Q&A: ‘Percy Jackson’ Star Aryan Simhadri on Making Satyr Grover His Own

It’s been one year since his last day on set for “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” season one, but Aryan Simhadri still sometimes catches himself walking like a goat. 

“I don’t even realize I’m doing it half the time,” he laughs. “It’s just a habit.” 

At 17, Simhadri already has a long list of credits under his belt. From voice acting (“Adventure Time”) to Broadway (“Trevor: The Musical”) to a Disney Channel original movie (“SPIN”), he’s been running around the big screen since he first learned to walk. Even so, the grinning teen admits that nothing compares to “Percy Jackson.” 

The latest adaptation of Rick Riordan’s beloved novel “The Lightning Thief,” the first season of the Disney+ show re-introduces the world to the titular Percy (Walker Scobell), son of a mortal woman and Greek god. After discovering his true identity, the young child of Poseidon finds himself at Camp Half-Blood — a safe haven and training facility for teenage demigods. Learning the realities of the monsters and myths he once believed to be bedtime stories, Percy teams up with new ally Annabeth Chase (Leah Sava Jeffries) and protective satyr Grover Underwood (Simhadri) to lead a quest to the Underworld. 

Premiering on Dec. 19, the show amassed 13.3 million viewers in its first six days. Two weeks ahead of the season finale, Simhadri sat down with Character Media to discuss the books, the filming process and all things demigod.

Left to right: Grover Underwood (Aryan Simhadri), Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell) and Annabeth Chase (Leah Sava Jeffries) pose with Zeus’s master bolt. (Photo courtesy of Disney.)

CM: We’re two episodes from the finale. How are you feeling?

AS: It’s been crazy. We started making this a year and a half ago, so now that we can finally put it out into the world, I think we’re all just happy that people seem to like it. It still doesn’t feel real sometimes. 

CM: How has your life changed since the show’s release? Are you being stopped in the streets? 

AS: I’m homeschooled, so I don’t go out often [laughs]. But actually, I went to a photoshoot today — like, I literally just got back — and I got recognized in a coffee shop by someone who attended the premiere, which is crazy.

Every time someone recognizes me, it’s just overwhelming love. The show is so great, but it makes me especially glad to hear that from actual fans of the book. Because that’s the audience that really matters — people who genuinely love the books as much as we do. Getting to hear their opinion is definitely the most important thing to me. 

CM: Let’s talk specifically about Grover for a second. How did you approach playing such an iconic character — one who has not only existed in the books but has also already been interpreted once on screen? 

AS: I wanted to draw from both the books and the movies, but with the books being my main source; I wanted to keep Grover as true to the books as possible. But something from the movies that I really liked was Brandon T. Jackson’s (Grover’s) closeness with Logan Lerman (Percy). Right off the bat, you could see their natural chemistry, and that’s something I wanted to emulate with Walker. But also, I think it’s easy to forget that Grover is 24; he’s a full-grown adult. He ages half as fast, but he still has double the life experience of Annabeth and Percy. So something I really wanted to bring to the forefront of his character is that he’s experienced; he knows the world of demigods and monsters inside and out. He’s grown up with it, even more so than Annabeth. All three of them lead the quest in some way, and I think Grover’s the soul of the trio. 

Grover Underwood character art. (Photo courtesy of Disney+.)

CM: Speaking of Grover, how did you and the crew bring him to life? Take us through the prosthetics, the coaching, the hours I’m sure you spent in the make-up chair. 

AS: It started with me learning how to walk like a goat. They brought in this guy named Rod, who’s a movement coach that helps people embody otherworldly creatures. He walked me through how a goat’s bones are structured in their leg and how their heel is way higher up so they never stumble. From there he taught me how to put each foot in front of the other — how to keep my heels kind of bent but keep my top half straight. We did that for about a month before we started shooting, and then it eventually kind of clicked. 

During that same month, we also did a lot of makeup testing, hair testing, wardrobe, stuff like that. Because Grover’s a satyr, my legs needed to look a little bit larger, so they had me wear extra padding under my cargo shorts; it was literally a pair of Adidas exercise shorts with cotton pads sewn in [laughs]. We also tested out a bunch of different ears that were molded specifically to my own. And the same thing for the horns — it was a lot of refining how large they should be, how much my hair should cover, stuff like that. We just did that over and over again. But honestly, I was geeking out the entire time. So when I finally saw myself in the get-up, it was kind of crazy. I just started freaking out in my trailer. 

