Who will play Percy Jackson? That’s the question fans have been asking since May 2020 when author Rick Riordan announced that his renowned novel series Percy Jackson & the Olympians would be adapted into a live-action Disney+ show. As intermittent behind-the-scenes updates arrive from Riordan and his producing partner/wife, fans remain relentless in their speculation.
Previously, Riordan’s mythology-based books received the live-action treatment starting in 2010 with the release of The Lightning Thief. Opening to mixed reviews and a meager box office return, fans pointed to a lack of faith in its source material. Released 3 years later, its subsequent sequel Percy Jackson: The Sea of Monsters was just as much a critical failure, falling short of the franchise-building hopes that 20th Century Fox had placed on its shoulders. Even before the release of the first film, Riordan wrote to producers saying that “the script [for The Lightning Thief] as a whole is terrible,” noting that it lost almost all of the signature heart, thematic content, and messaging of his original work.
Avoiding Past Mistakes
Despite its many shortcomings as an adaptation of the beloved novels, fans still came to adore the films’ central cast and the heart with which they approached the franchise. The pairing of Alexandra Daddario and Logan Lerman inspired much of the fandom to find some level of contentment, if only to see their favorite characters brought to life in sub-par quality. Even scrolling through the niche community that is Percy Jackson Twitter, you will find a fair share of “Percabeth” stans that promote a less than child-friendly view of the characters. Needless to say, they were attached to their dreamy, idealized Lerman as the brave Percy Jackson.
Even if not outright sexualized, Lerman created a canvas for a more mature and “adult” version of Percy Jackson. Riordan noted this from the 2010 film’s screenplay, begging producers “please do not ‘sex up’ my children’s story.” Fan thirsting is nothing new with popular media, but in this case, when viewed in terms of the character rather than the actor, it feels particularly unsavory.
This more mature portrayal, and the name’s presence in pop culture for that matter, has now seeped beyond inner fandom discussion however. For those who have not read the books and are tapped into the larger cultural zeitgeist, Lerman is their only exposure to Percy Jackson. In light of the upcoming Disney+ show, fans have seen popular media influencers and commentary personas, feigning familiarity with the source material, revert their expectations back to Percy’s more “sexy” characterization from the films. In addition to demonstrating the problematic issue of sexualizing underage actors, these online comments further perpetuate the image of Percy Jackson as a character and story not suitable for children – something that Riordan has repeatedly condemned.
The Percy Jackson series is written so that its characters are a year older in each book. Percy begins his journey in The Lightning Thief as a 12-year-old with co-lead Annabeth around the same age. By the time readers finish The Last Olympian, Jackson is 16 – AKA younger than Logan Lerman at the time of his casting for the first film, who was about 18. With the plot rewritten for the films to have the protagonist be 17, it lost a lot of its potential not only as a franchise, but also in connecting with the younger audience of the books. “The core readership for Percy Jackson is ages 9-12,” said Riordan. Despite somehow retaining a PG rating, the films still managed to alienate its younger audience by casting older actors with older senses of humor – all while degrading the source material enough for older fans to dismiss it entirely.
While some clamored for a chance to see Lerman resume his role as the son of Poseidon in a more faithful adaptation, the vast majority acknowledge (sometimes reluctantly) that he is far too old to play the titular character. In January of this year, Fandom.com hosted a poll asking their followers to vote for their picks to play Percy. Among the favorites for the demigod were Aidan Gallagher and Finn Wolfhard – both of which are older now than Percy was at the end of the novels.
Understandably, there was a lot of backlash for the heavy presence of older actors. Wolfhard of Stranger Things fame and Shazam‘s Asher Angel are both 18, even older than Lerman at the advent of the films. There seems to be a consensus that fans want something different from the Disney+ series – something faithful.
So what does this mean for the casting of Percy Jackson on Disney+? Well, it’s pretty simple: he’s going to be age-accurate. In the words of Riordan himself, “the series is grounded on the premise that Percy must progress from age twelve to age sixteen.”
To continue looking at the results of Fandom’s poll, very few (if any) of its names are viable contenders for the role. Jacob Tremlay (Room) at 14 is a bit too old to play the protagonist, and the same goes for Noah Jupe (Honey Boy) at 15. It’s safe to assume that Harry Holland (21) and Asa Butterfield (23) are out of the race too, with Jack Dylan Grazer (Shazam) probably in a similar boat at 17. Jorge Benito, who placed second in Fandom’s poll, is the correct age for Jackson in The Lightning Thief, though his lack of notable acting experience negates the integrity of any real guess as to his chances at the part.
