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Aryan Simhadri 

7th February 2024

Digital Editor & Interview: Pankhuri Bhutani

Editor-in-chief: Owen James Vincent

Photography: Ben Cope

Cover Design: Emily Curtis

In the current landscape of literature, the term 'Grover Underwood' is quite symbolic to the emotions of loyalty, pureness, camaraderie and authentic friendship. Protruding out of the worldwide best-selling novels "Percy Jackson"; a fascinating story about love, friendship and war, Aryan Simhadri has taken the world by storm through his impeccable portrayal as the iconic satyr from within the series. 

The book series' visceral success clocked in a staggering fanbase established for its demigods and satyrs during its release furthermore equivalent to the same level of attraction that the recent offering by Disney+ is currently garnering.

Enmeshed in an act of war, 'Percy Jackson and The Olympians' follows the story of a twelve-year-old boy caught up in a battle between the divinity. 

A delightful offering to the Greek mythology fans; the plot centers around three of its protagonists- Percy, Annabeth and Grover as they join forces to find the thief behind Zeus' missing master-bolt in hopes of overturning a war between the divine and the catastrophic consequences the battle might bring. 

Forcing Aryan Simhadri to the forefront of the series, the young talent encaspulates the role of "Grover"; perfectly embracing that aspect of vulnerability and authenticity to his character.  

Simhadri's performance projected a resurgence of literary nostalgia. As we begin our conversation, Aryan narrates the story of how he first came to pursue acting. 

"Wow, that's a fantastic question! I knew I wanted to be an actor from a very young age. I started acting when I was around three or four years old and got into it professionally when I was around five. 

Not through any choice of my own, but I got scouted in a mall. And my parents were like, 'Yes, sure. I mean, we're just waiting for him to start school.' 

I just fell in love with it. I was a very attention seeking kid which is pretty clear if you see any of my earlier work. (Laughs) So, I believe just having other people's eyes on me was something that I loved every minute of. That was probably what kept me in acting.

But I believe as I got older and I started watching more things and working with better actors, I realized the kind of actor I myself wanted to become.

And I realized that I felt the best doing this job when I could feel myself getting better at it, you know? I guess at a certain point I was just like, 'Okay, I should start.I really want to start taking this seriously because I do love it.' 

I love the people I've met and the process of it. I just love everything about it. And I'm very grateful to know what I want to do with the rest of my life." 

The show ventures pretty broadly between its storylines. It actively deals with grief and conflicts through a comedic lens yet also projecting several introspective messages throughout its episodes. 

Such diverse arcs amalgamated with the phenomenal performance of the cast and crew birthed a show that screamed success. The project certainly seems like the perfect recipe for a successful live-action adaptation. 

The Percy Jackson world took no time to garner stalwarts from around the world. Joining such an established role also garnered massive anticipations and pre-existing notions about one's performance. 

Talking to me about the pressures of joining and being affiliated with such a worldwide phenomenon, Simhadri stated,

"I guess I did feel a little bit of pressure. But most of the pressure I and all of us felt was the pressure that we put on ourselves.

Walker (Scobell) said this in an interview earlier, and I think he said it perfectly. We're fans of the books and we were going to watch the show regardless of whether or not we were going to be in it. 

So now that we are in it, it was up to us to make something that we would want to watch as fans.

We wanted to make something that we're proud of and that we can proudly say represents the books. So, that was where most of the pressure came from and anything that we got from the audience, it was more so motivation than anything because we wanted to also make a good show for them.

The fans were so loving and supportive of the show. So, yes, it was definitely motivation, if anything."

Simhadri doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the show’s depiction of diversity; projecting the characters to be much more liberating in their arcs. 

Being an Indian, it was quite surreal to witness the announcement of Aryan's casting and that too as the co-lead in the live action adaptation of one of the best-selling novels- it surely reverberated the starting of a new chapter for the South-Asian and Brown community. 

Usually when it comes to South-Asian actors, their narratives are unfortunately often overlooked and sidelined but in this novel Riordan's adapted offering- this is hardly the case. 

Reflecting upon the significance of having more representation in Hollywood, Aryan describes his experience working within such an inclusive and diverse cast and environment on the project. 

"I mean it's incredible regarding the dedication that was put into the show. The willingness that Rick (Riordan) had to find the best possible actor who could embody the soul of the character as opposed to the little things like looks which can be portrayed through other parts of the story or don't necessarily come up.

He was so willing to just let us be who we are and he had so much trust that would kind of get the character along. We just wanted to do him proud. 

It was the biggest thing for us because he was so willing to give us the leniency and was so gracious about everything being like, 'Don't worry about the prosthetics or wigs or contacts just whatever you need to be. I casted you for a reason.' and I was like 'Yes, I'm going to do it for you.' and that kind of approval from the creator of the books was just a massive sigh of relief for all of us.

Walker (Scobell) and Leah (Jeffries) are perfect. I couldn't imagine anybody else as our Percy or Annabeth, I couldn't imagine anybody else leading the show the way that they do and just the fact that I'm working with the characters as well as opposed to people who look like the characters but aren't necessarily them.

