Sally Jackson is the not-so-secret weapon in ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’
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Sally Jackson is the not-so-secret weapon in ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’


Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell) may be known in Olympian circles as the son of Poseidon (Toby Stephens), but let’s be real: He’s Sally Jackson’s (Virginia Kull) son first.

Rick Riordan’s original Percy Jackson and the Olympians novels highlight Percy’s mortal mother, emphasizing her love for her son and the sacrifices she’s made to keep him safe. The TV adaptation builds on this base, taking advantage of its new medium to expand on Sally’s perspective. In the show, Sally plays a more active role in telling Percy about his parentage, and we get several flashbacks to the struggles she faced while raising Percy.

“A bad version [of Percy Jackson and the Olympians] could have just been a humdrum YA series, but this was going off-script a little bit and adding these moments for older fans or the parents of kiddos who are watching, these moments of real, complicated, messy human life,” Virginia Kull told Mashable in a video interview. “We see a parent trying their best, and it’s funny and odd and hard and sad.”

Even though Sally is trapped in the Underworld for most of Season 1, her presence in the first episode and in flashbacks keeps Percy’s quest grounded. Yes, he’s on a journey to stop an all-out war between the Olympians, but he’s also just a kid trying to save his mom from harm. It’s a role reversal from their usual dynamic, where she worked tirelessly to hide him from any dark forces that wished him harm.

These efforts range from giving Percy swimming lessons to marrying a smelly mortal in order to disguise Percy’s half-blood scent from denizens of the Olympian world. In a particularly painful series of memories that play out in episode 7, we also see how Sally tried to send Percy to boarding schools that would distance him from the monsters of New York City. An upset Percy, believing Sally just wants to push him away, refuses to get out of the car at one school, causing Sally to yell at him.

“I was excited about giving audiences a glimpse of Sally when she’s not at her best, when she loses her cool, because that’s real,” Kull said. “Every parent has had to hold their kid down in the doctor’s office to get something done. You don’t want to do it, but you have to because it’s to keep them safe. And so showing something like that, although it might not be fun, I think it feels true.”

A woman and her young son in a hall of statues in a museum.

Virginia Kull and Azriel Dalman in “Percy Jackson and the Olympians.”
Credit: Disney / David Bukach

To further ground her performance in reality, Kull drew inspirations from the architects of Percy Jackson, Rick and Becky Riordan themselves. Both serve as executive producers on the series and were on set while shooting. “When I’ve heard Becky speak about her own children and what it is to be a parent, I find the clear-headed, truthful way in which she speaks really inspiring,” said Kull. “And I tried to take from that and infuse some of that into Sally.”

Sally is, in many ways, one of the most key storytellers in Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Our introduction to her is a scene in which she tells Percy the story of Perseus, a moment whose purpose is not just one of fun, but of education and preparation for the day when Percy inevitably learns the truth.

“Sharing the stories with him is a daily reminder that life for him and her is going to change irrevocably and seismically very soon,” said Kull. “So, on the one hand, she’s telling stories to connect. On the other hand, she’s telling stories to prepare him and also say goodbye.”

In taking on the role of “reluctant storyteller,” as Kull describes it, Sally has some of the show’s most impactful lines — many of which could also serve as thesis statements for the series. Take her assertion that not everyone who looks like a monster is a monster, and apply it to Percy’s encounter with beings like Medusa, who have their own painful backstories. And when she tells Percy, “You are not broken, you are singular,” it serves as a reassurance to both Percy and to every viewer who’s ever felt different.

Another line that resonated with Kull comes from Sally’s discussion with Poseidon in episode 7, when she says, “I want him to know who he is before your family tries to tell him who they want him to be.” It’s moments like that, where Sally emphasizes Percy’s humanity and individuality over his half-blood nature, where Kull really found her character’s heart.

“To her, Percy’s more than just a demigod. He’s a kid who wakes up with bad breath and messy hair, and who cries when he stubs his toe. His humanity is his superpower and the thing she adores most about him and is trying to protect,” Kull said. “That’s why she doesn’t want him to go to camp yet, because she can’t bear that her days with him are numbered. I think that’s the devastating, beautiful tragedy of her story.”

Percy Jackson and the Olympians is now streaming on Disney+.





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