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Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief – Director Chris Columbus & Pierce Brosnan

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Percy Jackson - Pierce Brosnan and Brandon T Jackson
Mr Brunner (Pierce Brosnan, left) and Grover (Brandon T Jackson) react to an unexpected threat © 20th Century Fox

Who better to bring a popular children’s book to the screen than Chris Columbus, who helmed the first two Harry Potter movies, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He is now directing the big screen adaptation of Rick Riordan’s #1 New York Times bestseller, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.

Trouble-prone Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is having problems in high school when he learns the unbelievable fact that his father is actually Poseidon, god of the sea, which means Percy is a demigod – half human, half god. With the powerful gods on Olympus feuding, which could launch a war that could destroy the planet, Percy travels to Camp Half Blood, where Chiron, the Centaur (Pierce Brosnan) becomes his mentor, teaching him how to harness his newly discovered powers and prevent the war.

Chris Columbus and Pierce Brosnan, who worked together on the comedy Mrs Doubtfire many years ago, spoke of their new venture into Greek mythology.

What was it about Pierce Brosnan that made you think of him for the role of Chiron the Centaur?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - Director Chris Columbus
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - Director Chris Columbus on the set © Warners

Chris Columbus: I cast actors who had a larger-than-life, Godlike quality about them, and who better to play a trainer of heroes, people like Hercules, than Pierce Brosnan? And I just wanted to work with Pierce again, we had a great time on Mrs. Doubtfire, and it was really the case with all of these Gods and Goddesses, how do we find someone who you can believe is a God. Danny DeVito might have been a stretch, so we needed to find someone who really had that air about him.

What did you think when Chris offered you the role of Chiron?

Pierce Brosnan: Chris was very sly, he went straight to my vanity and he sent me this beautiful portrait of me as this centaur where I looked magnificent, I’d never had muscles like that in my life, and I began to believe my own portrait.

Of course, my sons were instrumental in me playing in this film. They had read and loved the books, and Chris and I had worked together on Mrs. Doubtfire all those years ago, and I just admired him as a filmmaker and as a man, and his passion and compassion for actors and storytelling.

What kind of direction did Chris give you in playing the character?

Pierce Brosnan: We didn’t really discuss how to play this role or what to do as a centaur. I don’t think either of us really knew what to do as the centaur. I love horses and I ride horses, I had a portfolio in my script of photographs of centaurs from medieval paintings, and then you begin to use your imagination.

Chris obviously had a defined image, because the portrait he sent me of myself as Chiron was beautifully rendered. And then came the blue tights, it’s really hard to keep one’s dignity and humility when you stand there looking resplendent from the waist up and then you look at yourself in electric blue tights with orange florescent spots!

Chris has said that you did a lot of your role on stilts, this went back to your youth in Dublin, can you talk about that?

Pierce Brosnan: When I started as a young actor I was about seventeen and I had a street theatre company and we would do children’s theatre. I learned how to do fire-eating and stilt-walking was part of it as well. It was a very fertile time in experimental theatre, and I’ve come full circle.

Is it something that you never forget how to do?

Pierce Brosnan: Yes, I didn’t fall over. I didn’t disgrace myself, that was my main worry, especially in the tights.

Percy Jackson - Logan Lerman
Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) © 20th Century Fox

In the books Percy is eleven. Can you say why you made him a high school student?

Chris Columbus: A couple of the fans of the books [have been asking] why isn’t Percy eleven? You’re dealing with a character who’s got an extraordinary amount of baggage in his life, he’s dealing with parental abandonment, he thinks his father has abandoned him, he wants to know who his father is, he’s dealing with dyslexia, he’s dealing with the fact that he’s a troublemaker and been sent to various schools. I needed some complexity in the actor who was going to portray that. When I saw Logan Lerman in 3:10 to Yuma, and when I saw Logan’s screen test, I realized this was the guy. I had no qualms about making the character older. I thought it can only make it a better film if I have an actor of that quality.

To what extent were you interested in Greek and Roman mythology?

Pierce Brosnan: I had to go to my library and get my books down from my drama school days. Chiron certainly was someone I knew very little about and I didn’t know he was a teacher and philosopher. That was a great stepping stone for me in playing the part, especially being a father.

Percy Jackson - Director Chris Columbus
Director Chris Columbus on the set © 20th Century Fox

How do you find the right balance between entertaining older audiences and younger audiences?

Chris Columbus: I’ve got four children of my own, and I’ve spent several years going to various children’s movies. Sitting through a screening of Pokemon one time, I almost physically deteriorated and thought about suicide, so I realized there’s a point where you can’t entertain the parents enough!

For me this film had to work on two levels, first level making it a wild ride for the seven to sixteen year olds, and then for the older kids and the adults in the audience, make them feel like they’re twelve-years-old again.