And I think for me, growing up, there were never a lot of Indian actors on the screen who I was very proud of; there were some who I did take a lot of inspiration from but we always kind-of-played like the nerds or the comedic relief or just like the geeky little characters- someone to be laughed at or laughed with and that's what I played for a lot of growing up- this comedic relief, funny nerdy little brother. 

But this is the first job I've ever taken where they were willing to give me the chance to play the lead and I'm really glad that I'm able to be that person. So, yes, it's crazy and I'm really proud of what this show is doing."

Mirroring and executing the mutual feelings of loyalty, empathy and friendship that his character possesses, Simhadri portrays Underwood with such a riveting range that it often feels like the live-action character was scraped right from the pages of the books. 

The gentle cadence and his versatile expressions amalgamating with the attire of horns and goat-legs exhumes a perfect Underwood persona. 

Grover gets his introduction as a satyr- a sentient being part of a species who thrives on living as the protectors and guardians of the demigods they're bonded with. Ever since Percy matriculates within the magical "Camp Half-Blood", Underwood is one of the only souls Jackson regards as a true friend. 

When asked about who Simhadri himself considers his real life satyr and protector, the young talent reciprocated with a fascinating response. 

"Oh, wow. Well, I love both of my parentsvery deeply but my mom, she was there with me when I started this career. 

My dad was like 'Oh, you know, if it doesn't go anywhere in a couple of years, we'll give it a little bit of time.' but my mother was adamant about it being like- 'No, he really likes it, so, let's just give him time until like high school or then college and see where it goes.' 

She was willing to pick me up everyday and deal with like seven-year-old me in the back of a cramped Honda; listening to me talk for like two hours on end and we lived in Irvine too, we don't live in Los Angeles so she would drive up two hours back and forth every single day.

If there were auditions or classes and we were in LA all the time, and I did not want to move, she was just so willing to be there for me and be my manager, my costumer and anything for self-care. 

She was just there for me for the whole process so, yes, I'd say if anything, she's the closest person who protected me."

How can we talk about "Grover Underwood" and not discuss the iconic GOAT'd walk? (Much pun intended). 

Straying the conversation away from the heavy topics, Simhadri instantly jolted at the mention of the character's peculiar yet quintessential walk. 

Simhadri apparently spent an uncanny amount of time trying to master the true mannerism and styles of walking like a goat. He felt so afflicted with the particular trait that it became quite hard for him to part ways with such movement even after the show was wrapped up. 

Speaking about the behind-the-scenes, Simhadri becomes eager to rhapsodize about the preparation behind his walk and his overall acting ritual. 

"I worked with this incredible movement coach and he helped me learn what was going on, what a goat's leg looked like, how that might translate onto us humans and how they're supposed to walk with the confidence with which they walk.

Posture was a big thing too, to keeping it a little more low to the ground if you're nervous because that kind of helps youget ready to run and a little more upright if you're just kind of relaxed.

I think the more I did it in in character and the more I was in character, the more I kind of took that back into real life because eventually, it got to the point where I would just do it offset without thinking about it.

And I would also wear my prosthetic ears home to save time from putting them on the next morning. I was just walking back to my apartment building so strangely and with prosthetic ears; so, I got a lot of weird looks from people in the coffee shops (Laughs).

I actually kind of still can't stop doing it which is something that Walker pointed out on the press tour. I would take it home with me- out of the set and that would just help me lessen the time it took for me to get back into character on the day."

One of the most unique thing about this project is that it already had a successful live-action adaptation before the series came into existence.

When it comes to such projects that have an established pre-existing adaptation, a lot of creatives tend to take inspiration from the people who played the same characters before them attempting to echo their ways and mannerism of performance.

When I asked Simhadri if he ever watched the wonderful Brandon T. Jackson who played Grover in the live-action movies based on the same novels in hopes of trying to garner inspiration from his performance, Simhadri reciprocated with a striking answer. 

"For sure! I definitely took a lot of inspiration from him because the movies are great. 

Like in the films, just staying alone, there's some parts where they do deviate from the stories but they're still fantastic movies and I'm a huge fan of Logan T Lerman. 'Bullet Train' is one of my favorite movies ever and every time I watch it, I'm like, 'Oh, I'm going to DM him today,' but it just never comes around. 

And I love Brandon T. Jackson too. I think he's an incredible actor. I love how Walker showed me 'Tropic Thunder' the otherday. He was so good in it. I just love him so much especially in the movies. 

Something that I wanted to get across was just how good he was at how natural the chemistry was with him and Percy. For instance, right-off-the-bat, you could tell that they were kind of best friends and even his moves, his physicality too, just the way that he would walk down the hills; those were the things I always noticed as a kid. 

I used to be like 'Oh, he's walking like that because he has goat legs.' So yes, there's definitely a lot of things that I took from his portrayal as Grover."

Every aspect of the project; from the dynamics the trio shares both on and off-set, the impeccable range the youngsters possess to the rebellious spirit of camaraderie the three leads showcases throughout the series acts as the heart of the show. 

