From international best-selling novel to the small screen – Anthony Horowitz’s phenomenally successful YA book series “Alex Rider” has been adapted by writer Guy Burt into a thriller series that premiered on AXN.
“Alex Rider” tells the story of a normal London schoolboy, who is by his Uncle Ian. When Ian is killed on the job, Alex discovers that his uncle is actually a secret agent. Our reluctant hero is then pressured into becoming a spy for the British government.
Otto Farrant plays the titular character, while his best friend, Tom Harris, is portrayed by Brenock O’Connor. In this interview, the actors get candid about their characters, whether they’d make good spies in real life, and more.
How would you describe the show in three words?
Otto: I would describe the show in three words as ‘Thrilling’, ‘Exhilarating’ and ‘Epic’.
Brenock: I would say that “Alex Rider” is ‘Loud’, ‘Big’ and ‘Bold’.
Why should people watch this show right now?
Otto: I think the show has such a great balance of fantasy and reality and right now people need a bit of escapism, especially in the current situation in the world. We just need something to enjoy, that everyone can relate to, that is fun and exciting and thrilling.
Brenock: Right now I know I’m looking for anything to take my mind off of what’s going on in the real world and this is a glorious excuse to jump into a spy thriller mystery with an incredible young cast behind it. It’s great.
For those who are new to the Alex Rider stories, can you introduce who you play and your role in the story…
Otto: I play Alex Rider, who is the eponymous spy who is tasked with the mission of saving the world. He’s sort of a reluctant spy. He doesn’t want to be but he knows that he has to go and save the world because it’s the right thing to do.
Brenock: I’m Brenock O’Connor and I play Tom Harris, Alex’s best friend. Tom is just your standard 16-year-old doofus. He thinks he knows everything but he doesn’t. But he’s a sweetheart. There’s a real warmth behind him and he’s basically there with Alex through everything.
How do you think the show is going to appeal to fans of the books whilst also offering a slightly grittier take?
Otto: I think what we wanted to do was take the source material – the books which are so successful – and create a fresh new take and bring it to life on screen in that way which maybe appeals to a wider audience than the books. So what we’ve got is a show that you can watch with the whole family, that adults, kids, young adults, everyone can enjoy it because it has something for everyone. And like you said, it is gritty and it is a bit darker but it’s still got the same heart that the books do.
Brenock: “Alex Rider” has been around for 20 years. We’ve got these people who have had Alex in their lives for 20 years. They’ve grown up so the books that they love need to have grown up with them. It’s a beautiful way to bring the new fans who are reading the books for the first time now and the original fans who grew up on the books and were the first people to discover Alex, this show is a beautiful way to bring those two groups of fans together.
Otto, how was it getting to surf down a mountain on an ironing board?
Otto: Well, unfortunately I couldn’t do too much of it. I did a bit but because we shot that at the beginning of the shoot they were worried that I would break my leg or something bad would happen and I wouldn’t be able to shoot the rest of the series. So I couldn’t do as much as I would have liked to have done but what we’ve created and what the stunt guy created was this amazing sequence which I think really does the book justice. Our stunt man was Billy Morgan, the Olympic bronze medalist for Great Britain in snowboarding and he was just awesome so watching him snowboard was a treat.
Do you do any more cool stunts?
Otto: There are many stunts in the show. There’s going to be lots of fighting, there’s climbing, there’s snowboarding, there’s loads… You’ll just have to tune in and watch.
How was it doing the scenes with the other Point Blanc students?
Otto: We were so lucky because we had such a great cast all round in this show, so all the young people clicked really easily into a lovely group and we’ve still got a WhatsApp group which we all talk on and hopefully when this comes out we’re all going to celebrate together. It was great and I think the chemistry that we have in real life rubs off on screen.
How was it filming the scenes at Point Blanc?
Otto: That was really cool. I think what’s so interesting about the show is that every episode you’re in a different world, so you’re in Alex’s school at the beginning and then you’re undercover as a rich kid, and then you’re in the Point Blanc school. So you’re constantly thrown into different worlds that Alex has to adapt to and it’s going keep people on their toes.
