Mon. Nov 30th, 2020

‘Alex Rider’, the ‘teenage James Bond’, now on Showmax

The series, ‘Alex Rider’ is based on a series of spy novels by British author Anthony Horowitz about a teenage spy with the same name.

alex rider the teenage james bond now on showmax 1024x683 - ‘Alex Rider’, the ‘teenage James Bond’, now on Showmax

Ask a couple of teens to list their favourite authors and it won’t be long before someone throws out the name Anthony Horowitz. The beloved author of over 47 novels and collections, Horowitz is also a Bafta-nominated scriptwriter, who has created several successful TV series, including the Bafta-winning crime drama Foyle’s War

About Alex Rider

Now, one of his most beloved teen characters, Alex Rider – the subject of 12 novels (so far), with over 20 million copies sold in 30 different countries – is coming to life on the small screen in a slick new action series teens and parents can enjoy together on Showmax. 

Based on Point Blanc, the second book in the series, the show kicks off when (mostly) ordinary London teenager Alex discovers that his uncle and guardian was killed in the line of duty as a British spy – not in a car accident like he was told. 

In the wake of the tragedy, Alex finds himself drawn into the dangerous world of international espionage when he’s pushed into a mission to go undercover at Point Blanc, an elite correctional school linked to the deaths of two billionaires – and Alex’s uncle. 

The series has an 82% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with The Guardian calling it “the teen James Bond”, The Times UK “Doctor Who-level family stuff “ and Daily Telegraph “a junior version of the Bourne franchise… that can also keep adults entertained.”

Otto Farrant (War & PeaceThe White Queen) takes on the iconic role of Alex alongside Saturn Award nominee Brenock O’Connor (DickensianGame of Thrones’ Olly) as Alex’s best friend Tom, and Ronke Adekoluejo (Christopher Robin) as Alex’s au pair, Jack. BAFTA winners Stephen Dillane (Game of Thrones’ Stannis Baratheon) and Vicky McClure (Line of Duty, Broadchurch) also feature, as does SA actor James Gracie (Trackers).

The series is directed by award-winning Austrian director Andreas Prochaska (Das Boot) and Christopher Smith (Labyrinth mini-series), and adapted for the small screen by BAFTA winner and Emmy Kids Awards-nominated screenwriter Guy Burt (Bletchley CircleThe BorgiasHarriet’s Army, Joe All Alone).

Guy was tasked with updating the world of the books, and Alex himself. In a sit-down with Otto at the recent virtual New York Comic Con (NYCC), Anthony explained that “the Alex Rider of the books is 14 years old in Point Blanc, and we decided very early on that we wanted to raise that demographic. So it was important to us that he should be a little more grown up.” 

Anthony says the action and the intensity of the TV series is bigger than in the books too. “Guy has done a fantastic job in making a very serious world. It started as a children’s book. This is not a children’s TV series. It is for the whole family,” he says.

The perfect team

There are also some changes to the main support cast, with both Tom and Jack taking far more prominent roles in the TV series. The team saw over 600 young actors across Britain before finding their main cast, Anthony says. When Otto, Brennock and Ronke read together, “every single person in the room just knew we had found the perfect team.”

Guy’s deal with the producers also included the introduction of a brand-new female character “who could hold her own against Alex Rider… Not just a love interest, not just a sort of side character, but somebody central,” he told Radio Times. He describes Kyra, played by Marli Siu (Grantchester), as “a young version of Lisbeth Salander’s character from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. If you can imagine her as a teenager.”

Of course, Anthony says, “for the TV show, the most important thing was to get Alex Rider right. He’s a reluctant spy. He’s not a superhero, but he’s still a hero. He’s a normal kid and yet at the same time, he’s extraordinary.”

Otto was already a huge fan before the series came along. “I read the books from when I was nine years old and I loved them. To play someone that I idolised as a kid is amazing,” he says. 

“What was exciting for me,” he told Anthony at NYCC, “was that Alex is a sensitive soul, but he’s also incredibly determined. He has an iron will-power and strength.” 

But it’s Alex’s relatability, Otto believes, that’s endeared him to a decade’s-worth of readers. “He could be anyone. He could be a friend of mine. He could’ve been me. It’s just about the circumstances that he’s put in, and the people he’s surrounded by. That’s why he’s so iconic, because he encourages us to see a side in ourselves which is steely and resilient.”

In casting Otto, Anthony believes, they nailed that balance of relatability and awesomeness. “He’s good-looking but not like a movie star; he doesn’t look like a Marvel hero, he looks like an English school boy, yet he does amazing things,” Horowitz told Deadline.

Being a relatively normal human being – and not a born super-spy – Otto did have to pick up certain skills for the role. To train for the part, he took up bouldering, and Krav Maga. 

Action sequences

“Learning to fight and to climb and do all these action sequences, I really found out that there’s a side of myself that I didn’t even know about.” But, Otto said at NYCC, not all of Alex’s skills came naturally. “A lot of times in the action sequences… I wouldn’t say I get carried away, but I’m actually, in terms of choreography, not that hand/eye coordinated. So sometimes, a punch would go that little bit too far… I did hurt a few people,” he admits. “I elbowed Brennock in the face in one take. And then also the stunt guy, which I felt really awful about.”

Otto was thrown into the deep end on his very first day of filming. “It was in Romania. We had to get the famous snowboarding scene and exteriors at Point Blanc first because we were filming in March, and we would have lost the snow. We were filming without scripts, and I don’t think I had a single line for the first three weeks of filming. There was lots of action stuff; it was amazing. We were out in the mountains and I was flying in a helicopter… It was amazing, like ‘pinch-me’.”

The series has sold in over 100 territories, so it’s unsurprising – but none-the-less brilliant news – that it’s already been renewed for a second season. And with so many beloved books to draw from, we (and teens everywhere) are rooting for many more. 

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Photo: Supplied

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