan, 12 and Paris, 8, by Keely Shaye Smith, the American journalist he married in 2001.
“My 12-year-old’s just done Oklahoma and plays guitar and my eight-year-old’s a drummer and sings,” he says.
“They write poetry and write songs, so give me strength!” he adds, laughing at the fact it looks likely they’ll be following in their father’s footsteps. “If they want to act, then yeah that’s fine but they’ve got to get the grades.”
Describing his young son as “smart, brilliant”, he admits he found his own formative years tougher. “I had ’it’ but I didn’t have a good teacher and it’s to do with teachers and how you’re taught and how you come to your own knowledge and thinking. I didn’t have that.”
Born in Ireland, today Pierce only has the slightest hint of an Irish accent but his experiences under the tuition of the religious community The Christian Brothers had a lasting effect.
“Yeah, they weren’t the greatest educators for me. I learnt about nothing at school, I learnt how to fight,” he says with a chuckle to himself.
In Percy Jackson, Percy is dyslexic and struggles at school and although he’s not dyslexic, Pierce said he struggled all the same.
“To know that you have an intellect and an intuition in life but not to be able to comprehend what someone’s saying in the classroom is horrific,” he says.
By the time Pierce moved to London with his mother and her new partner in 1964 and entered the comprehensive school system, he says he was completely inarticulate.
“I could see my short-comings. I felt the sting and the stab of not knowing and saying the wrong thing. That traverses your life, so it’s constant, constant work but when I found the life of an actor, I found the life of literature.”
Embarking on an acting career in 1979, Pierce has to date appeared in around 60 movies and TV series including James Bond, The Thomas Crown Affair, Dante’s Peak and the 2008 box-office hit Mamma Mia! (based on the Abba musical).
“I’d grown up with Abba and seen them celebrated and ridiculed but ultimately people love them,” he says. “Colin Firth, clever b****r that he is, said there’s only two people in life, the people who love Mamma Mia! and the liars. I thought how clever are you Colin? Smarty pants. And he was right on the money there because everybody loves Abba.”
As for reprising his role in a Mamma Mia! sequel, he says, “I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think we did it, it’s done and dusted.” Then he hears there are rumours that a script’s already underway. “Well, I’m in then!” he jokes.
His singing abilities in Mamma Mia! may have been ridiculed but he says it was nothing compared to the humiliation he faced in having to don a pair of tights for his role in Percy Jackson. Fluorescent blue tights with orange spots at that.
“Christopher, he was a clever b****r,” says Pierce recalling being offered the role. “He sent me this script with a beautiful artist’s impression of me as Chiron, looking great and fantastic and brilliantly buffed and I thought ’I’m goood, this is splendid!”’
“So, of course I said ’yes’ and then we came to the moment of glory (filming the scenes) and I’ve got good leather straps here and there (pointing to his chest) and buckles and knives and a sword, but then I had to get into tights, so they could put the horse’s ass on me,” he says, referring to the blue tights that allow the special effects team to later add CGI effects.
“You know it’s not easy to be all butch up here and look down and you’ve got tights on,” he says. Then he puffs his chest jokingly. “It takes a real man to wear tights!”
EXTRA TIME – PIERCE BROSNAN
He was born on May 16, 1953, in County Meath, Ireland
He became a citizen of the United States on September 23, 2004, although he says, “My Irishness is in everything I do.”
He has a scar above his top lip following a stunt that went wrong during the filming of 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies.
In his spare time, Pierce puts his artistic flair to good use and paints pictures he sells to raise money for charity.
Having worked with “people who didn’t know their arse from their elbow and they call themselves directors”, Pierce hopes to make his directorial debut soon.
Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief is released in cinemas on Friday February 12
Trouble-prone Percy Jackson is having problems in high school – but that’s the least of his challenges. It’s the 21st century, but the gods of Mount Olympus seem to have walked out of the pages of Percy’s Greek mythology texts and into his life. Percy has learned that his real father is Poseidon, god of the sea, which means Percy is a demigod – half human, half god. At the same time, the powerful gods on Olympus are feuding, which could launch a war enveloping our entire planet.