Brenock, were you secretly thinking, ‘I wish I’d got that role’?
Brenock: No! I remember I read episode four and it was the first time that Tom hadn’t appeared and there were all these incredible new characters and a new school – and I was like, ‘Well, I’ve just been sent to the wrong school, haven’t I?’ But I sadly never got to work with any of the Point Blanc-ers, as we’ve affectionately called them, but they are some of the loveliest people I’ve ever had the chance to meet and they’re so incredible in this show. They’re brilliant.
Were there any ‘Wow’ moments on location?
Brenock: Yeah, we got to Bermondsey and I was like, ‘Wow’ [laughs].
Otto: Bermondsey was great. No, I actually did have those pinch-me moments with Romania because we went to Romania before we did the main shoot. And I can remember there was a day where I got to go and fly around in a helicopter around the mountains. It was one of those moments where you think, ‘OK, this is unfair, this is so ridiculous, it’s amazing’.
Do you think you’d make a good special agent in real life?
Otto: No. No. I would be bad! I’m really clumsy. I’m terrible at keeping secrets. Bren will tell you…
Brenock: Yeah, don’t give him any state secrets.
Brenock, are you a film geek like Tom?
Brenock: Not in [terms of] the same films. Tom’s film catalogue is a lot more well-versed and defined and sort of more classy than mine. I enjoy some simple pleasures, I enjoy some Hot Fuzz-es, some Shaun of The Dead-s, I love anything Richard Curtis, it will absolutely bring me to tears. But I’m yet to discover the Yojimbo-s and the Seven Samurai-s.
Can you relate to your respective characters?
Otto: Yes, I think definitely when we got these roles the director Andreas Prochaska said that he wanted us to try not to hide any of our personalities from it because one of the key reasons that he cast us as was he thought that we had a lot of the characteristics that the characters did.
Brenock: I feel that I’m basically playing 16-year-old me. It’s the same dude, he’s just slightly shorter, slightly more naive and slightly more open and willing to see goodness in others and not always have it brought back. It’s a gorgeous experience playing Tom, just great.
You have a great on-screen rapport. Was that there from the start?
Brenock: Yeah. We sort of just clicked in the waiting room at the audition. We went in with different Alexes and Toms for about six, seven hours and it was intense and it was long but whenever I went in with Otto, I was like, ‘Yeah, I feel like I’ve got a standing here and I feel like I’ve got a foundation that I can see how Tom is around this Alex’. It’s just very lucky or very well-planned from the powers above that we’ve been together this long and haven’t ripped each other’s heads off. We’ve been mates all the time.
Otto: That’s the correct answer, Brenock! No, likewise. It was a joy and a pleasure to share the screen with Bren and the whole experience. He’s been my rock throughout the whole thing and any day that was testing or gruelling or exhausting, Bren was always there to lighten it up and to bring joy, heart and genuinely I just loved being around him so I am so glad that that has translated onto screen.
So, mates for life or you’ve not decided yet?
Otto: Yeah, mates for life, at this point and forever.
What do you remember most about your own school days?
Otto: I had to save the world a few times, erm…
Brenock: I think it was once in Year Eight. No, my school wasn’t particularly nice so it was nice to get a chance to revisit that environment in a more enjoyable setting as a person who is more well-liked within the school community personally.
Otto: Yeah, you have such a journey through school because you’re growing up. I don’t feel like the same person that I was when I was at school so definitely exploring it from a new perspective with Alex was a joy.
How was it launching the show at last year’s London Comic-Con?
Brenock: I didn’t go but Otto did.
Otto: I did, yeah. I was blown away by the reaction, I was blown away by the costumes and the personalities there. I just think it’s such a great community of people – so positive, so exciting and I was so happy that they all reacted with such positivity to what we showed them.
Are you looking forward to the next Comic-Com, when it happens again?
Otto: Absolutely. I want to go to San Diego.
Brenock: If I could have been there last time I would have been, I was on another job sadly. But I love Comic-Cons. It’s just a big bunch of weirdoes in a room together and that’s exactly where I want to be.
The “Alex Rider” TV series airs on AXN, Astro Channel 701 every Tuesday at 9:45pm.