International espionage is a lonely business. Global superspies rarely enjoy the everyday comfort of family and friends. When the people you love can be used against you, personal attachment presents a risk. It’s why you never see James Bond swapping memes on a ‘Steve’s 40th’ WhatsApp group or hitting Nando’s with his five-a-side mates. To spy is to be alone.
Even teen agent Alex Rider, recruited by MI6 aged 14 in the hit Anthony Horowitz book series, is isolated from his peers. Alex’s world-saving adventures take him away from school and his social circle. The friends he does have are few and far between, schoolmate Tom Harris popping up in only three of the 14 Alex Rider novels.
In Sony’s new eight-part Alex Rider series, out now on Amazon Prime UK, that’s been tweaked. Tom’s character has been expanded and written into the events of Point Blanc, the second book in the series, on which the show is based.
Played by Game of Thrones’ Brenock O’Connor (young Olly in the Night’s Watch), Tom is Alex’s non-spy bestie. He’s a film buff and comic book fan, and very much a regular teenage boy. He’s there, says O’Connor, to serve “as the perfect example of what makes Alex special” by comparison. “Tom is so naïve and trusting and walks into stupid situations and gets himself into danger that Alex just wouldn’t.”
Alex is played by Otto Farrant (Mrs Wilson, War & Peace) as a slightly aged-up version of the book character. Raised by his spy uncle who secretly equipped him with the skills of an intelligence agent from childhood, Alex is trained in combat, but his real super-powers, says Farrant, are his instincts and moral compass. When he’s reluctantly recruited by British Intelligence, “he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he knows it’s the right thing to do.”
Fans of the books shouldn’t expect to see many of Alex’s trademark spy gadgets in the TV series. “You do see some!” Farrant tells Den of Geek. “But what I will says is that Alex’s biggest ‘gadget’, his biggest strength is his instinct. He relies on that far more than he relies on material gadgets that he’s given.” The character’s sense of right and wrong is his greatest quality in the series, says Farrant, not the books’ cartoony metal-dissolving acne cream say, or yo-yo-grappling hook.
TV show Alex is “just a normal kid” thrown into an extraordinary situation, explains Farrant. “He’s doing all the normal things that kids do like fancying a girl and trying to talk to her at a party, or chilling with his mate.”
His mate agrees. “It’s just two teenage boys with no idea what’s going on in the world trying to get on with their day-to-day,” says O’Connor, “and suddenly this whole other world is thrown on them.”
“It’s a story about a boy growing up and having to work out who to trust,” explains Farrant. “Alex has a very small circle of people that he trusts. He has [his uncle’s housekeeper] Jack and he has Tom, essentially.”
Tom and Alex’s friendship, O’Connor feels, is a more truthful representation of how teenage boys relate to each other than is often seen on screen. “There is this outlook from the media that all teenage boys are just goofy. Sometimes there’s some trauma in there, but there’s mainly just goofiness. These boys feel very human. It’s such a pure, boyish brotherhood.”
“It’s such a beautiful thing to see real strong male friendships on screen,” he continues. “It’s such a gorgeous thing to have, especially between younger men. They’re not afraid of showing their weaknesses. There are plenty of times when you don’t think Alex is going to make it and you see that Alex is struggling and you see that Tom is struggling in the situation. It’s a real, lovely, genuine male friendship that needs to be shown more on screen.”
Does Tom feel eclipsed by Alex’s adventurous secret mission or want to get more involved in the series’ action scenes. “Nah!” says O’Connor. “It was put best in a line where Tom says ‘He does the fighting, I do the witty lines.’ There are a few times where you see Tom get in the thick of it, he gets a little involved,” he hints. “I’ve got some moments.”
One particularly memorable ‘moment’ to film, both agree, arrives in the final episode. “There’s a big, big, big scene coming in the final ep,” says O’Connor. “I think it will forever be one of my favourite things to shoot ever. It was a joy. The final episode, it goes off.”
Farrant teases “I know what scene Brenock is talking about. It was hard to film. It was in a library, that’s all I’m going to say.”
Expect to be visually blown away, says O’Connor. “In the library, you will walk away going ‘hang on, how, how was that shot?’ I was, and I was there watching it being shot!” he laughs. “It’s Alex and Tom saving the world, and it’s really cool!”
Alex Rider launches on Amazon Prime Video on 4th June.