Now, Percy must prepare for the adventure of a lifetime, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
With ominous storm clouds brewing over Earth and his own life now in peril, Percy travels to a special enclave called Camp Half Blood, where he trains to harness his newly discovered powers and prevent a devastating war among the gods. There, Percy meets two fellow demigods – the warrior Annabeth, who is searching for her mother, the goddess Athena; and his friend and protector, Grover, who is actually a brave but untested satyr.
Grover and Annabeth then join Percy on an incredible transcontinental odyssey that takes them six hundred stories above New York City (the portal to Mount Olympus) and to the iconic Hollywood sign, under which burn the fires of the Underworld. At journey’s end rests the fate of the world – and the life of Percy’s mother Sally, whom Percy must rescue from the depths of Hell itself.
Percy Jackson: Half human. Half god. All hero.
Chris Columbus (“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” “Home Alone”) directed the epic fantasy-adventure starring a trio of rising young stars — Logan Lerman (“3:10 to Yuma”) as the film’s title character, the brave, fearless young warrior, Percy Jackson; Brandon T. Jackson (“Tropic Thunder”) as the Satyr Grover, Percy’s protector who attempts to earn his very first horns while keeping the young demigod out of harm’s way; and Alexandra Daddario (“Bereavement”) as another demigod, Annabeth, daughter of Athena, who joins Percy on his quest to prevent a devastating war.
Also starring are Sean Bean (“National Treasure”) as Zeus, supreme ruler of the gods of Olympus; Pierce Brosnan (“Mamma Mia”) as Chiron, the Centaur who runs the special training ground for these demigods while becoming Percy’s mentor in explaining his blood connection to the gods; Steve Coogan (“Night at the Museum”) as the greedy lord of the Underworld, Hades, who craves a weapon he believes is in Percy’s possession; Rosario Dawson (“Sin City”) as the goddess Persephone, Zeus’ daughter and Hades’ long suffering, imprisoned wife; Catherine Keener (“Capote”) as Percy’s mom, Sally, who is held hostage by Hades in the Underworld; Kevin McKidd (“Grey’s Anatomy”) as Percy’s father (and Zeus’ brother and arch rival), Poseidon, god of the sea; Joe Pantoliano (“The Sopranos”) as Percy’s slovenly stepdad, Gabe; and Uma Thurman (“Kill Bill”) as the mythological Gorgon, Medusa. Jake Abel (“The Lovely Bones”) portrays Luke, son of Hermes and one of the demigods who befriend Percy at Camp Half Blood.
“Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” filmed in Vancouver, with additional locations in Las Vegas, New York City and Nashville. Twentieth Century Fox releases the film in theaters everywhere on February 12, 2010.
Author Rick Riordan, who taught Greek Mythology for a many years in middle school in California and Texas, came up with the idea for the first Percy Jackson book, which led to four additional novels and a huge fan base numbering in the millions, after reading the sagas of the ancient Greek heroes as bedtime stories to his son, Haley.
“When I ran out of myths, my son became disappointed,” the author relates on his website. “He asked me if I could make up some new stories with the same characters. I remembered a creative writing project I used to do with my sixth graders, which allowed them to create their own demigod hero, the son or daughter of any god they wanted, while having them describe a Greek-style quest for that hero.
“Off the top of my head, I made up Percy Jackson and told Haley all about his quest to recover Zeus’ lightning bolt in modern day America. It took about three nights to tell the whole story and, when I was done, Haley told me I should write it out as a book.”
Those three nights ultimately became a yearlong odyssey for Riordan (pronounced Rye-or-dan) in completing his first book for young readers (he was already an established author, having written several prior novels, his first being the Tres Navarre private eye thriller, Big Red Tequila, in 1997).
“I picked a few of my sixth, seventh and eighth graders and asked them if they’d be willing to ‘test drive’ the novel,” Riordan continues. “I’m used to showing my work to adults, and had no idea if kids would like Percy. I finally understood what it must be like for them, turning in an essay to me and waiting to get their grades back! Fortunately, the kids really liked it. They had some good suggestions, too.”
The book was published in 2005, but it would be another five years before Hollywood would bring the first of the Percy Jackson stories to the screen. While the studio explored turning Riordan’s first book into a movie, the author continued the series by penning a new novel each year between 2006 and 2009.
