by Joseph McCabe
August 7th sees the release of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, the second installment in the continuing adventures of Percy Jackson, the modern-day demigod star of Rick Riordan’s bestselling young adult book series and the Fox film series adaptation.
Things kicked off on screen in 2010 with the premiere of Chris Columbus’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and this month Percy sets sail to find the legendary Golden Fleece. Rejoining Percy (as played once more by Logan Lerman) are his satyr pal Grover Underwood (Brandon T. Jackson) and his sweetheart Annabeth Chase – Athena’s daughter (Alexandra Daddario). This time around they’re challenged by Ares’ daughter, the tough-as-nails Clarisse La Rue (“The Hunger Games'” Leven Rambin).
ComingSoon.net recently caught up with all four actors and their director Thor Freudenthal (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) in Los Angeles to find out what they had to say about battling all manners of CG beasts and reimagining Greek mythology for a summer tentpole spectacular.
Q: Returning to these roles, did you just fall back into character or did you have to reintroduce your character to yourself?
Alexandra Daddario: I think there was a little bit of that. It was a few years, but it was kind of like going back to summer camp. It was great because you’re with your old friends and you’re very comfortable around them, and you have people to rely on and lean on if you’re having a bad day. If you’re having a good day you have someone to share it with. That was a really great part of it and that really helped us fall back into character. Now we know how to do green screen; we’re in different places in our lives and careers; so it was a really exciting, cool adventure.
Q: Did you have to go through boot camp again for this movie?
Logan Lerman: There wasn’t a boot camp. Speaking for myself in this one, maybe Alex too, and I’m sure Brandon might have done it… On the first movie, it was the first time preparing for such a big action film with all the wire work and fighting and all that. So we did a lot of training on the first movie. But then getting into the second one, it felt pretty comfortable. We didn’t really need too much training, preliminary training. But throughout the whole movie we’re constantly preparing for a new fight scene or wire scene or some flying, or something on water.
Daddario: On our down time we were learning the fight choreography, but our training really helped us get back into it.
Q: The first movie reintroduced Greek mythology to a lot of kids and adults. I’m sure there are a ton of new characters in this one. Are there any that you are personally excited to see?
Brandon T. Jackson: Kronos.
Leven Rambin: Charybdis.
Lerman: That’s one of my favorite characters from Greek mythology – the way that Thor and all the visual effects team created Polyphemus, and all the original ideas and what it turned out to be… It’s really cool.
Jackson: I love the way it comes together and shreds and comes back. I think it’s going to be a really cool visual effect to watch in 3D.
Q: Do you have any thoughts on why this book series and movie so resonate with people?
Daddario: I think it’s really hard to be a kid, and it’s really hard to grow up. We all know that’s true. This series shows that no matter what you’re going through, no matter what you’re struggling with or what is difficult for you, you can still succeed. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be who you want to be. It doesn’t mean that you have amazing powers or amazing abilities, despite all your weaknesses. That’s really relatable and inspiring, and it’s really cool to be a part of that. I think that’s one of the reasons that people love it. It’s just a relatable inspiring story.
Jackson: Younger kids these days, it’s a cynical generation. It’s something good to believe in. There’s the reality type stuff, but you don’t see too many books and films, unless you’re a reader, that have underlying tones that have positive messages that can be for kids. Kids are kind of doing their own thing on the internet. So to have the positive force that readers can take from this is really inspiring and great for this generation because they definitely need it.
Lerman: The similarities between a film like this and, obviously very similar films structurally… There’s something really appealing, especially for me growing up, and now even, about young people in extraordinary situations dealing with human issues and problems. Flawed characters as well, none of our characters are perfect. But yeah, the extraordinary situation of being young – there’s something appealing about that. Kids who save the world? That’s fun.
Q: Musicians often say they’re only as good as their last performance. Is Percy suffering from this a little bit now?
Lerman: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. [Laughs.] At the beginning of this movie. At the end of the first one we left it with him being the hero, and now he’s not the hero anymore. He has that similar thought in his mind – maybe it was just luck that one time. It’s what I’m known for. Now let me just accept being an average demigod at the camp. [Laughs.] It’s human, you know what I mean? It’s extraordinary but it’s human. That’s where we find him at the beginning of this film. He’s kind of doubting himself and he’s been one-upped by Clarisse.
Q: Leven, is it fun to be a brunette and kick butt? Have you enjoyed changing your personality a little bit this time?
