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    Coming-of-age story meets spy thriller in British import ‘Alex Rider’

    At one point in “Alex Rider,” the floppy-haired teenager snowboards down a mountain with an ironing board strapped to his feet. It’s at once a preposterous parody of spy movies, where the good guy always has seemingly endless skills, and the perfect representation of a high-schooler thrust into a world of madness.

    The British show, based on Anthony Horowitz’s bestselling book series and premiering Friday on IMDb TV, follows the eponymous character who finds himself dragged into a subdivision of MI6 after his uncle dies.


    “The whole point of Alex as a character is he’s a reluctant spy; he doesn’t want to do this. What he really wants to do is be an ordinary teenage kid,” show creator Guy Burt told the Daily News.

    “It was really important to show that part of his life ... before we dump him into this weird world of international espionage.”

    Otto Farrant stars as Alex Rider.
    Otto Farrant stars as Alex Rider. (Des Willie/Sony Pictures Television)

    Otto Farrant, the 23-year-old British actor who plays Alex, grew up on the 13-novel series, the first of which was published in 2000. For him, he could have been Alex, barring the mysterious death of an uncle and a spy agency who recruited him to infiltrate an elite boarding school, Point Blanc.

    “He’s just a normal kid,” Farrant told The News. “He does everything that normal kids do. He’s just trying to find his place in the world.”

    The eight-episode first season bounces back and forth between Alex’s real life, with his best friend Tom (Brenock O’Connor) and caretaker Jack (Ronk? Adékolu?jo), and his spy world, with the head of special ops played by “Game of Thrones” alum Stephen Dillane and a handler (Vicky McClure) who sees him as a replaceable operative. He’s battling assassins and pop quizzes.

    The first season of “Alex Rider” takes most of its plot from the second book in the book series, but Burt adapted some of the story to make it a show “not just for the boys.”

    Alex finds himself dragged into the spy world by Mrs. Jones (Vicky McClure), who takes over as his handler after his uncle dies.
    Alex finds himself dragged into the spy world by Mrs. Jones (Vicky McClure), who takes over as his handler after his uncle dies. (Des Willie/Sony Pictures Television)

    Burt’s children, one 13 and the other 11, were his inspiration for the show. Both are fans of the original series but looking for more.

    “I wanted to do something that’s fresh and contemporary and about a teenage action hero,” he told The News. “The books have all the plot you need, but we had to find the characters, their voices, those moments of vulnerability that come with being a teenager.”

    Some of the expanded world was as simple as introducing female classmates, like Kyra, a hacker at the elite boarding school Alex infiltrates. Some, for Farrant, was about pushing Alex beyond a surface-level character to one who publicly, openly struggles.

    “There’s such an issue with toxic masculinity right now that I think young men, and young people in general, it’s just so important for them to know how to communicate and express themselves and their emotions, because it can be damaging otherwise,” Farrant told The News.

    Stephen Dillane plays Alan Blunt, head of the Department of Special Operations.
    Stephen Dillane plays Alan Blunt, head of the Department of Special Operations. (Des Willie/Sony Pictures Television)

    “The more role models we can get out there who are in touch with their emotions and not afraid of themselves, the better the world that we live in.”

    To prepare, Farrant studied Jason Bourne and brushed up on Quentin Tarantino movies. He watched “Sicario.” He grew up watching James Bond, so he didn’t need much of a refresher there. But Burt, who talked about a “secret fascination with the Cold War,” wanted to make more than a generic spy flick. By putting a teenager at the heart of his tale, he gave Alex Rider room to grow.

    “I want young people to question authority ... don’t just blindly follow what adults are telling you,” he told The News.

    “You are more capable than you think you are. We may not all be superheroes or secret agents or spies but you are capable. If you’re a teenager and you’re feeling disenfranchised, there’s more that you can do.”

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