Chris Columbus was attracted to “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” because, as he relates, “We haven’t seen the world of Greek Mythology in a story like this before,” he elaborates. “I think Rick Riordan tapped into something quite unique, juxtaposing the world of the ancient Greeks with the underbelly of contemporary America.”
Columbus is no stranger to the world of fantasy. In addition to launching the “Harry Potter” film franchise by directing the first two films and serving as a producer on the third, he gained a tremendous following with three of his early, original screenplays: “Gremlins,” “The Goonies” and “Young Sherlock Holmes.”
Columbus describes his new genre effort as a contemporary adventure meets Greek-Mythology film, as opposed to a pure period-piece Greek myth with gods in flowing robes sitting on billowy clouds. “This story has a sense of reality and an epic quality while still portraying a sinister, supernatural battle between good and evil,” he explains.
To adapt the book, Columbus chose Craig Titley, with whom Columbus and his producing partners at 1492 Pictures had worked on the hit comedy “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Titley’s scholarly background in Greek Mythology was a timely bonus. “Chris knew I was getting a Ph.D. in mythological studies when he sent the book my way,” Titley relates. “I thought this was a perfect assignment for me because my head was swimming in Greek myths, monsters and heroes. And it’s actually the kind of movie I’ve wanted to see since I was a kid. Mythology has always been hip, and there’s kind of a mythology renaissance going on right now in pop culture.”
Even before Titley turned in his screenplay, Columbus and producer Michael Barnathan pitched their ideas for a “Percy Jackson” movie to the studio, later designing initial conceptual artwork to further illustrate their ideas. “This concept art had Chris’ vision and tone for the movie,” Barnathan says. “It was important for Chris to design some monsters and creatures based clearly on old Greek mythological art and concepts, but take it in a new and fresh direction. So, we started our approach on paper with conceptual art. The studio got very excited and saw that this could be bigger than just a young adult story.”
Once they had a visual motif for the project, the filmmakers next turned to the script. “It’s a wonderful book, but it’s impossible to incorporate all the book’s elements into the movie,” explains Barnathan. “What we tried to do was retain the essence of the story, characters and the world that Rick created, and put it in a cinematic context.”
“One of the big changes we made was upping the age of Percy and his friends,” Titley notes. “In the book, he was twelve years old. It was just much more fun to make him seventeen. With that age, we could play with Percy and Annabeth and their relationship.”
“To me, this story was perfect because it had this whole great world of Greek Mythology populated by monsters we could create and design and put in our world,” says Columbus. “And, the heart of the story is about a young man who wants to save his mother and find out who is his father is. So that made it a very emotional story. The kind of story I respond to as a director.”
“The movie is very much about parent-child relationships,” Barnathan amplifies. “It’s the theme that runs through it and is something that connects many of Chris’ movies. At the heart of his films there’s family. In ‘Home Alone’ it’s a boy who’s lost his parents. In ‘Mrs. Doubtfire,’ the kids are trying to keep their parents together. Here, it’s a boy trying to find his father while rescuing his mother – to put his family back together.”
“What drives Percy to go on this huge journey is that he wants to save his Mom,” says actor Logan Lerman, who plays Percy. “For him, that’s bigger than saving the world. During the journey, he finds out that his mother is alive and Hades is holding her captive. So, Percy tries to find a way to get to the Underworld and have Hades release his mom. That’s what drives him to travel cross country and face the [creatures] Hydra and Medusa and undergo lots of other wild adventures. Yes, he goes on this huge journey with his two friends to retrieve Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt, and save the world. But, it’s really about getting his mom back.”
Lerman nabbed the role of the titular hero after Chris Columbus had caught a screening of the western “3:10 to Yuma,” in which Lerman co-starred, opposite Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. But the wheels were set in motion before then. Columbus recalls the casting process: “My assistant, who’s been with me for several years, told me a couple of years ago that if I was ever looking for a young star to be in one of my films, I should check out this movie, ‘3:10 to Yuma’, in which this young man, Logan Lerman, had a key role. I watched the picture and thought he was an amazing actor. When it came time to cast ‘Percy Jackson,’ I thought of Logan. When I met him, I thought he had the essence of a potential movie star. Then, he did a screen test and I was completely blown away. Logan is like a forty-year-old person in a seventeen-year-old’s body. His instincts are so remarkable. Logan has a sense of reality and intensity about him that I haven’t seen in many young people. He’s that fantastic.”
