Alex Rider, the teen superspy series of novels that’s sold around 20M copies worldwide, is coming to the small screen in an eight-part series from Foyle’s War producer Eleventh Hour Films and Sony Pictures Television, with the Hollywood studio using a new funding model to set up the drama before taking it out to international buyers later this year.
The companies have unveiled the first trailer for the series, which stars Mrs Wilson’s Otto Farrant as the eponymous teen spy, and Deadline spoke to the team behind the project about its unusual origin story.
Created by author Anthony Horowitz, the first Alex Rider book Stormbreaker was published in 2000 and was later made into a feature film, directed by Geoffrey Sax, in 2006.
Horowitz teamed with Eleventh Hours Film, run by his wife Jill Green, to reboot it for television, taking the second book in the series, Point Blanc, and charting Rider on a journey from teenage London schoolboy to embarking on his first undercover mission in the French Alps.
Green told Deadline, “It began when Anthony saw what he called ‘big cinematic television.’ When Game of Thrones got made, he said ‘Now it would be possible to do Alex Rider’ in a more in-depth way, in a way that that the film never quite grasped with. That was the turning point for him.”
The Borgias and The Hole writer Guy Burt came on board to write a TV treatment. While the project was initially in development at ITV, the project became real when Sony Pictures Television came on board to finance the project in its entirety – funding it from its international distribution business without a commissioning broadcaster attached.
“We had a lot of interest in the brand from financiers to distributors and in the end, Sony were the ones that shouted the loudest and approached us and said ‘we want to make this’ and that was an irresistible offer. They wanted to take the risk and make this title and not sit and have it developed for years on end,” Green added.
Wayne Garvie, president of international production at Sony Pictures Television, said that the studio was interested to find a new route to market. He told Deadline that the company had previously made some spec series in Latin America, but wanted to look at other markets.
“Given what we know about the IP, we thought we should experiment and get behind it. We will fund this and take to the market once we’ve made it and see if we can launch it in a different way. You’ve got to spend a lot of money and do it properly. “It’s got to look as good as everything else. There is a risk attached but [President of Worldwide Distribution] Keith LeGoy got it and the Sony mothership provided unanimous support. This is the kind of show that if we’re going to maintain our position as an independent studio, we’ve got to experiment and try things out,” he said.
Garvie added that Sony wanted a “mixed portfolio” of shows including traditional linear commissions, projects with global streaming services and now this third route. But Garvie and the team were conscious that they didn’t want to make a kids’ shows. He said, “You need to make an adult show that kids will come in to watch. Our audience is 14+. They watch Stranger Things, they’re watching Netflix and Amazon and the BBC. If you made a children’s show, they’re not going to want to watch it. It has to have the production values of shows that they’re used to watching.”
Horowitz admitted that he was nervous about “getting it wrong.”
“Turning books into television and films is always tricky. Unlike film, you cannot make children’s television on a sensible and serious budget so it had to be made more adult, it had to have a much wider appeal. The books were always written as adult books for kids, they’re YA fiction. It was one of the reasons I chose not to write it. It needed a fresh pair of eyes and a degree of seriousness, to make it edgy and dark without alienating young audience,” he said.
Eleventh Hour Films executive producer Eve Gutierrez said that writer Burt was faithful to the material but has “taken it to another level,” and that, “He’s really got the teenage world but in an accessible, wider way.”
One of the ways that he did this was to build out the other characters in the novel, many of which are much more involved than in the books.
Game of Thrones star Brenock O’Connor stars as Alex Rider’s jovial best friend Tom, while The Tunnel’s Stephen Dillane plays Alan Blunt, who commands The Department, a secret underworld offshoot of MI6, and Line of Duty’s Vicky McClure plays Blunt’s second-in-command Mrs Jones, seeking to keep Alex from danger where possible.
Elsewhere, Broadchurch’s Andrew Buchan stars as Ian Rider, his detached uncle and reluctant guardian, Doctor Who’s Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo plays Alex’s housekeeper Jack Starbright, and Bohemian Rhapsody’s Ace Bhatti and Casual’s Nyasha Hatendi also star.
Gutierrez said, “The books are written from Alex’s point of view, so Guy had to find ways to bring alive the dark story that Alex goes on, and bringing to life the individual characters, who were written as minor characters on the page.”
“When you have actors of the quality of Vicky Mclure and Stephan Dillane, you don’t just want to see them in a room pushing buttons, you need to invent stories and areas to upgrade them,” Horowitz added.
The Foyle’s War creator paid tribute to young actor Farrant in the role. “He’s good-looking but not like a movie star; he doesn’t look like a Marvel hero, he looks like an English school boy, yet he does amazing things, which suits the character.”
The series was directed by Das Boot and The Dark Valley director Andreas Prochaska, with Garvie highlighting his particular skill at getting the best out of young actors.
The team has already started to plot out which book may make for the second season, if the show is successful with Horowitz considering a London setting for the next iteration.
Green added that it is now looking forward to taking out completed episodes to buyers, both linear broadcasters and streaming services. “What we’re doing is creating a brand and a series that we hope will continue on and we need to make sure we’re making all the right decisions that will last and have a longevity but without the specificity of which audience will be watching.”