IMDb TV’s Alex Rider is Amazon’s free streaming service’s new original series. We sat down with the original books’ author, Anthony Horowitz, and the series star, Otto Farrant, to discuss the new show and its relationship to the books, as well as what fans can expect from the new show.
Ruth Johnson: Anthony, what was it like to see work adapted that you’ve been working on for 20 years? That’s an amazing amount of time.
Anthony Horowitz: Well, you’re right. It was 20 years ago when I wrote the first book in the series, Stormbreaker. To see it adapted for TV, what was it like? It was thrilling actually; I think that first of all the scripts by Guy Burt got it absolutely right. I was very happy when they came in. I was looking as need be at them. But it was when we actually started the casting and once Otto [Farrant] came on board. And once we had Ronkẹ [Adékoluẹjo] as Jack and we had Brenock [O’Connor] as Tom. I knew we had something special going, and especially when the director Andreas Prochaska started. The visual look of it came together. It was a rollercoaster ride for me, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Johnson: That’s wonderful to hear. I love it when writers are enthusiastic about the adaptations of their work. And it sounds like it was an exciting process for all of you, all around. Otto, what would you like to say about who Alex is, and what his motivating drive is? This is a very interesting character.
Otto Farrant: He is a very interesting character. Well, in all aspects. He’s a pretty normal kid when it comes to school and friends. But he has an incredibly unusual skill set and has been trained by his uncle to essentially be a super spy. And I’m not sure he even knows that yet. But then he’s thrown into this, this world of espionage when his uncle dies, and he’s blackmailed in a way to do that, even though it’s kind of his choice. But he’s someone who’s s a reluctant spy, he doesn’t want this life. But he knows that it’s the right thing to do. And if there’s something that he knows he has to do for justice, he knows that he has to do it. He needs to find out who killed his uncle, and he needs to save the world because he’s got a great moral compass. He’s a sensitive teenager, you know, he’s becoming a formidable boy to a man, but he’s also a hero. But he’s an everyday hero.
Horowitz: Right now.
Johnson: Definitely. Anthony, this is an adaptation of the second book, right?
Horowitz: That’s correct.
Johnson: Are you returning to the first book at any point in time?
Horowitz: Well, there was a movie in 2003, Stormbreaker. And we filmed the second book instead, the producers decided because the first book had already been done and done very well, in many ways. There was no need to go back. And we put some of the origin story of how Alex Rider became a spy and how his uncle was killed and all that sort of stuff. We did put a version of that into Point Blanc, but it was a decision from the very start, we would start at Point Blanc and move forward.
Johnson: That’s actually really interesting, just starting with the second book. Everything usually starts with the first book.
Horowitz: I wrote Point Blanc before Stormbreaker. When I began, this series was years ago, I actually thought the first book was going to be Point Blanc, and then I changed my mind at the end of it and wrote Stormbreaker and pushed that out first. So, in fact, we have gone in the correct order of what I wrote all those years ago.
Johnson: That’s excellent. I did not know that. Otto, did you read the books when you were younger?
Farrant: Yeah, I did. I wasn’t a big reader. When I was younger. I was sort of more of a mathematician, I guess. But I loved Alex Rider, my siblings would read them. And I’d pick up the books. And I remember I had a copy of Point Blanc. And I remember reading it for the first time and Point Blanc was my favorite of all the books because I love the snowboarding scenes. I love being in the mountains. So yeah, when the opportunity came up on that and when I heard that they were making a series, I jumped at the chance.
Johnson: My sister and I read the books together, so I can connect with that. She wasn’t a big reader either. And she really enjoyed them.
Farrant: That’s it, they had something for everyone. That’s why they’re so great. They’re such a great series, and they’ve been so successful in that so many people can relate to these characters and, and they’re just so much fun. They’re so much fun to read at any age.
Johnson: They’re very cinematic. I love that about them. Anthony, what will excite fans of the original books, like me? I already know this because I’ve seen some of the series, but what will excite them about the new show?
Horowitz: I mean, you know, we have the best Alex we could have got, and I think they’re gonna be quite surprised at Tom, Tom Harris, a very small character in the books who has been elevated into Alex’s best friend, and a wonderful performance by Brenock O’Connor there, I think people are going to enjoy that. I think people are going to really respond to how true this adaptation is to my books and to my vision of the world. And we’ve got wonderful actors like Stephen Dillane as Alan Blunt, and Vicky McClure as Mrs. Jones. All absolutely nailing what I put into those books. And we’ve got the biggest chase scene I wrote, you know, we do that with a lot of production value. But the snowboard chase down the mountain in episode six is really worth seeing. I think people, and certainly in the United Kingdom, where the show has already come out–one of the things that’s made me happiest has been the fact that the fans of the books have been totally happy with this adaptation.
