If you’re looking for a fun, suspenseful, and fast-paced spy-thriller binge watch, then you should definitely check out the IMDb TV original series Alex Rider, based on the best-selling book franchise. After the suspicious death of the man who raised him, London-based teenager Alex Rider (Otto Farrant) is told by mysterious secret agents that his home life has essentially all been a lie, and that his supposed banker uncle was actually a spy. The reveal propels him into a world of espionage and assassins, as he digs deeper on an undercover mission that quickly turns life-or-death.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, British actor Otto Farrant talked about how excited he is to jump back into the series for Season 2, the joy of getting to learn new skills for this role, having to shoot some footage for later episodes before the scripts were actually written, playing someone who’s part James Bond and part MacGyver, his own favorite Bond movie, why he’d love to play a Bond villain, the coolest action sequence he got to do, and what he learned from the experience of making this show.
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 1 finale of Alex Rider.]
Collider: Congratulations on the second season pick-up. There is closure to the story that’s being told this season, but it also leaves things open so that you could see where it could go in the future. Have you already had conversations about where things will be going in the second season and what’s next for your character? Do you know anything yet, or are you still kind of in the dark with all of that?
OTTO FARRANT: What’s great is that I’m getting drip-fed bits of information about Season 2 because we’re not far away from jumping in with it. Everything that I’m hearing is that there’s going to be loads more action and new skills I’ve got to learn, which I’m really excited about. Some of the most fun I had in Season 1 was learning these new skills, like Krav Maga and snowboarding and climbing, and all of those sorts of things. Part of the joy of this job is that you get to learn new skills that you never thought you’d actually get to try or never even thought about trying. So, I can’t wait to see what Season 2 brings, in that regard.
When it came to the first season, how much did they tell you ahead of time? Did you know what the full Season 1 arc was going to be, or did you just get a general idea?
FARRANT: That’s actually a really good question and not many people have asked me that question in interviews that I’ve done. I’ll tell you a funny story. They gave me four scripts at the beginning of Season 1, just before we started shooting. I had them for about six weeks before we did our first shoot in Romania for the exterior of Point Blanc. But what we were shooting in Romania was all of Episodes 5, 6 and 7, and the scripts hadn’t been written yet. We were essentially filming things that had not yet even come to light on the page, which was a real challenge, trying to get inside a character when I don’t think I had a single line for the first two weeks of the shoot because it was all action.
That was useful, in some ways, but it was strange because I didn’t know that much. I didn’t know the full arc of what the story was going to be or how different it would be from the books. I’d read the books. It was a surprise to me. Like Alex, I was thrown in the deep end. This is a much bigger job than anything I’ve ever done before and I just had to get on a snowboard and see where I ended up.
I would imagine that, as an actor, you want to prepare for a character, but at the same time, it’s hard to prepare for a character when you don’t really know where he’s going or where he’ll end up.
FARRANT: Yeah, it’s a really strange thing. In some ways, it taught me a lot because I realized that there’s only so much preparation you can do before you just have to jump in, like Alex. That’s why I say that I was on a similar journey to the character, which was quite useful. He’s constantly just reacting and using his instincts to go in the right direction, and it was the same for me. I had to very quickly learn to trust my instincts because you’re given so much information so quickly that you’re essentially problem-solving at such a fast rate that your brain has to function at a much higher speed, which was great. I loved it. I really thrive in that kind of challenging situation, but it does make for a very intense six month shoot.
You said that you’d read the books, and you also have a season of playing the character now, so you have a better sense of what he’s capable of. Is there anything that you personally would like to see happen with him or that you’d like to see him do?
FARRANT: Yeah. It’s interesting because we always talk about how Alex’s superpower is his instincts. He’s a pretty normal kid. He just has good instincts and follows them, and he’s obviously trained. I think it would be interesting to watch a kid who can’t trust his instincts as much. I think that would be an interesting way to go. He’s quite traumatized by the whole experience of Season 1, so that would be interesting to play with. If you take away his superpower, how does he function? There are 13 books or something, so that’s a lot material to explore. I would love to spend more time learning and growing with the other characters around me, like Tom and Kyra and Jack and Mrs. Jones. I loved those scenes with those guys, so I’d love to just explore that those relationships more.
This character is very much part James Bond and part MacGyver. Who is your favorite James Bond — and do you have a favorite James Bond film?
FARRANT: Yeah, I do have a favorite James Bond. I grew up watching Daniel Craig, and I loved Casino Royale. I can’t tell you why. It just hits me in my heartstrings. I love that relationship between him and Eva Green. I think their chemistry is unreal. And Mads Mikkelsen is awesome in that film. But there are loads of good [Bond films].