The first place option – that of an unknown, new-coming actor – is easily the most favorable choice and allows Disney even more creative freedom for this new iteration of the property. The career-making opportunity of starring in a budding franchise like Percy Jackson is immense, and it’s not unfair to assume that Disney is well aware of the fact. An unknown name would not only be invaluable to the actor but also the studio. This could very well be the first major, individual success story to come from a Disney+ original program.
In the case that executives go a more predictable route and opt for a more familiar name, here are a few potential ideas… and if these names are not on the table for Percy Jackson himself, there’s still an entire camp of half-bloods to cast.
For Young Sheldon fans, Iain Armitage is an obvious choice. He’s got blue eyes and he’s 12, and that’s about all we have to go off here. In 2019, he expressed an extreme fondness for the Broadway musical adaptation of The Lightning Thief in a review posted to his YouTube channel. Of course, the internet is still waiting for his reaction after reading the books, but if his excitement at the musical is any indication, he would be more than thrilled to take up the role.
Jackson Robert Scott has demonstrated some sizable talent even at such a young age. Most well-known for his breakout role as Georgie in It (2017), he is also a series regular on Netflix’s Locke & Key. His experience working on big-budget productions surrounding mysterious, fantastic beings makes him a perfect candidate to wield the pen-turned-sword Anaklusmos. While his work has mostly been in horror films, it’s not hard to imagine him taking the next step into a front-and-center role for Percy Jackson.
Madison Rojas made his acting debut on The CW’s Jane the Virgin, playing Jane’s son Mateo from 2015 to 2016. He also led the 2019 short drama Fish Head in a powerful show of acting ability, conveying complex sensations of loneliness and ostracism at only 10 years of age. Based on the title of that short alone, it would be fitting for him to display Poseidon-given, fish-communicating powers on-screen. Like our previous suggestion, Rojas is lacking the sea-green eyes described in Riordan’s novels – but that’s nothing a bit of Hollywood magic can’t fix.
Other Roles Just For Fun
In a short roleplay dialogue posted to his blog in December of 2019, Riordan shared a dramatized update on a new live-action Percy Jackson adaptation wherein he spoke to the Gods of Olympus themselves. He toyed with the idea of Brie Larson as Athena, fresh from her debut as Carol Danvers in the MCU. Also in the dialogue, Benedict Cumberbatch’s take on Hermes was requested by the God of Travel himself. These probably should not be taken as serious considerations for casting, but they do offer some insight to the personalities that Riordan sees taking up the roles of the Olympians.
This one might be obvious, but Jon Bernthal is the spitting image of Ares. His brutal, already classic take on the Punisher in Netflix’s Marvel Universe undoubtedly earns him a spot to play the God of War – a major player in the upcoming series, assuming it stays true to the promise of being a faithful adaptation.
To continue the trend of creatives from Marvel projects, Taika Waititi would be an excellent Poseidon, right? It’s a bit far-fetched and maybe a little out of his comedic comfort zone, but he exhibits a lot of the heartfelt sensibilities as an actor that we see in the character as much as the harsher, more stern ones. While many fans are holding out hope for Logan Lerman to take up the mantle as the earth-shaker, it also runs the risk of feeling tongue-in-cheek and being more of a distraction for audiences than an addition to the story.
A few months ago, one could reasonably assume that Oscar Isaac as Chiron would be out of the picture entirely, but ever since he signed on for Marvel’s Moon Knight, it seems like there could be a chance… however slim. His talent as an actor need not be explained, even for those only familiar with his more mainstream blockbuster work like in Lucasfilm’s Star Wars sequel trilogy. Chiron is a relatively big piece of the Percy Jackson narrative, and a strong, capable actor like Isaac would help solidify the core of the show into something resonant and special.
Jack Black as Dionysus has also been thrown around by fans, which sounds like an unreasonable amount of fun. His work on films like School of Rock, Kung Fu Panda, and Nacho Libre have shown his ability to elevate simple comedic roles into something genuine and meaningful. Given the light, family-friendly tone of the series, he would fit right in at Camp Half-Blood.
To return to the topic at hand, audiences should not be surprised when the Percy Jackson cast is released a few months down the line and it is full of mismatched, unknown, and relatively new-coming names. But don’t get your hopes up quite so soon; even if one is optimistic, we are still at least 18 months out from the pilot episode. If this tweet from Becky Riordan is to be taken at face value (which it probably is), the show has not quite yet reached the casting stage – but we can rest easy knowing the Riordans know what’s best for their protagonist.
At this point, all one can do is speculate. The next piece of news likely to be announced will be the taker of the directorial chair for the pilot episode or any substantial additions to the writers’ room, but — there has been no indication on when that might be. In the meantime, Tweet us your picks for Percy Jackson: @DiscussingFilm.