Interview: “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” Executive Producers Jonathan Steinberg and Dan Shotz Discuss New Disney+ Adaptation

With the new Percy Jackson and the Olympians live-action series premiering next week on Disney+, Laughing Place was invited to interview two of the show’s executive producers, Jonathan E. Steinberg (Black Sails) and Dan Shotz (Jericho). In the discussion below, we talk about their history with the Percy Jackson franchise and how they worked with creator Rick Riordan to bring this new adaptation to Disney+.

Watch "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" interview with executive producers Jonathan Steinberg & Dan Shotz:

Mike Celestino, Laughing Place:  To start things off, how did you both get involved with this project? Were you familiar with the Percy Jackson property beforehand?

Jonathan Steinberg:  Very familiar. When we started a relationship with the studio, it was one of the first things we asked about: ‘Where is this? Why has nobody talked about there being a Percy Jackson adaptation in a long time?’ It fizzled out, and [we] just couldn’t chase it down, and found out later it was because [Rick Riordan and his wife Rebecca Riordan, who also serves as executive producer on the series] really didn’t have any appetite for it for a long time. And then a year and a half later, it was an incoming phone call– ‘Do you want to talk about this?’ He was ready, and they found us again. And so it was something that both fell out of the sky and also something that had been thought about for a fair amount of time.

Dan Shotz:  It was during COVID, and so very early [in the discussion] Jon, myself, Rick and Becky got to be in this little Zoom bubble where we just got to talk about everything– everything he was feeling, going back 20 years [to] when he first wrote [the original book], when he first told his son these stories. It was just getting to learn everything from the guy who built this [franchise], and then [having] him as a collaborator through the entire process, every step of the way, really made the difference.

LP:  Yes, I noticed he’s credited as a writer on the show, so can you tell me more about Rick Riordan’s involvement with the series and how you guys collaborated with him to make sure you really nailed this adaptation?

Steinberg:  Every piece of this show has to go through his head. As I’m writing, I’m at first pushing stuff through that filter, and then trying to learn how that filter works, and trying to be able to be someone else who can apply it. But at the end of the day this is his universe, and there are certain things that can’t really be explained. Either they feel right to him and to Becky as being a part of Percy Jackson or they don’t. And it was expressed to them really early– ‘You never have to explain or justify any of that. If it doesn’t feel right to you, just say so, and it ain’t in the show.’ I think that was freeing for everybody: to know that at the end of the day, if it’s in the show, it’s because at least one of the two of them thought it was a good idea.

LP:  Let’s talk about the cast. What was the casting process like for this series? How did you make sure you found the right actors to portray these already beloved roles?

Steinberg:  I think it’s one of those things where you don’t really even know what questions you’re asking until you find the answer. Had we gone into casting with a set of preconceived criteria, I don’t know that we would have found these kids. You’re waiting for a kid to deliver these lines and then realize, ‘I’m responding to this.’ There’s a whole host lights going on in my head of why that is, that I wouldn’t have known until I heard Aryan [Simhadri, who plays Grover Underwood] tell a joke, or until I watched Walker [Scobell, who plays the title character Percy Jackson] just be the kid he is. So it’s always a little bit trying to keep the bar very high, but at the same time be open to being surprised into finding something you didn’t know you were looking for.

Shotz:  We did do a worldwide search for these kids, but when we saw it, we saw it– with all three of them. But you also never know until you get there about the chemistry. These kids are in every scene together for most of the season, and it’s like, ‘How are they going to work together?’ And that, you just hope that it’s going to work. We feel like it did. And also the love they have for each other– there’s a bond, and they kept that bond for all 160 days of shooting.

LP:  Lastly, since we are approaching the 20th anniversary of that first book coming out, what do you think it is about this franchise that has kept it alive for this long, and what will keep it going into the future?

Steinberg:  It’s an incredibly timeless story– the experience of being a kid who doesn’t fit is something that I think every kid understands to varying degrees, and with different labels applied to them. But it is certainly something that everyone feels, and the idea of hoping that those things that make you different will be special one day is just the other side of the same coin. It’s a story that, when you read it, you’re not surprised that hundreds of millions of people have connected to it. It has something to say to everybody.

Shotz:  It’s been on the bestseller list for 800 straight weeks or something like that– something ridiculous [and] unheard of. And I think it’s because everybody has access points to it. Everybody can connect to it somehow. That hasn’t changed for 20 years, and I don’t see it changing for the future.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians will premiere on Wednesday, December 20th, exclusively via Disney+.

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Mike Celestino
Mike serves as Laughing Place's lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly "Who's the Bossk?" Star Wars podcast. He's been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general all his life and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.