Athletic, daring, loyal and a born rule breaker, teenage super-spy Alex Rider is a hero to a generation of young readers.
But he’s also just a schoolboy, and that’s what makes him such an irresistible and unique Special Agent – every young reader can imagine himself in Alex’s shoes.
And soon, every viewer will be able to do so when an eight-part TV series launches on Amazon Prime next month.
Fans of the 13-pound series, written by Midsomer Murders screenwriter Anthony Horowitz, will know that Alex is recruited by an obscure branch of Britain’s security services to take on the pillars of organized crime and megalomaniacs bent on destroying the world.
And it is his boyish enthusiasm, as much as his bravery and intelligence, that wins the day.
Alex (Otto Farrant) in action alongside Private SAS Wolf (Howard Charles) in the teenage super spy series Alex Rider
For Anthony, finding an actor to play Alex was almost impossible. He had to be blond and handsome, sure, but he also needed a vulnerability – Alex is an orphan who lives with his uncle Ian and their housekeeper Jack Starbright after his parents were killed in a plane crash .
“The casting was a long process,” explains Anthony. “More than 600 young actors have been seen for the role.
“They weren’t all from drama schools. Whoever qualified for the last four had never performed in anything larger than a school play.
“Finally, it all came down to one day when we had six candidates for Alex, six for his best friend Tom and six for his housekeeper Jack.
“They were all great – but it was all about chemistry when the good three got together. I will never forget that moment … everyone in the room looked at each other thinking, “We have them!”
Advance Otto Farrant as Alex. He is already known to BBC1 viewers thanks to the drama Mrs Wilson, in which he plays Nigel, the son of actress Ruth Wilson in a true story about his own grandmother.
Alex Rider is written by Midsomer Murders screenwriter Anthony Horowitz, pictured
Although Otto is 20, he is no more than 16 (Alex is 14 in the books). Brenock O’Connor, also 20 and better known as Olly in Game Of Thrones, stars as Tom, while Ronke Adekoluejo will appear as Jack.
The relationship between the two boys was crucial, as Tom plays a much bigger role on television than in books.
“Tom and Alex are really good friends, you can tell right away – and the two actors have formed a real friendship too,” says Anthony. “It shines in every scene.
“On screen, Alex’s school is completely believable. It was important, because I knew he had to go to a public school, not a public school like me.
“I made the conscious decision that he would be very different from me. So the script had to show Alex as a student before he was a spy, and that meant his school had to be realistic, but still exciting.
Alex has been seen onscreen before, of course, in the film adaptation of the first book Stormbreaker in 2006, with Alex Pettyfer in the lead role.
But the film failed to launch a franchise after only gaining limited theatrical release in the United States.
The new series was adapted from the second novel Point Blanc. “The TV series is closer to the spirit of the books,” says Anthony.
“I would have loved to see more movies, but these days a hit TV series is seen by more people in more countries than anything but the biggest blockbuster in cinema. I’m happy to do this now that the television has come of age.
Alex has been seen onscreen before, of course, in the film adaptation of the first book Stormbreaker in 2006, with Alex Pettyfer in the lead role (pictured)
The high production values mean that the onscreen action can finally match what he sees in his imagination.
High-speed TV chases used to mean “a car knocking over a trash can,” says Anthony, but that has all changed. “A shiny and expensive look is a must for platforms such as Amazon.”
Otto discovered it during a snowboarding streak in the Alps – with Alex escaping from Point Blanc, a graduation school for psychotic kids of billionaires.
WEINSTEIN IS MY REGRET
Anthony Horowitz speaks at 100 mph, but the pace picks up if you mention Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, the former Miramax boss who is currently serving a 23-year prison sentence for rape and sexual assault.
“If I could go back and change one thing, I would quit Harvey as the producer of the Alex Rider movie Stormbreaker in 2006.
I’ve actually met him twice in my life, the first time on a movie I wrote called The Gathering, and both times he was a malicious influence, a really nasty man.
“Weinstein’s modus operandi was to make distribution and advertising promises that he would break.
“That way he wielded tremendous power without having to invest a lot of money.
“He knew if he broke a contract it would take you five years to sue him, and by the time he went to court, the charges would have made you bankrupt.”
“I don’t mean to say that his business crimes were as serious as what he did to so many women, but I won’t pretend I was sorry to see him jailed.
“He was a force for evil in everything he touched. If there’s one thing I regret, it’s meeting Harvey Weinstein … twice. ‘
“He’s a very athletic actor and he was annoyed that he couldn’t do all of his stunts,” says Anthony.
“But in the last episode, there is so much action and fighting that he was wiped out. I’ve never seen an actor this close to exhaustion – he really threw himself into it. ‘
The young cast is balanced by top UK talent, including fellow Game Of Thrones star Stephen Dillane as the menacing leader of a spy unit known as The Department, and Vicky McClure as Assistant Mrs. Jones (‘I’ve always been a Line Of Duty fan,’ says Anthony, ‘so I was thrilled when she took on the role’).
Andrew Buchan of Broadchurch is Alex’s mysterious uncle Ian, while Howard Charles (liar) plays unit leader SAS Wolf.
For Anthony, seeing his characters made real by such stars is a lesson in humility. ‘I was blown away – just’ Wow! ‘ I was amazed that they managed to capture the essence of the books while making them appealing to a more adult audience. ‘
This is crucial, he says, because his original readers are now two decades older. “The challenge was to embrace older viewers without depriving younger ones of their rights.
“It means keeping swearing to a minimum, for example, like I do in the books. And Alex doesn’t carry a gun – that’s important to me.
Anthony has never hidden his distaste for his own school days, although he says regular visits to talk to schools have been one of the favorite parts of his job. ‘I don’t go to school!
“But I went to a hideous, very nasty and damaging prep school. And I come from a somewhat strange family background.
This environment was rich but racketeering. Her father died in the late 1970s, leaving a pile of debt and a fortune in a numbered Swiss bank account.
Neither the number nor the name of the bank could be found, and the family had to sell virtually everything they owned.
Anthony, then 22, started writing, and his first children’s novel was published a few years later in 1979.
Since then, there has been a flow of books and TV shows, most notably the detective series Foyle’s War during WWII.
Vicky McClure was chosen as her deputy Mrs. Jones. “I’ve always been a Line Of Duty fan,” says Anthony, “so I was thrilled when she accepted the role”
He was also named successor to Ian Fleming and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writing novels starring James Bond (Trigger Mortis) and Sherlock Holmes (The House Of Silk).
But it was Alex Rider who marked the biggest turning point in his career when Stormbreaker was released in 2000.
Until then, he says, many of his tales had elements of autobiography and even therapy.
“I had problems as a kid, but I have solved them all in my previous books. The day I started writing about Alex, I stopped writing about my own issues and blockages. ‘
The next big challenge is deciding what to do next if the series gets a second series, before Otto and Brenock get too old to play schoolchildren.
“Time is running out, even though I spoke to Otto via Zoom the other day and he looks five years younger – the lockdown has to be right for him.
“We’re going to have to figure out how to do an action streak while maintaining social distancing.”
Meanwhile, Anthony is in negotiations to write another Bond novel and is working on a bunch of new ideas.
“For me, the secret to a writing career is to keep pushing myself to do things I’ve never done before… and not to be afraid of falling prone.”
All eight episodes of Alex Rider will be available on Amazon Prime Video on June 4 (to watch on TV, phone or tablet, see amazon.co.uk/piv).