DETROIT — When a movie based on a popular book series like “Harry Potter” or “Twilight” opens, it can change the lives of the young actors who star in it. Overnight, a Daniel Radcliffe or Taylor Lautner can go from a relative unknown to a budding new superstar.
Ask Brandon T. Jackson if he’s ready for that to happen to him when “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” opens Friday and you might expect the comic actor to reply with a joke. But instead he’s philosophical.
“Are people talking about this movie yet? Do they know about it yet? I don’t know. I don’t know what to expect. ... I love the movie and I think it’s a really good movie and I don’t really care about the fame and all,” says Jackson, who’s from metro Detroit.
“I just really care about giving you guys good things.”
Jackson knows what it’s like to co star in a good thing, movie-wise. He made a splash in 2008 in the Hollywood satire “Tropic Thunder,” where, as rapper-actor Alpa Chino, he shared screen time with big names like Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black.
But “Percy Jackson” is a new experience for Jackson, because it seems like a family movie aimed at “Harry Potter” fans. The PG-rated film is based on the first of five books in Rick Riordan’s best-selling “Percy Jackson & the Olympians” series for young readers. The series — the final book came out in May — has sold nearly 10 million copies in the United States, including about 3 million in the past three months, according to USA Today.
The gods and monsters of Greek mythology are characters in the movie, which, according to the previews, has eye-catching special effects. In the story, modern-day high school student Percy (Logan Lerman of “3:10 to Yuma” and the WB series “Jack & Bobby”) finds out he’s a demigod (his father is Poseidon, god of the sea) and goes on a cross-country adventure.
The comparisons to “Harry Potter” are inevitable, especially since “Percy Jackson” just happens to be directed by Chris Columbus, who helmed the first two “Harry Potter” movies.
“Could this finally be the next big family fantasy franchise?” asked the Entertainment Weekly Web site last year.
Jackson, who co stars as Percy’s best friend, thinks the movie has its own style.
“It’s kind of the same type of tone, but it’s a little more edgier and cooler, I think, than ‘Harry Potter’,” he says.
The movie boasts stars like Uma Thurman (as the snake-haired Medusa) and Pierce Brosnan. But the actors who play Percy and his pals are relative newcomers still building their careers.
Jackson says the challenge for the young cast is “the pressure of knowing that you’re young and you’ve got this whole movie. ... You guys have got to carry this movie on our backs, you know what I mean?”
He plays Grover, a satyr, and describes having to learn the right physical movements for a character who’s half-man, half-goat.
“You can’t fake a satyr walk. You’ve got to make sure you walk the right way,” he says. “So I’m going around the house, walking around like a goat, and my mom is saying, ‘What are you doing?’”
Jackson likes to make jokes, but he’s earnest when he talks about his acting in “Percy Jackson.”
“I got to do a balance of being funny and being serious, being cool. Grover’s very cool, very modern. ... I love my performance in it, too, which is fairly rare.”
The young actor says he always knew he wanted to be in show business. “I knew I was born to do it. I knew I was born in the spotlight.”
The son of well-known local minister Wayne T. Jackson, Jackson says growing up with a father who’s a church bishop — and a mother who’s a pastor — had an influence on him wanting to communicate with audiences.
“I think it did subconsciously. ... I think that’s one of the things I’ve seen my parents do. They really touch people in ways where you can make them laugh, make them cry, make them be joyous and excited,” he says.
Jackson, who has said he was a class clown in high school, has been busy working in movies and television. He currently has a role in “Tooth Fairy,” the comedy with Dwayne (the Rock) Johnson in the lead role.
“I came in in the middle. They were like, Billy Crystal’s been here, a lot of people. ... I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll get in it. ... Do I got to put on a tutu?’... It’s good for Dwayne, because you’ve got to let all your pride go and just go for the comedy.”
With “Percy Jackson” almost in theaters, Jackson says he doesn’t like the stress of opening weekends.
“When I heard ‘Tropic Thunder’ was doing well, it was the best feeling in the world,” he remembers.
He’s hoping next weekend will be like that. “I’m nervous and excited at the same time, because everyone who’s seen this movie loves it.”
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