Rambin: Yeah, I was really lucky that Thor was able to see me as a brunette with this blonde hair. That’s not typically the first thing that comes to mind when you look at me, I don’t think. But when I put on that wig – luckily they didn’t dye my hair – and change my physicality a lot… Nothing against brunettes – I still felt beautiful. But I felt a lot less inhibited, and I felt down to be a little more brash and powerful and strong. I kind of hid behind all this brown hair, and it gave me the power and confidence to verbally rip this one over here. [Laughs.]
Q: Thor, how did you want to push this forward cinematically but also keep it of a piece with the first film?
Thor Freudenthal: I felt that the first film did a great job of doing the footwork of establishing the world. But I felt reading the book, Sea of Monsters, that there was a lot of life in the camp in places that we don’t necessarily see in the first movie. So whenever we show the camp, I wanted to show different aspects than we had seen in movie 1. That was a great way to expand the world as a whole and the visual vocabulary. But also, obviously, a lot of this movie takes place at sea, which is a vast scope and very wide. Dealing with that was fun. Aside from that, I just kind of visually shoot the way I shoot and I don’t consciously think about it. It’s just a way of moving the camera, composing shots. I can’t really consciously say that I’m trying to stay within what Chris in the first movie established. It’s just kind of my own sense of pacing and rhythm and editing speed and so forth. I did, and luckily I think the material of the movie supported that. I think the books are irreverent and quirky. They don’t always take themselves all that seriously. And at times we wanted to do that in the film. It was maybe a bit of an expansion, or digging deeper into what the tone of the books are than before.
Q: It seems nowadays that there’s nothing that can’t be done visually. Were there any mythical creatures that were too tall of an order?
Freudenthal: No. You can do anything. The difficulty is not that you think it and there it is – you make it. There’s a lot of thinking and designing and revising of your ideas that go into your ideas of creating a monster or a thing. Pixels are pixels to an extent. You just have to use them wisely. And also you can’t rely fully on them. That’s another thing. More in this movie than in other films I did, I wanted to make sure that we put characters and actors first, above everything else. Because otherwise they become spectators of spectacular window dressing. But the story really is about them more than anything else. While I think we were able to create a bunch of cool, new creatures, what really compels me as a viewer is how these guys deal with them.
Q: The new element is water. How was it working on the water? Did it involve swimming and diving?
Freudenthal: The water definitely is an added difficulty. I’ve done animals, kids, and now I’ve done water. [Laughs.] There are scenes in the movie that take place on boats, specifically a lifeboat that crosses through the Sea of Monsters, of the title. We didn’t want to do a green screen. We wanted to do it in reality. So what that meant is being on a barge with a very small crew and our actors, going back and forth on Lake Pontchartrain all day. But it happened without many hiccups. Thanks to our cast. They kept it alive for me. It was good.
Lerman: We didn’t have to get wet, which was nice. That was cool. But we were on a boat a lot, a pretty small boat, and it was really hot. So you can’t go back and forth, adding another hour between shots. We were out on the boat for a long time. We were in New Orleans in the summer time, so it was just the heat that was difficult to work with. Other than that it was beautiful; it was fun.
Q: This movie is coming out on the 7th, and bringing up the rear of the summer movie season. What do you want audiences to know that would convince them this is different from all the other things they’re seeing? What sets this film apart?
Freudenthal: Very good question. I think it’s the material itself, the idea, like Logan mentioned, of kids feeling themselves to be underdogs and succeeding despite that. That’s a great thing, and I think that the new story that compelled me to take this movie on was Percy learning of the existence of a half-brother that he has, and that relationship carrying through the film, and going to places that you don’t expect from the first ten or fifteen minutes of the film. I think what audiences can expect is – hopefully they’ll have tons of fun – to laugh with the characters, to feel with the characters, be emotionally involved, and have a rip-roaring adventurous spectacle. That I think appeals to most audiences, to varying age groups. I tried to make this movie not [thinking] “Oh, it’s for the children.” I made the movie as I wanted to see it, mostly. With the desire to see something that makes me laugh or makes me feel. So that’s all in there, and it hopefully comes across.
Q: For the actors – what have they not written for your character to do yet in these movies that you would really like to do?
Lerman: I know what I’d like to bring back. I don’t know what I’d like to do with Percy, but… I think the flying shoes were really fun. [I’d like to] somehow incorporate that again if we do a third one. How about you guys?
