Reluctant teen hero Alex Rider has no time to waste: there are billionaires to take down, after all. Now streaming on Starzplay, the new ‘Alex Rider’ series based on the beloved British espionage books by Anthony Harrowitz, follows the eponymous protagonist as he gets roped into a murky sub-division of the MI6 run by Alan Blunt (Game of Thrones’ Stephen Dallane) to complete top secret missions.
Starring Otto Farrant as Rider himself and GoT’s Brenock O’Conor as his eccentric best friend Tom Harris, the show sees Rider transform from your everyday British school lad into an undercover spy enrolled at a remote boarding school in the French Alps. Here are ten things to know about the show - and why author Harrowitz loves it.
1. Many grew up on the popular espionage books over the past decade
The eight-episode series is a modern take on the popular British spy novels by Anthony Harrowitz: 13 books released over a 10 year period (2000-2020) Written primarily for a teen and young adult audience, the first book ‘Stormbreaker’ follows as Alex discovers that his uncle Ian has been killed in a car crash; Alex is then recruited by the MI6 to help complete Ian’s final mission, which is to investigate a multimillionaire named Herod Sayle and his revolutionary technological invention, a computer called Stormbreaker. Soon Alex discovers Sayle’s intentions are twisted and must intervene before anyone gets hurt.
2. The show draws from the second book ‘Point Blanc’
Released a year after the first book, ‘Point Blanc’ is the book that inspired the majority of season one of ‘Alex Rider’. But of course, the show kicks off where the books did, too, with Alex discovering his uncle’s death. However, in the show (unlike the books), Ian is shown to be a spy, rather than a bank worker. Things are modernised, too, so in the show, Alex enlists a phone app and the help of his best friend Tom to find his uncle’s crashed car.
3. ‘Stormbreaker’ film adaptation was a flop in 2006, but the series is a hit
Critics have compared this new version of Alex Rider to the ‘teen version of James Bond’ and James Bourne, so it’s safe to say it’s already leaps and bounds from the box office disaster of ‘Stormbreaker’ 15 years ago. The flopped film, starring Alex Pettyfer as Rider, made just over half its $40 million budget at the box office and its planned sequels were canned amongst the poor reception. Harrowitz called the film his greatest disappointment. “I didn’t hate it, but it should have been the first of 10 and it wasn’t,” he said, adding that the books didn’t translate well to the big screen. Now, however, his books have a new chance to shine — this time on the small screen.
4. The show introduces a new female character, Kyra
Showrunners didn’t only modernise the show in terms of plot devices — but also in terms of characters. That’s why they added a brand new female character, Kyra (Marli Siu), that doesn’t show up in the books. Screenwriter Guy Burt has said that the intention behind Kyra’s inclusion was to create a female character who wasn’t simply a love interest or a one-dimensional throwaway, but someone who was important to the story. Burt also said he was inspired by the idea of a young version of Lisbeth Salander, the protagonist of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’.
5. Lead actor Otto Farrant had to get a bit too physical
During action-packed sequences, Farrant struggled to get his hand-eye coordination under control despite rigorous training — and learning how to climb. “I had to scale a building in the show. I’m quite athletic anyway, I go running, I swim,” he said at NYCC. “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. I elbowed Brenock in the face in one take. And then also the stunt guy, which I felt really awful about.”
6. Harrowitz is an exec producer and thinks Farrant as is Alex “wonderful”
The original author loved Farrant's depiction of his teen hero. “He is absolutely wonderful. [The audience] may be surprised that Tom, who is Alex’s best friend in the books, has been elevated. He’s played by young actor, Brenock O’Connor, and he’s got much more screen time than he ever gets in the books; but the relationship between the two boys is really wonderful and enjoyable and you’ll have fun being with them,” he told the Amazon Book Review, adding: “ think people are going to be surprised by how adult the show is … This is real family entertainment with a dark and serious edge to it.”
7. Filming is ongoing for season two featuring book #4 ‘Eagle Strike’
While filming for season one took place in London and Romania (which stood in for the French Alps), the cast are already onto season two. Delayed by Covid-19 restrictions, shooting began in February with a reported five-month Bristol shoot. Toby Stephens has joined the show as the villainous tech billionaire Damian Cray (from book #4, 'Eagle Strike'). “My son loves the Alex Rider books so it’s lovely to be a part of something that he recognises and enjoys — and it’s been a while since I played a good nemesis, so I’m really looking forward being the bad guy and going toe-to-toe with Alex Rider,” said Stephens.