Lerman relished working on such a large canvas. “This is a big movie!” Lerman exclaims. “I’ve never been part of a movie like this, on this level. The size kind of takes you back every day. And, with Chris Columbus attached, this amazing filmmaker, I wouldn’t want to put my career in the hands of anybody else.
“I didn’t realize what I got myself into when I started,” the young actor notes about winning the film’s title role. “I’m like, ‘who did I fool to get to this point?’ It never really hit me until I got to Vancouver [to begin filming] and saw these amazing sets. They built The Parthenon, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mount Olympus and the enormous Lotus Hotel and Casino.”
Keeping a watchful eye on Percy is his best friend, Grover, a mythological creature known as a satyr – a half man, half goat related to the Roman mythological creature Faunus. Grover has been entrusted with protecting Percy on their transcontinental odyssey, which is a challenge for Grover on two fronts: He’s a newbie at the protection thing, and in typical satyr fashion, he has a keen eye for the ladies. The latter fact didn’t go unnoticed by Jackson during his research for the role. “Satyrs are wild creatures,” Jackson notes. “Grover has issues with women. In mythology, satyrs always hung around with nymphs. In this story, Grover has a big crush on Persephone [Hades' wife, played by Rosario Dawson] and she has a crush on him. But, he’s not used to a goddess liking him because he’s just a satyr.”
Jackson, who grew a goatee for the role, emulating the slight tuft of hair adorning a goat’s chin, also reveals that his character “has a lot of other issues, like insecurity. He’s really immature as Percy’s protector. He’s a junior protector, not a senior protector. He doesn’t even have his horns yet.” Then, the performer’s comic persona returns when he adds, “it’s weird because the more I did the character, the more I became Grover. I really started to feel like a goat. At home, I was eating cans.”
While Columbus knew and greatly admired Jackson’s work from Ben Stiller’s hit comedy “Tropic Thunder,” the director was initially unfamiliar with the female lead he would ultimately help choose to play the crucial role of the demigod Annabeth — Alexandra Daddario. Daddario was brought to the filmmaker’s attention by his longtime casting directors, Jane Jenkins, CSA and Janet Hirshenson, CSA.
“We had screen tested a lot of women for the role of Annabeth,” Columbus relates. “When I saw a video test Alex had done in New York, I was intrigued. We then put her on film and I had never seen anyone’s eyes photograph like that. She was mesmerizing. I also realized she had a tremendous amount of chemistry with Logan and Brandon.”
The film marks Daddario’s first motion picture starring role in a career dating back to her teen years in New York on the daytime soap “All My Children.” Daddario explains her take on the role within the story’s context. “‘Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief’ is based on the idea that the Greek gods came down to earth and had children with mortals. Then, their children were left wandering the earth because demigods aren’t allowed to meet their parents. Annabeth hasn’t met her mother, Athena, but she does hear her speak to her sometimes. She gives her advice. Annabeth has some kind of connection with her mother but also some resentment that she hasn’t ever seen her or been able to have her immediately in her life.”
Daddario sees much to admire in Annabeth: “I think that one of the great things about Annabeth is her strength. I’ve read for a lot of characters for women my age that aren’t fully formed or have developed personalities or characters. They’re sort of just on the sidelines. But, I think that Annabeth is a very complex, very fully formed, strong character. She has a good balance between emotion and strength.”
For Jake Abel, the scenes set at Camp Half Blood were among the high points of the production. “Camp Half Blood is, in a sense, a foster home for demigods,” says Abel. “It’s where my character, Luke, as well as Percy, Grover, Annabeth, and all the demigods get their training. Chiron teaches us to use our best attributes against evil. The demigods are also taught the importance of not letting the powers get out of control because demigods could take over the world – and that would lead to total global destruction. So Chiron teaches us to maintain our powers and use them for the greater good.”
Abel and his young castmates enjoyed the camaraderie of shooting those scenes, as well as month-long training sessions that put the actors in demigod shape. “Every morning we actors had our training with all the stunt guys,” Abel recalls. “And training commenced with sword fighting and flying. It also all helped us bond very quickly.”