Daddario: I really like that this movie shows more of a sensitive side to Annabeth. Whereas in the first movie she’s very tough. I really loved doing that in the first movie. I’d never done anything like that, and it brings out that badass person inside you that you can never be in your regular life. I really liked that. But I think that people are a combination of strengths and weaknesses. And I think that in this movie it’s more of her… She’s still very strong, I loved that warrior side of her. But it doesn’t make that much sense for the character to be like that [all the time].
Jackson: Honestly this was one of the ones where it was kind of fun for me, because… I mean, Grover’s character is so scared in the beginning he can’t… Only a satyr can lead you to the Fleece. So him getting captured, there’s comedy beats there. Then at the end is action. So to be able to have fun with comedy and action, I was happy with that. I had a great time with it. Maybe one day he can use the sword, I don’t know. [Laughs.] But I’m really happy with this.
Rambin: There were certain parts to the movie that I’m not even sure made the movie. [Clarisse] had soft spots for certain characters towards the end of the movie. She finally found the good in them, and she saw their value as human beings, or half-bloods. I really enjoyed playing Clarisse where she’s the know-it-all and thinks she’s the best but she’s kind of not, and she kinds of needs their help and reluctantly she takes it. So she’s kind of the reluctant team player here. There was comedy in that she was trying so hard to convince herself and everyone else that she knew what she was doing. I think I would like to see Clarisse have a friend, or a love interest, or someone who finds her attractive and sweet and girly. [Laughs.] So maybe a girlier side. I’m sure it fits in there somewhere.
Q: Have any of you read most of the books in order to portray the characters better?
Daddario: I read the first book in lieu of the script, because I did not have the script when I screen-tested. It helped a lot. And I read the second book, but actually after I read the script for the second movie. Because I find that they are two different mediums, and structurally they’re different. I think focusing on the script is most important when you’re making a film. But the books definitely help with character development, and you see some different stories that are left out of the script, so it’s an interesting read.
Rambin: I read the second book, in which Clarisse is described as pig-faced and disgusting. So I tried to incorporate that. [Laughs.] I wasn’t concerned with vanity, and I wasn’t super body conscious. I kind of let myself fall into that a little bit, just because I didn’t want to feel like a pretty girl. I didn’t want to feel like someone who was upkeeping, who cares about that kind of thing. I kind of shut my eyes at certain parts, but it did help me to understand what the fans are looking for. And what I should bring to diehard fans of the book.
Q: I’m sure everybody was excited about coming back. But Brandon, the first day you had to put on the special effects tights, did you sigh a little, like, “Here we go again…”?
Jackson: No, actually I like it. It’s like, you do something to have a good time when you’re young, and it’s actually a break from real life. From all your cousins and brothers always talking. You get to just have fun. I don’t mind it. I’m blessed to a part of this whole cast. It takes you back to being 21 again. When we shot the first movie, I was really young. It keeps it going. So it’s really cool.
Lerman: He went through the seasons in those tights. He went through winter and summer. [Laughs.]
Jackson: It was the pants that everyone would make fun of, the goat pants. [Laughs.] It was good, man.
Q: So you can rock the tights at any point?
Jackson: At this point, because you see what the visual effects are going to be. At first I was like, “I ain’t wearing no tights.”
Rambin: He wore some really crazy stuff. He’s a real trooper.
Jackson: I had a good time.
Q: What’s really caught your attention about these fans who get so deep into this particular mythology?
Daddario: The biggest thing for me is that it’s kind of amazing [how] you’re jumping into something that so many young people are inspired by. When I was a kid – ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen – I used to go to Broadway shows and wait outside the back and wait for autographs from the actors. I thought they were godlike and the most amazing people. My dream was to be on stage or be in a movie. To be in the opposite position now is kind of amazing. It’s really exciting to be able to inspire somebody and meet somebody and uplift them just because you get to play a relatable character that everybody knows in a movie. That’s kind of cool.
Lerman: Yeah, the majority of people that would recognize me in my normal everyday life from this film are kids. My family works a lot with children, and it’s really nice to see that a movie can make them so happy. And that a photo might make them so happy because that’s the character that they love from the movie. That’s the most value I get out of being a part of this film.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters opens nationwide on Wednesday, August 7, with preview screenings on the evening of Tuesday, August 6.