‘Alex Rider’ author Anthony Horowitz on season 2: “It’s a really interesting mix”

Otto Farrant as Alex Rider.
Caly Johnson

With 14 books already cemented as popular literature across many age groups and a 15th installment on its way, ‘Alex Rider’ author Anthony Horowitz has been keeping busy — and we haven’t even mentioned the hit TV show.

When Horowitz was first approached about making his series, which follows teenaged spy Alex around the UK and the globe, into a fit for the silver screen, he jumped in. But only at the right opportunity. Bringing beloved characters to life, and experiences once held on a page to a set, is a large task (hence the not-so-successful 2006 movie). But this go-around, it worked.

Season 1 of the IMDb TV series was a huge success, and now in season 2, the stakes are higher for young Rider [Otto Farrant] who was recruited in season 1 by MI6. It was also revealed in the freshman season that his uncle and guardian (who was also a spy) was killed, and MI6 covered up his murder — so Rider has a lot to process, all while now saddling up for new threats in cyber territories.

It’s a rollercoaster ride once again with more action, more production, and more hard-hitting scenes, but it’s still the same Alex Rider you’ve grown to love from the books—and Horowitz made sure of that.

The author sat down with Metro to discuss more on what went into making Alex Rider season 2.

Caly Johnson

What were your thoughts at the beginning of ‘Alex Rider’ becoming a TV show?

I had many people interested, but Sony came in in a very unique way and offered to finance the entire tv series without a buyer. It’s actually unheard of, and it was a real demonstration of faith in the product—of course it was a gamble that paid off because it was such a hit, and here we are in season 2. The fact that they wanted to finance it showed me they were very serious about the project, they clearly loved the books. I have to say, the company that made it—Eleventh Hour Films—is partially owned by Sony, and my wife [Jill Green] owns that company. So it was keeping it very close to home and it allowed me to be confident that whatever happened in the show, I would be able to be part of that process. It mattered to me. A TV show could be great or could be terrible, but the books would always be there. I was just very lucky that the series was great and as a result of that, I’ve seen a real spike in the sales of the books. The TV show is introducing new readers to Alex Rider and to the stories. 14 books out there another one on its way next year, so for me, I couldn’t be happier.

You worked with screenwriter Guy Burt on the adaption process, what were some characteristics of the book and of Alex that you wanted to make sure came across on screen?

I worked very close with Guy Burt and I’m very, very happy with the work and the job that he’s done. We have such a great relationship that we can talk and we can disagree or we could do what he wants to do… For example, the character of Smoking Mirror in season 2 and this whole Cyberworld — that’s his and actually not mine, but I love it and I went with it and contributed to it. I have two hats on: I’m an executive producer but I’m also the creator-author of the books, so, for [another] example, there was a scene that was given where Alex had a gun…I remember saying no, the whole point of Alex is he never has a gun. I never wanted Alex to use bad language ever either, although I have no particular feeling about swearing, I know a lot of parents and teachers are not happy with that. Therefore in the books, he’s never sworn. So, little tiny things like that might seem tiny, but they mattered to me. The great thing about Guy is he’s very collegiate, we understand each other completely and we never had to fight. We would just discuss and make changes, or I would back down in other cases too.

How would you describe the character of Alex Rider?
I think the great thing about Alex Rider is his reluctance to be a spy, his reluctance to be a hero, and his desire to have an ordinary life. He’s somebody who finds that ordinary life is an illusion and he’s been lied to since he was a baby. He finds himself having to come to terms with a world he doesn’t understand, and he also has to save himself and save the world at the same time—and it’s not easy.

Was the cast that was picked what you would have imagined? 

We looked at 600 kids before we cast Otto Farrant as Alex. I remember, it wasn’t just him but at the very end of the casting process, we had six Alexs, six Jacks, and six Toms and they were all playing against each other with different auditions and combinations… Finally, we got Ronke (Adekoluejo), Brenock (O’Connor), and Otto in a room. I tell you there were 12 people in that room—suits and executives—and everyone knew we had found our three. [They] just had this extraordinary chemistry and I think in season 2 that really takes off. Jack (played by Adekoluejo) is still part of the story even though she’s developing a world of her own and a career of her own, she gets drawn into the adventure reluctantly herself, and Tom (played by O’Connor) is still the best friend. They’re inseparable. When I write the books now, Tom is suddenly a big character and when I write that character, I’m always thinking of Brenock— he’s a wonderful actor. With Otto, I have not met a young actor who has so much going on behind his eyes and who brings so much intensity to the part, and who clearly is so connected to Alex’s emotions and emotional state. It’s remarkable to see and I think you see it in the second season all the way through.

Ronke Adekoluejo as Jack.Caly Johnson

What would you tell people to expect from the 2nd season? Where is Alex’s journey going?

I think Alex in season 1 had to come to terms pretty fast with the fact that he had been lied to and that he was not going to have an ordinary life…He was going to get thrown into these extraordinary adventures and then somehow he was going to have to find the resources in himself to confront all the things that he did. The second season, he has to come to terms with how this has affected him. He’s been shot at, he’s seen people die, he’s realized his uncle all his life was lying to him, and the person he thought he was, he isn’t. This has had a serious and destabilizing effect on him, as well as trying to save the world in this season, he’s also having to save himself. I think that’s quite interesting and in Otto’s performance, it’s certainly that sense of being on a precipice.

Are there any aspects of season 2 that you’re most excited for audiences to get to see unfold on screen?

The video game is outstanding and the graphics are really wonderful, and the sequence in which Alex finds himself more or less inside the video game has to be seen to be believed. The other thing is this show has some extraordinary action sequences and the climax—and I won’t say where it happens—but the climax is wondrous, I still don’t quite know how they managed to pull it off. But I love some of the subplots: I love the cyber characters, Smoking Mirror, and the whole business in hacking into the Pentagon. So, I think it’s a really interesting mix this year of big action, a lot of story, but also a lot of psychiatry and psychology too.

Season 2 of ‘Alex Rider’ premieres Dec. 3rd on IMDb TV