When Otto Farrant was reading the million-selling Alex Rider books as a pre-teen in the early-2010s, he was going through a somewhat similar journey to the young spy he quickly grew to idolise. In the books, Rider leaves his normal life behind when he is thrust prematurely into the ‘real world’, forced to grow up at an accelerated rate.
Farrant, then 11, was beginning his career as an actor, hand-picked from school for productions at The National Theatre, the Young Vic, Shakespeare’s Globe and more. At the time, Otto related strongly to Rider, whose exploits in Anthony Horowitz’s novels saw him struggle to survive in a very adult environment. Of course, the rising actor might have connected with his fictional hero, but he never dreamt he’d one day portray him on screen.
However, landing the main role in Amazon Prime Video‘s TV adaptation of the 2001 Point Blanc ended up feeling quite natural. Leading a gritty, modern version of the children’s classic alongside Brenock O’Connor (Game Of Thrones), Vicky McClure (Line Of Duty) and Stephen Dillane (The Hours, Game Of Thrones), Farrant’s performance helps to give the story a much-needed makeover after its cinematic debut in 2006’s blockbuster flop Stormbreaker.
We caught up with Farrant via Zoom to hear how the makers of this new Alex Rider adaptation are making up for lost time.
The Alex Rider books were loved by so many British millennials – were you as obsessed with them as everybody else?
“I wasn’t a big reader when I was a kid, but Alex Rider was one of the only series’ that I did read. That and Noughts And Crosses. I can remember being about 12. Point Blanc was the book that I always loved most, so when I found out that they were making that book into the series, it was one of those ‘pinch me’ moments.”
The show is about teenagers, but will people in their late ‘20s who read the books two decades ago still be able to connect?
“We wanted to breathe new life into [the story] so that it could appeal to all audiences, no matter what age you are. It’s got a dark edge, it’s action-packed, it’s gritty and thrilling. For younger people who are about 11 or 12, it’s on that cusp of being a little bit grown up that they’ll want to watch it even more, but not so grown up that they’re not allowed to.”
Did Anthony Horowitz give you any advice on the role ahead of filming?
“He took me and Brenock O’Connor, who plays Tom, out for lunch at the beginning, and just said, ‘Look, go ahead and make something great.’ He didn’t want to be too heavily involved in the creative process, and he definitely gave us the support to go out and breathe new life into it.”
Media portrayals of masculinity have changed a lot since the books came out – does the show tap into that?
“I’m really glad you asked about that. In the modern age, there’s so much more support for men and talking about their feelings, sensitivities and vulnerabilities. I think what’s great about Alex Rider is that he wears his heart on his sleeve a little bit. Andreas Prochaska, the director of the first four episodes, asked me to be as ‘me’ as possible. I’m someone who struggles quite a lot to hide my feelings, so that was definitely part of the process.”
There’s a great scene in episode two where you scream lyrics to a Jake Bugg song over heavy metal while being interrogated – did you choose the song?
“It was originally going to be Nirvana‘s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Andreas asked me to go into a quiet place, and I used my car, and gave me a list of about six songs, and told me to play the music really loud and do a little self-tape. I was in my car, screaming along to these different songs with heavy metal music in the background for about two hours. I showed some people the videos, and they said, ‘Wow, you look like you’re really on the edge there!’ And Jake Bugg was the one that fit.”
Lockdown means everyone’s stuck indoors – is Alex Rider just what they need right now?
“I think the world needs a bit of escapism at the moment, and the show is the perfect balance between reality and fantasy. It’s the kind of show that, whatever age you are, you can enjoy it, because it’s a hero… it’s a normal kid who becomes a hero. I think we need a bit of that at the moment.”
Alex Rider launches on Amazon Prime Video on June 4.