Johnson: When I first logged in to watch the series. I thought it was already out here in the US because it was already out in the UK. But yeah, it’s interesting. I’m glad the fans in the UK were excited. I’m sure the fans here will be excited too. Otto, what was your favorite part of shooting? Did you shoot in Romania?
Farrant: Very early on in the series, we shot in Romania, which, which is sort of later on in this series. We shot in Romania because we had to have snow. And I remember there was a day where I got to fly around the mountains in a helicopter, and they shot me and Ana Ularu there who plays Stellenbosch. And that was one of those moments where it was it was a “pinch me” kind of moment. I’m in a helicopter flying around mountains–this is incredible. So yeah, we did loads of action up there. And Romania is a beautiful country. It was great to be there as well. Yeah, it was really fun.
Johnson: Where else did you shoot? The UK too, right?
Farrant: We did. We shot in London, mainly in and around London. And a little bit in Slough. Like from The Office.
Johnson: That’s neat! If you get a second season, do you know which book is going to be adapted next?
Horowitz: All I can say is really, what can I say is that if it was my choice, I would probably go for Eagle Strike. Skeleton Key is number three in the series, but that takes us out of England. And if we move the show out of England for the second season, we lose Blunt and Mrs. Jones. I wouldn’t want to do that. I want to keep them in. I’d go for that or Scorpia but we’ll see because there are thirteen books. Hopefully, I’m in business for the next 13 years.
Johnson: I would look forward to a long-running series quality spy series. That would be excellent. Otto, how much of Alex is you? And how much is just Alex as written?
Farrant: For me, the way I approach my work is often that I think any role that I take on is you bringing an element of yourself to it, you’re bringing an essence of yourself, otherwise it doesn’t feel real. There’s a lot of aspects of Alex that I relate to, and I try to bring as much of myself to it as possible. I would say, yeah, that’s what that’s why I’d say I’d say that. There’s definitely core values of Alex from the books that I wanted to get right, you know, he’s reluctant to be a spy, and he has an incredible skill set. And he’s incredibly determined, but he’s also just a kid and he’s a normal kid. He’s an ordinary kid who just wants to go to parties and talk to people that he fancies and hangs out with his best mate. But he’s he also knows that actually, his skill set and his moral compass requires a lot more of him.
Johnson: Definitely. It’s interesting to see his journey over the course of the season. He changes, especially once he gets to school. They’re a bunch of thrilling episodes. I’m blown away by the school scenes. They’re really interesting and really dynamic. Anthony, I’m interested, what were some of your main influences when writing Alex Rider?
Horowitz: Well, I have to be honest and say that James Bond was a big influence on me, not just the movies, which were very important when I was growing up. They came out once a year when I was about 10 years old onwards. I also loved the books by Ian Fleming. So those were a big influence on the books, but at the same time, I always loved adventure writing in all its different forms and such. When coming up with the idea of doing a teenage spy, I had to work very hard to make it not like James Bond, I didn’t want to be seen as doing pastiche, or rip off or whatever. And you know, when we were making the show as well, nobody ever talked about Bond, you know, in terms of the production design, the size of the stunts, Alex’s character, and all the rest of it. We really wanted it to be our own world. But there are obvious influences like even Jason Bourne, and you go back actually to the Len Deighton books and films. Those were a big influence on me back in the sort of 60s–he was the original reluctant spy. There were lots of influences, but I hope at the end of the day originality.
Johnson: Did John le Carré have any influence on the books? You know, that sort of world of where you can’t trust anybody, where everybody is lying to you?
Horowitz: That very much is part of it, too. And le Carré of course is a huge force in the modern spy novel. There’s a little pinch of him in there, too. I think all writers grow up with so many different influences around us. I mean, look at something like Harry Potter, you know, there are 10 or 15 different books and films and shows that have gone into that character. He remains completely unique in itself. But you can still say, she must have read that, she must have seen this. I see and read an awful lot. And it all goes into my work.
Johnson: My favorite writers are the ones who consume everything they see.
Horowitz: If you want to write, if you want to be a writer, the first thing you have to do is read.
Johnson: Absolutely. Otto, I have one last question for you. What was your favorite scene to shoot? Or scenes?
Farrant: In terms of fun, I would say just hanging around with Brenock O’Connor–it was always fun doing scenes with him. And I felt very safe. In terms of–oh, it’s so hard. There’s a scene in episode eight, which is the last episode where I had to learn how to fight in a very specific way. I had to learn how to–yeah, I don’t want to spoil it. Can I spoil it or…? No, I don’t want to spoil it. It was a challenging thing, and it was really fun to film as well.
Alex Rider will arrive on Amazon’s free streaming platform, IMDb TV, on November 13th, 2020. Check out the trailer below!