If you were ever faced with the opportunity to play James Bond or a James Bond villain, which would you personally rather do?
FARRANT: Oh, that’s such a good question. I love your questions. I’ve played one spy in my life, so I’d go for the villain. I feel like villains are sometimes more interesting than heroes because they’re more extreme. Heroes just clean things up. Villains have got a bit of an edge to them. I feel like playing a villain would be really cool. I’m firmly in the category of thinking that Bond has run its course with the womanizing white man role. I don’t want to be that guy. I’d love to be a villain.
With this character being a spy, there are some dangerous action sequences in this show. What was the coolest thing that you actually got to do, and what was a sequence that you were disappointed that you couldn’t do yourself?
FARRANT: The sequence that I was really disappointed I couldn’t actually do was snowboarding down the mountain on the ironing board. They wouldn’t let me do that, weirdly enough. I have no idea why. Apparently, it’s dangerous, so I couldn’t do that. And then, the coolest thing I got to do, and the thing that I had the most fun doing, was probably the fight sequence in the final episode, where I fight a clone of myself. I had to learn two sides of that fight sequence and perform both of them for the camera, and that was really cool. I really had fun doing that. I got really into the fighting. I probably got a bit too into the fighting and had to cool off.
You had a pretty long audition process for this role. When you’re going through that, is it challenging to keep yourself from becoming too attached to the role before you know whether or not you’ll get to do it?
FARRANT: In my audition process, which spanned about two and a half months, I didn’t even want to believe that I was going to get the job because I think it would have hurt more to not get it. I remember putting in so much work to get the job. I really worked my socks off for it. And even when I was down to the last two lads going in, I was sitting in the audition room with Brenock [O’Connor] and Ronke [Adekoluejo] and I remember thinking that it felt like it was going my way, and then I thought, “Nah, you just cannot, for one second, think that’s going to be the case.” That mentality, in terms of when you’re trying to get a job, is a little bit dangerous because you can get a little bit too big for your boots and you can expect too much. I’ve had enough jobs where it’s been so close and then you don’t get it. I really, really didn’t want to get too attached, but when I got the job, I was over the moon because I knew how much work I’d put in to get it.
What was the first day on set? How does it feel to walk onto a set as the title character and number one on the callsheet? What sort of tone did you want to set for the rest of the cast and crew?
FARRANT: The honest answer is that I was absolutely terrified, but I wasn’t just terrified, I was also trying to be very focused on the work, as well. I was really excited. It’s this weird cocktail of emotions where you’ve got genuine fear, excitement, nervousness, and all of these different things. Luckily, I had a great team surrounding me, so I just got to feel very comfortable, very quickly. But it was weird because I wasn’t actually surrounded by any of the cast, on my first day of filming. I was out in Romania, shooting exterior sequences on the mountain. It was a strange one. The day that we started shooting in London felt much more like a real first day because I had Ronke Adekoluejo with me and I was doing the scene where Alex finds out his uncle is dead. It was really intense, but it was quite a nice one to start off with because it was like, “Okay, let’s kill this one. Let’s smash this one out of the park, and then we can move on and just keep that momentum going.” It was a great time.
There’s such an interesting trio with Alex, Tom, and Jack. What did you enjoy about exploring the dynamic between those three and getting to play a little bit of normalcy when he’s not being a spy with them?
FARRANT: Those are the real fun things for me, that isn’t the action stuff. Those are the real joyous moments I had. I love those two, as human beings. They’re just great friends, as well as fantastic actors. We all said, as soon as we met each other in the audition, that it felt very natural and organic to bounce off of each other. I can’t say anything more than it was just great. It was really, really fun. I think that translates on screen. When you’re watching it back, you can see that there’s fun being had between the three of us, which isn’t always the case on jobs. Sometimes on jobs, you’re there and it’s very serious. We wanted to be very focused, but also have fun with it because if we have fun, the audience is going to have fun.
When do you do a project like this, where you’re playing the title character, you’re the center of the story, and you’re also doing all of these new things, what do you learn about yourself, as an actor, from the experience of making this show?
FARRANT: I learned so much. To put it into words is really hard. I learned that I really can trust my instincts. I really believe that. That’s one of the keys to my job sometimes, just making sure I’m prepared, but also just trying to let that go and feel what feels right, in that moment in the scene. I learned that, for me, my best tools and the things that help me unlock a scene are the other people. Whoever is with you, I see how my energy bounces off of that energy, and then focus on how to make that the best possible scene, using that spark. And I learned that I can carry the stress and pressure of a franchise which is global. I can do it. It’s hard, but it’s a challenge that I’ve fulfilled, and I’m super proud of myself for doing that.
Alex Rider is available to stream at IMDb TV, through Amazon Prime Video.
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