As we’ve all learned the hard way from J.K. Rowling and the slow-motion train-wreck that is the Fantastic Beasts franchise, giving authors too much creative control over adaptations of their work can be…uh, risky. I say this as a writer who would very much like to be invited onto the hypothetical film set of any hypothetical adaptation of my own somewhat hypothetical fantasy novel, but the truth is that published authors can be a somewhat stubborn lot – convinced they know exactly what’s right for their story and characters, and unwilling to allow professional directors, screenwriters, and casting directors to do their thing.
It’s a good thing, then, that Rick Riordan appears to be the polar opposite of J.K. Rowling – in every way in which an author and a person can be. I try not to use the term “genuinely decent human being” of people I don’t actually know, but Riordan has minded his own business for as long as I’ve been following him on social media, and I appreciate that he seems to know when and how to properly utilize the power of his massive following, and when not to speak at all. That, and I guess the fact that he actually writes awesome queer and trans characters into his books and doesn’t wait for decades to have passed before ever retroactively confirming when a character is gay (I’m looking directly at you, Rowling).
I also appreciate that, while Riordan has made no secret of his disdain for the Percy Jackson films made between 2010 and 2013, and his negative reaction was not at all unwarranted given how badly those films butchered even the most basic themes of his books, he is coming into the new adaptation of Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief for Disney+ with the understanding that there are fundamental differences between writing books and writing for television, and that just because he knows the story better than anyone doesn’t mean he’s necessarily the best person to translate it into a visual medium. He has joined forces with some excellent writers and producers, including Black Sails‘ Jonathan E. Steinberg, Dan Shotz, and Daphne Olive, and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Monica Owusu-Breen, among several others.
The area in which I’m most pleased to see that Riordan is getting a say is casting – because if there was one thing about the 2010 Percy Jackson adaptation that ruined that movie for me and many other fans (it’s hard to limit it to just one thing, actually), it was the casting of actors in their late teens as characters depicted in the first book as twelve-year old children, completely altering the dynamics of their relationships with each other. Riordan was firmly opposed to the decision to “age up” his heroes, but had no power whatsoever over the production.
This time around, the mistakes that doomed the Percy Jackson film franchise to a swift death won’t be repeated, as Riordan has made the wise decision to look for age-appropriate actors who can grow into the key roles of Percy Jackson, Annabeth Chase, and Grover Underwood, alongside a new generation of fans. Yesterday, it was announced that thirteen-year old Walker Scobell of Netflix’s The Adam Project has joined the production in the role of Percy Jackson himself – and the enthusiastic response to the casting even from adult fans of the books is proof, if any was needed, that this was always the correct approach to take.
I suppose I ought to explain what the books are about. Percy Jackson is an urban-fantasy series that hinges on the intriguing premise that all of the gods and monsters of ancient Greek mythology are real and very much alive in the present day, where they take frequently amusing disguises. Percy Jackson himself is a demigod, the only known son of Poseidon, god of the sea. He gets mixed up in a war between the gods after being implicated in the theft of Zeus’ prized lightning bolt, and has to battle Medusa, the Minotaur, Ares, and other characters both iconic and obscure on his journey to Los Angeles to find the true Lightning Thief and clear his name.
Along the way, he’s joined by Annabeth Chase, a daughter of Athena, goddess of wisdom, and Grover Underwood, a timid satyr tasked with protecting demigods from monsters. Annabeth and Grover have yet to be cast, but Riordan has promised that those and other announcements are not far off. Personally, I’m most interested to see the actors playing the Greek gods – something about the 2010 Percy Jackson film that bothered me to no end was how the director and writers took everything that was funny and clever about Rick Riordan’s descriptions of the gods and simply…stripped it all away.
As for whether Walker Scobell will make a good Percy Jackson, I finally started watching The Adam Project last night (Scobell’s only film to date, available on Netflix), and while Ryan Reynolds is every bit as grating as I usually find him to be, Scobell is honestly delightful as the younger version of Reynolds’ character – he’s snarky, funny, and expressive, with great comedic timing and a natural gift for monologuing. With slightly darker hair, that’s Percy Jackson right there.
I always worry for child actors joining major franchises and potentially becoming targets for bullying and harassment from adults, but for some reason I want to believe that the Percy Jackson fandom is…I don’t know, relatively more chill than other fandoms where this has been a problem. Despite having read all the books, I haven’t interacted with very many Percy Jackson fans, so I just don’t know, and at this point I’d be a little scared to dive in.
So anyway, what do you think of Walker Scobell’s casting, and how excited are you for the new Percy Jackson series? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!