Percy and his friends’ journeys bring them in close contact with gods, both good and evil. While assembling the cast to embody the lofty lot, Columbus and Barnathan found that the Percy Jackson books were a major draw. “We were very lucky in this movie with our cast,” says Barnathan. “Good things attract good people. And, right from the beginning, people came aboard often because they had a family member who was interested in the book. It certainly happened with Pierce Brosnan, whose kids loved the book.”
Brosnan, fresh off the success of the hit movie musical “Mamma Mia!,” plays the role of Chiron the Centaur, the majestic and powerful leader of the special camp for demigod training. “Actually, I play Percy’s teacher, Prof. Brunner and I play Chiron, who are one and the same,” Brosnan elaborates. “I play Prof. Brunner in this world, in this time. He teaches Greek Mythology from a wheelchair. You don’t know why he’s in a wheelchair until we transport ourselves into the world of Greek Mythology. As Percy goes on his journey, I become Chiron, who is half-man, half-horse — a Centaur.
“Chiron is somebody who’s connected to the mythology of his time, then and now,” the actor continues. “I try to intervene to stop a war from happening, which will upset the balance of nature. If the gods come down and create havoc with the mortals, there will be terrible consequences for the entire planet.”
To give the actor the accurate height of a horse’s head, Brosnan donned painter’s stilts, which measured about a foot high. The prop department manufactured a staff for the character to carry, and from there he tapped into his theatrical roots. “I had a street theater company called Theater Spiel and we used to do stilt work and fire eating and clowning,” Brosnan recalls. “For ‘Percy Jackson’ I visited a few horse farms in Canada before I started shooting. Then, you make it up on your own.”
While Brosnan works extensively with young actors Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario and Jake Abel, he shares no scenes with the other adult cast members, including Steve Coogan and Rosario Dawson, as the bickering, dysfunctional wedded couple of the Underworld, Hades and Persephone. Coogan’s colorful knave is, says Coogan, “pursuing Percy Jackson for Zeus’s lightning bolt, which has gone missing. I played Hades as being addicted to evil. He doesn’t really want to be bad, but he can’t help himself. But while he’s certainly the axis of evil within the movie, there’s definitely comedy in the character. The challenge and opportunity with the character was to strike a balance between finding those comedic moments without undermining the gravitas of playing a god.”
Coogan also found inspiration for his role in his wardrobe. “[The filmmakers] wanted Hades to look kind of like a rock god,” he explains. “So I have the snake skin pants, the snake skin boots, the torn t-shirt, the long hair and beard; it was all a very stylized look. The outfit to me was part of the key to the character. There’s a vanity about him as well, and I suppose when you are a rock star, you can behave badly with a degree of impunity. All that physical stuff helped me find the character.”
If Coogan impersonated a rock god in the guise of Hades, then he was blessed to share his stage – and magnificent mansion fashioned by production designer Howard Cummings – with screen goddess Rosario Dawson, who plays Hades’ wife Persephone. Dawson was particularly intrigued by the couple’s dynamic. “Theirs is a very caustic relationship,” she notes. “She’s stuck for several months of the year in the Underworld. And she hates it and hates Hades for it. I just see, in these characters, two people who are very comfortable at hating each other.
“Hades and Persephone live in the Underworld under Los Angeles, which is perfect because they’re completely narcissistic,” Dawson continues. “Modernizing them into this contemporary world fits so perfectly. I think it’s interesting that they would create Hell under Los Angeles. I think it’s quite poignant to see these two people, these gods, struggling and hating and fighting in Hell in a disastrous Hollywood-like marriage. Maybe that’s what Hell is.”
For the role of Persephone’s father, Zeus, the supreme ruler of Olympus and the universe, the filmmakers chose the charismatic and commanding British actor Sean Bean. The role represents another epic portrait in Bean’s diverse gallery of motion picture characterizations that includes Odysseus, the leader of the Greek Army that overthrows Troy, in Wolfgang Petersen’s large-scale adventure “Troy,” and the proud warrior Boromir in Peter Jackson’s landmark “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
“I’ve always been quite interested in Greek Mythology, the myths and legends,” Bean states. “I loved Zeus’ jealousies and conflicts. It’s not very often you get a chance to play the king of the gods, you know. Zeus is quite a charismatic, mischievous kind of god. He likes to have a good time with the ladies, and he likes to have a good time playing games. But he’s also very powerful, dignified and regal.”
