When adapting a book to screen, there’s inevitably going to be things that don’t translate across mediums. Fortunately for “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” there wasn’t much in terms of practical items that hit that roadblock; the changes they had to make were more “tonal.”
The series, now streaming its first two episodes on Disney+, follows Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell) and his friends as they embark on a quest to recover Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt. Of course, no quest comes without hurdles and mythical creatures, and for the most part, the team behind the series was able to fit all those in.
“I don’t think there was anything structural that we felt like we desperately wanted it to be in the show, and we couldn’t get it in,” executive producer Jon Steinberg explained to TheWrap. “I think there were some tonal things that just play differently when you’re reading them in your own voice, in your own head than they would play when you see them on screen.”
One such thing was Gabe Ugliano, Sally Jackson’s boyfriend at the start of the series, who fans meet in the premiere. He clearly has a distaste for Percy and a disrespect for Sally, but in the show, it’s a bit softened. And that was very intentional.
“I think, in the book, it’s strongly suggested that he is more monstrous,” Steinberg said. “And I think when you’re reading it, especially when you’re a kid reading it, and you can just read right past it. That’s different thing than seeing it, and seeing it happen to somebody that you really care about.”
He continued, “And so it was important, I think, to find a way to tell that story about him being a monster in Percy’s life in a different way. And we got very lucky in Timm [Sharp], who was able to find the monster in a doofu,s who you can laugh at, but also understand why Percy is excited to get him out of his house.”
On the whole, adherence to the books was massively important to Steinberg and his co-executive producer Dan Shotz. But, flexibility from Rick Riordan, the book’s author and another executive producer on the show, made that much easier.
“I don’t think there’s any version of this that could have worked without it. And I think, not just his involvement, but his willingness to be open to new ideas and to reconsider things that are and have been, for decades, canon in this world,” Steinberg said.
“There was never anything I felt uncomfortable about saying like, ‘Hey, what if this worked a little differently?’ Or ‘What if we added this?’ It was a two-way street,” he continued. “I think he and Becky both, their willingness to adapt, and their availability, I think it would have been extremely difficult for me to make those kinds of determinations alone, in terms of what belongs in this and what doesn’t belong in it. Because it’s not my world. This is really their story and in a really in a meaningful way.”
But beyond maintaining canon and accuracy, there was one even bigger goal they kept in mind at all times.
“Everybody wanted this to be a great experience. The first thing that Rick, John and I, and Becky, we all said was, if we come out of this, and these kids didn’t have the time of their lives, then we failed,” Shotz said.
“It was so crucial that they had a wonderful experience, and I believe they did. And they’re so bonded. But it was necessary to make sure they had everything around them to succeed.”
You can watch TheWrap’s full interview with Jon Steinberg and Dan Shotz in the video above.
“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” is now streaming on Disney+.