When asked about what it was like meeting his fellow co-stars Walker Scobell and Leah Jeffries, Simhadri echoed a heartwarming message;- 

"If I can be a little bit honest and blunt, you know, I was so much older than my fellow co-stars. At the time, they (Walker and Leah) were around 12 and 13 and I had just turned 16 when we started filming. 

I was I believe a little nervous in some regards that I would have to kind of take care of them. Or I didn't know. I knew that Walker was in the act. I knew that he was in the show. I had seen 'The Adam Project' and I had seen 'Secret Headquarters'. 

I had also seen a bunch of Leah's work as well. And I know she had been acting for almost as long as I had. But there was always like that fear that I don't know them. Or if there will be a chemistry read enough to kind of understand who they are as people as opposed to actors. But we clicked almost right away.

Both of them were so professional and fun to be around and incredibly talented that the fear was immediately assuaged."

Simhadri created a narrative transcending the boundaries of young talent; often leaving the viewers resonating and rooting for his character as he delivered a raw and exhilarating performance. 

His performance was backed with an emotional subplot as we witnessed the apex of his character's arc. 

Having such a worldwide focus on Percy didn't deter the show’s creators from giving Simhadri his own nuanced yet impactful arc; helping the fans immerse themselves into as much Grover content as possible. 

Based on his personal analysis, Simhadri divulges about his opinion regarding whether he prefers characters to be solely rooted and as faithful to the original source as possible or does he prefer having a dash of novelty added to them. 

"I think one of the biggest things about being in a show is that we get a little more time to play with a lot of storylines or characters. 
If we were in a movie, you wouldn't have had that beautiful story about Medusa and her story essentially, and that scene with Grover and Augustus in the Lotus Casino like that wasn't there in the books and I really liked reading that in the script. I'm really glad that they're giving him his own arc. 

It was always there in the books. He always had his own story but because the books were from Percy's perspective, it was just a lot easier to forget that he's his own guy.

But yes, he has his own things to prove. He has a council who is a moment's notice away from disowning him like his father figure. I think that's a really good point that he has something to prove to himself because if Percy turns out like Thalia, he's never going forgive himself much less get the council to forgive him. 

He also just wants to look for Pan. He wants to be the one to bring the natural world back. I think it's so funny, I noticed this re-watching it but he's saying all of that in a parking garage which is just the epitome of everything he stands against.

I think the point of an adaptation is to flesh out the characters and kind of give them their own stuff. I believe a one-to-one adaptation like line-for-line isn'tgoing to help anybody."

Photo Credit: Disney

I believe as an actor especially affiliated with a fictional book adaptation, one of the most beautiful thing about this profession is how one has the opportunity to embody a character that doesn't exist. 

The actors get to live like them, speak like them, walk-talk and overall experience life like them yet there are a plethora of instances where actors have several obstacles in attempts of adopting a mindset like the characters they are chosen to portray.

So I had to ask Simhadri, if he could ever garner an opportunity to meet Grover in real life; had his character been a person who actually existed and could ask him questions be it in terms of his acting sequences, any specific thing he couldn't figure out about his arc or just life-advice itself, what is the thing that the impeccably talented young star would absolutely love to know his thoughts on from the highly-beloved satyr?  

"First of all any recipes he might have to share. I reread 'The Chalice of the Gods' and he was helping out with the spaghetti in one of the scenes so, yes, just cooking tips. Something I struggle with a little bit is in the kitchen so just asking for any advice on that.

I would also want to ask him about those discoveries of Ferdinand and how that encounter with Medusa and discovering that Ferdinand didn't even make it past Trenton- how did that feel like? That would have stopped so many people and Grover's such a timid character. 

I think at first glance you'd be like 'Oh, that would have stopped him right there and then. He would have just gone back home if it wasn't for Percy.' but you know later on you're like 'Oh no, he genuinely does want to keep looking like that wasn't going to stop him either way. So I believe I'll just ask him how he got over something like that and where he found it in him to keep looking for Pan.

Also, what Pan means to him because I believe the way I think about him is as a father figure but that's not nearly close enough to what Pan means to Grover and to every satyr- he's more than just their god or creator; he's a representation of them."

Ending our interview on a gentle note, now that our latest cover star has successfully been in Grover's shoes or should I say goat legs, I was very curious to know what were his biggest takeaways from embodying this character and how would Simhadri personally describe 'Grover' for the people who are yet to be introduced to this fascinating world? 

"Since I read the book so early, they left a huge impact on me. I think the reason why Rick (Riordan) didn't really give Grover any specific look in the books was because Grover is the perfect friend that everybody should be like. 

The fact that I read the books was such a good thing for me in order to become the kind of person that I am in my early age. 

They left a huge impact on me from just the kind of person and friend that Grover was and you know I'm nowhere near as nice as he is (laughs) but that is the kind of friend that I try to be. And now that I've played him especially, I try to be that kind of friend for everyone. 

I believe I'm naturally that friend for Walker too. Even in interviews, if he looks at me and he can't quite get something, I kind of give it to him and I think that's something that Grover does for Percy as well."....

All the episodes of "Percy Jackson And The Olympians" can currently be streamed on Disney+ 

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