Kevin McKidd, who plays Zeus’ brother and arch-rival Poseidon, was drawn to the project by the two of the books’ biggest fans – his kids. “I’ve never done anything that they’ve actually been allowed to watch because my earlier projects were far too grown-up,” he explains. “And my son, funny enough, has now read the first three Percy Jacksonbooks; he is completely hooked. He’s like a Percy Jackson expert. And I think the story and characters will resonate with all audiences.”
Another big Percy Jackson draw is its gallery of creatures, chief among them the deadly Gorgon, Medusa, brought to life before the cameras by Uma Thurman. “I thought Uma would make a fascinating Medusa,” Columbus recalls. “She is one of the most beautiful women in the world, yet at the same time she can create a real sense of fear and terror. I needed that combination for Medusa, someone who could entice you to look into her eyes because she was so hypnotic.”
“Medusa is both a contemporary and classical figure,” says Thurman of her role. “She has a very modern attitude and style, but her head is covered with the traditional vision of Medusa: writhing snakes, which will turn an unfortunate onlooker into stone.”
Thurman notes that Medusa is a complex character, whose abilities are both empowering and a curse. “I liked the idea that she is really being tormented by her loneliness, which is her punishment,” Thurman explains. “You know, you can live forever, but it’s not much of a life if every time you look someone in the eye, they turn to stone. Medusa is kind of a mad, lonely person wandering around in the museum of her life.”
Barnathan remembers how hypnotic it was listening to Thurman’s take on the character: “When Uma came in, she was like this ball of fire with her ideas. She had really thought about how she would interact with the snakes [that make up Medusa's 'hair']. We were all just in awe of her, listening to her talk about how she saw Medusa and how she would play the character.”
While Thurman’s mane of snakes is computer generated, Columbus arranged for a wrangler to bring in some live snakes for Thurman to handle during rehearsals. “I really enjoyed relating to the snakes,” Thurman recalls. “I played Medusa like she’s always alone, and so has only her snakes to talk to. The live snakes enabled me to figure out how to move, and how to embrace the crazed, monstrous aspects of the character.”
Thurman’s coiffure of computer generated snakes is one of many CG enhancements provided by visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack. In addition to transforming Brosnan into the mighty Centaur, the Oscar®-winning effects wizard (“What Dreams May Come”) also turned actor Brandon T. Jackson into a satyr – a half man, half goat.
To bring the physical world of “Percy Jackson” to life, Columbus turned to veteran production designer Howard Cummings. Among several sets he designed for Columbus’ epic fantasy story (he confirms he had, at one point in the schedule, eight different set builds going on simultaneously) was a replica of the Parthenon as it exists in Nashville’s Parthenon Park, a massive stage set at Mammoth Studios where Columbus began production. (The company also built several sets on at North Shore Studios, the former Lions Gate lot in North Vancouver).
“The Parthenon was actually a full replica of the interior of the one built in Nashville,” Cummings says about the majestic set. “The Parthenon was fun just for the sheer scale of it. We ended up going with lots of foam and different materials that were easily moveable.”
One of the set’s key components was an eye-catching, 30-foot statue of the goddess Athena, which was sculpted by Cummings’ plasterers out of Styrofoam in four separate sections, then stacked onto each other seamlessly within the massive columns of the Parthenon backdrop. Although comprised of the feathery foam, the entire sculpture, when finished, tipped the scales at over 1000 lbs.
Another of the story’s significant sets was Camp Half Blood, the secret, hidden enclave, accessible only to those of immortal birth, where the demigods hone their fighting skills in preparation for their missions. Erected at a popular campsite in Golden Ears Provincial Park on the stunning and serene banks of Lake Alouette, Camp Half Blood’s half dozen Greek-inspired tents were replete with swords and shields and armor, where residents of the North Beach area east of Vancouver would ordinarily see RVs and lawn chairs. Down by the lake, Cummings’ crew built the most stunning edifice in the entire demigods’ camp — Poseidon’s boat house, where Chiron reveals to Percy that his father is the god of the Sea and one of the Big Three Olympians.
