Interview: “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” Star Virginia Kull on Bringing the Realism of Parenthood to a Fantasy World

Tonight, the season finale of Percy Jackson and the Olympians premiered on Disney+. Ahead of that, we had a chance to talk to one of the stars of the series: Virginia Kull, who plays Sally Jackson. Even if you haven’t watched the show or read the books, you can probably guess that Sally is Percy’s mother and represents the mortal half of his demigod status.

Given the popularity of the Percy Jackson franchise, we had to ask Kull what it was like bringing this important character to the screen.

Laughing Place: Virginia, thanks so much for taking the time out to chat with me today. Congratulations on the success of Percy Jackson.

Virginia Kull: Thank you, thank you.

LP: Before you got cast, did you have any experience with the world of Percy Jackson?

VK: Zero, zero. No, I knew nothing. I feel like I was born three years too early to have gotten in in the initial fandom. No, I didn't learn anything about it until I did the audition, I had no clue what was going on. I'm like, "Who's Nancy Bobofit? Who's Grover? Why am I asking him to protect my son?" And I mentioned to one of my best friends that I'd auditioned for this in front of my 10-year-old godson, and his eyes became saucers, and I stopped and I thought, "Oh, maybe this is more than just your average kid show. This seems to be incredibly important to someone that I highly enjoy and adore and respect, and he is as smart as a whip at 10 years old." So yeah, that was my first inkling that, "Oh, maybe Percy Jackson is a bigger deal than I realized."

LP: And now that it's out, what's your godson think?

VK: Well, he was my date to our premier, actually.

LP: Oh, that's awesome.

VK: I think he's proud of me. I hope he's proud of me. I think we had a total ball at the premier. He wore his Camp Half-Blood shirt under his tuxedo coat, and the entire cast signed it. He went from Jessica Parker Kennedy, our Medusa, was ready to sign it, and he said, "Well, I'm actually looking for Annabeth first." So she said, "Okay, I'll wait." And then finally we got sweet Leah [Jeffries (Annabeth Chase)]  to sign it, and then he said, "I don't want to hurt Medusa's feelings. Can we find her so she can sign my shirt too?" So we did.

Yeah, I think he's pretty excited. I hope all of the fans are. I know it's so important to so many people and has been a really formative part of a lot of people's childhoods and growing up, and none of us take that lightly.

LP: One way that the show expands the universe is because it's not told through just Percy's perspective. You get to see Sally really being a mother and knowing the burden that is eventually going to be placed on her son and trying to set him up, and you really see the love. Your performance is great. You see the love and concern and pride that she has in him. Can you talk a little bit about how you expanded that role from what people may have expected if they had just read the books?

VK: Well, I had great source material to start with, of course, with Rick [Riordan]'s books, and then I just had an immense gift in being able to speak the words that Jon Steinberg had written. My initial meeting with him when I first was considering taking the job, we spoke at length about our own children and our own experiences as parents. I literally said to them, "I don't want this show to ruin our trio's lives. I don't want what happens to so many young actors to happen to them. What are we going to do as a cast, as a community, who potentially is signing up to spend several years together, what are we going to do to protect and support and uplift these kiddos?" And he said, "I'm glad you feel like that. We're all going to help raise them."

I think when you're given lines like, "I'm failing," I don't know any parent on planet Earth that hasn't said that before and hasn't felt that before. So to have Jon Steinberg willing to put that into a scene in a young adult series is brave and important, because kids, I have to tell you, it's hard being a parent. Give your mom and dad a hug and say, "Thank you." And if they don't deserve a thank you, I'm so sorry, that is so painful, and I hope that you find someone, oh God, that can love you in the way Sally loves Percy.

LP: And that really comes across and you bring something that is absent from a lot of children's television in that the parents are not just goofballs, or they're not just there to give the saccharin message of the week — you're really there showing what it's like to be a parent, and perhaps for the first time, giving kids the perspective of how their parents view their children, in not a simplified way. Your character also has a complex relationship with Percy's dad.

VK: Absolutely. Yeah.

LP: Obviously there's the books and the script, but you do such a great job of bringing those moments to life. What were you trying to bring through your performance when you reunited with Poseidon?

VK: Well, it was important to me that that scene be infused with our very charged and very complicated history. I think that Sally still desperately loves him. I think that she knows they can't be together. I think that one of the things he probably loves about her is how unimpressed she is with the God part of who he is, and I think that's why he loves her. And so to show a woman who's at her breaking point and at her wits end because she loves her kid so much, because she knows her days with him are numbered, and selfishly, she wants him for herself as long as possible, but the monsters are literally at the door, and so she's about to make this seismic decision, and her heart's being ripped out of her chest, and it's not fair. And she can't tell her kid, and she has to speak sternly to him and be hard and be firm to save his life. And oh God, it's like parenting doesn't always mean that your kids like you, or that your kids enjoy you.

So it's just that fine line of wanting the kid to feel seen and feel safe, and to feel known and feel loved, but also understand that there are rules and there are boundaries, and life is hard, and this doesn't feel good, and I can't fix it for you.

LP: Well, congratulations. You do such a wonderful job, but you don't come into this expecting the mom to be such an important part and deliver such strong performances so I know the whole fandom is very proud of you and your work, and look forward to seeing the rest of the show.

VK: Thank you. I appreciate it.

The entire first season of Percy Jackson and the Olympians is now streaming on Disney+.

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