CM: Let’s talk about your partners in crime, Walker and Leah. You three have such amazing chemistry both on and off screen; did you realize from your first meeting that there was something special there? 

AS: It was actually a really slow build; we still haven’t quite gotten there yet — we’re still getting past that rocky phase of getting to know each other. [Laughs] No, I’m kidding, I’m kidding. I love those guys. I love everyone in the cast. We’re all super close. We actually didn’t even do chemistry reads with Charlie [Bushnell] (Luke Castellan) or Dior [Goodjohn] (Clarisse La Rue), but we all just clicked right away. And that’s nothing short of a miracle, having that much natural chemistry with every member of your cast — with people that you’re hopefully going to be working with for the next eight, ten years. I’m very grateful to our talented casting directors who managed to bring us all together. 

Left to right: Annabeth Chase (Leah Sava Jeffries), Grover Underwood (Aryan Simhadri) and Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell) face an enemy. (Photo courtesy of Disney.)

CM: Something so special about this iteration of Percy Jackson is the diversity we’re seeing on screen. As a young South Asian actor, how does it feel to be one of the leads of not just a wildly popular show, but of a story you yourself loved as a kid? 

AS: It’s pretty incredible. I think 10, 15 years ago, there’s no way I would have gotten this job; a short Indian kid isn’t traditionally what constitutes a leading man. So when I was auditioning, the fact that they were willing to give me a shot — to bring me back round after round and see whatever potential I had; they gave me a chance. And I’m very grateful that they did. 

Grover was my favorite character when I was reading the books, and I think Rick made a point when he was writing not to give him a concrete physical description so that anybody can and everybody should be Grover. He’s the kind of friend that everyone needs and that everyone should be for each other. And the fact that I get to bring that idea to life — because Grover, a lot of the time, can feel like that idea of friendship and warmth and kindness and empathy — is insane. 

Aryan Simhadri at the world premiere of "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" in New York.
Aryan Simhadri at the world premiere of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” in New York. (Photo courtesy of Disney.)

CM: Let’s talk more about Rick. At least from a fan perspective, it seems like he’s really been enjoying jumping back into the Percy Jackson universe — both with the show and with his newest book, which he dedicated to you, Walker and Leah. What’s it been like working with him and bringing his visions to life? 

AS: Terrifying [laughs]. But also, he is genuinely the nicest person I’ve ever met in my life. I don’t think I’ll ever meet anybody nicer. It’s incredible that someone in the position that he’s in now — with that level of prestige and respect — can still be that humble and down to earth. I remember one time, we were filming at Mammoth Studios, which is quite long. He was seated way over on one end in our production office, and we were in the school rooms all the way over on the other end of the studio. And once, he walked all the way across the entire studio just to hand deliver me a set of books that he signed himself — and he wrote a distinct message in each of them. And then he even apologized for doing that because he was interrupting my school time! Isn’t that insane? That’s the nicest thing anybody has ever done for me. 

He was so gentle and caring. He would genuinely come to us and say, “No matter how much pressure you’re putting on yourself or whatever expectations you think you have to live up to, I cast you for a reason. You’re here because you belong.” And not only did that relieve a lot of pressure, but having that kind of validation from the author of a book series we all grew up loving was more than a gift. 

CM: Looking to the future, what sequences are you excited to adapt in the coming seasons? 

AS: The wedding dress. I can’t stop thinking about the wedding dress [laughs]. I’m equally as terrified as I am excited for it. Walker keeps bringing it up, and we’ve come up with so many good ideas for BTS footage of the fittings, because I need that to be recorded. 

As for future books, I’m really excited to see where Walker and Leah go. They’re such talented actors, especially for such a young age. Walker just started acting a few years ago, and Leah is even younger than he is. The fact that they’re already this talented is insane, and they’re everything you could ever hope for in a castmate. They are exactly how I imagined Percy and Annabeth when I was reading the books, so I’m constantly fanning out over them, too. I’m just excited to see what they do with the characters.

But also, I’m really excited to see Dior’s scene where she kills a drakon and drags it with her chariot through New York saying, “I am Clarisse, drakon slayer!” That’s just such an incredible moment. 

Stream “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” season one on Disney+ and Hulu.