Cummings and his team also created two versions of Mount Olympus for the story’s climactic moments when Percy confronts the gods about the missing lightning bolt — one that depicted Percy’s point of view as a normal sized human framed against a pair of massive 33-foot doors that open onto the Olympians’ throne room, and the opposite (180 degree) side of that same setting, that of the gigantic, 30-foot gods’ inner sanctum, where the dozen deities wield their sovereignty.
“In telling the story of Mount Olympus, it was all about scale,” Cummings states. “Part of the story is that the gods are thirty feet high in relation to our hero, Percy. I purposely scaled down the gods’ set to make the gods seem big. With a bit of trickery, it looks like it is two stories tall. And, the opposite is true for the moment when Percy arrives. Mount Olympus was about texture and age and a sense of feeling like it’s been there forever.”
The enormous Lotus Hotel and Casino set was built at Mammoth Studios’ Stage 2 in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. “In Lotus Hotel and Casino, which is also based on Greek Mythology, these kids come into this casino which at first appears to be a regular casino,” Columbus explains. “It’s like this gigantic, never-ending amusement park – the ultimate kids’ fantasy. Our three heroes are served edible flowers, which when you eat them, induce forgetfulness and make you never want to leave. So, if you stay in Lotus Hotel and Casino, you never age, and you can stay there forever. They realize that they’re trapped in Lotus Hotel and Casino, and five days pass like a minute. So they need to get out and recover the lightning bolt.”
Cummings turned to the world of fantasy in designing the gothic-like mansion, awash in shades of silver and black, from which Hades rules the Underworld. The spectacular mansion featured a huge fireplace and a modern grand piano worth about a half million dollars. The latter enforced Hades’ guise of a burned out rock’n'roller as envisioned by Columbus and actor Steve Coogan.
Another key set was Medusa’s Lair, a greenhouse/gardening emporium (named Auntie Em’s in the film) where the deadly Gorgon attempts to thwart Percy’s search for the missing bolt by turning him into stone with one deadly gaze. The Lair was erected in a shuttered suburban Vancouver greenhouse, where the filmmakers spun some magic with the help of hundreds of dead plants and shrubs, many of which were obtained for free from local growers after a late season frost in early spring rendered the foliage useless; this fit well into the Gorgon’s world, where legend has it her stare turns humans to stone.
This set provided the backdrop for Kevin Mack’s wizardry with the CGI enhancement of Uma Thurman’s depiction of the demonic Gorgon, whose coif is a nest of slithering snakes. Thurman donned a blue screen cap throughout her four days on-set in her embodiment of Medusa, over which Mack’s movie magicians created the lock of reptiles. “During her work on set, you would see Uma touching her head and caressing the snakes, in terms of what they would be doing and how they would key off of her performance,” Mack recalls. “It was just fantastic because she has such great imagination, which also contributes to the performance of the computer-generated aspect of the character.”
Mack also created an eleven-foot Minotaur that attacks Percy and his mom on their way to Camp Half Blood. “The Minotaur won’t be the traditional man with a bull’s head, but fully half-man, half-bull with a bull-like body that can run on all fours,” says Mack. Then, there are the Hell Hounds, the ghastly creatures that resemble deformed prehistoric canines guarding the entrance to Hades’ mansion; and the legendary, multi-headed Hydra that attacks the trio inside the Parthenon Museum.
Among all these impressive visual effects, Chris Columbus never lost sight of the story or the characters’ journeys. “Chris is also a storyteller, first and foremost,” Mack relates. “It’s always great to have a really strong storyteller like Chris at the helm because he always keeps that in the forefront of the process. And, our work is there to support the story.” To which Columbus says, “I think the main challenge is to not overuse CGI, but to use it in an exciting way. The great thing about CGI and digital effects at this point is that they’re getting very realistic and the challenging thing is to show people something they’ve never seen before.”
The veteran filmmaker, having just completed his 15th project from the director’s chair in a stellar career dating back over 25 years, reiterates that audiences have never seen anything like “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” adding, “I’m like a little kid who loves to see movies where I haven’t seen things before. And, I haven’t seen the world of Greek Mythology done like this. I love this world. It’s really exciting. And, I’m really excited about this movie.”