Tag Archives: Otto Farrant

Ones to Watch: Actors

DQ casts its eye over a range of upcoming series from around the world and picks out 20 actors to tune in for, from Zoë Kravitz in Hulu’s High Fidelity to Marcel Rodriguez in German series Dignity.

20. Kai Ko
The Taiwanese actor and singer is making his television debut in what has been dubbed Taiwan’s most expensive drama ever. Described by producers as an ‘Asian Constantine,’ fantasy crime thriller Agent from Above is based on the book of the same name and tells the story of supernatural crime-fighter Han Jie, who is serving as a heavenly agent on Earth and must defeat demons and solve crimes in order to atone for his sins. The six-part series is expected to cost NT$30m (US$1m) per episode.

19. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson
Recognisable from Icelandic drama Trapped and countless English-language series, including The Widow, NOS4A2, Emerald City and The Missing, Ólafsson is now set to star in Icelandic political drama The Minister. He plays Benedikt Ríkhardsson, a politician with a unique approach to politics as he rides a wave of discontent to become the country’s prime minister – all while hiding the fact he suffers from bipolar disorder.

18. Shira Haas
With credits including Harem and The Conductor, Israeli actor Haas takes the lead in Unorthodox, a four-part miniseries from showrunner Anna Winger (the Deutschland series) in which a young ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman in New York flees her arranged marriage and religious community to start a new life in Berlin. The series explores female emancipation, identity and sexuality through the experience of a unique young woman, Haas’s Esther.

17. Anthony Mackie
Television appearances are few and far between on Mackie’s CV, but 2020 is going to be different. First, the actor stars in the second season of Netflix’s Altered Carbon, set in a future where a person’s memory and consciousness can be transferred between different bodies, known as ‘sleeves.’ He plays Takeshi Kovacs, a character portrayed by Joel Kinnaman in season one but with Mackie now serving as the character’s host body in its second run. Meanwhile, following his success as Sam Wilson (aka The Falcon) in Marvel’s Avenger films, Mackie will reprise the role in Disney+’s upcoming series The Falcon & the Winter Soldier, which picks up after Sam was handed Captain America’s shield at the end of Avengers: Endgame.

16. Sian Clifford
The Emmy-nominated actor starred in Fleabag alongside Phoebe Waller-Bridge, bringing to life the title character’s tense, uptight and high-achieving sister Claire with a performance that was one of the best things about the series. Having previously appeared in period drama Vanity Fair, Clifford will next be seen in Quiz, a three-part miniseries that dramatises how Charles and Diana Ingram (Matthew Macfadyen and Clifford) attempted to cheat their way to the top prize on gameshow Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. She will also star alongside Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams in Sky comedy Two Weeks To Live, about a daughter who steps away from her mother’s life of seclusion and survival techniques and sets out into the real world.

15. Eve Hewson
Irish actor Hewson will already be familiar to US viewers after starring in medical period drama The Knick. This year she joins Eva Green in The Luminaries, based on Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel. Hewson plays young adventurer Anna Wetherell, who begins a new life in New Zealand, set against the backdrop of the 1860s gold rush in a story of love, murder and revenge. She will also appear in Netflix psychological thriller Behind Her Eyes, about an unconventional love triangle that reveals a dangerous web of secrets.

14. Otto Farrant
After an extensive casting search that scoured agents, schools and drama groups, Farrant was chosen to step into the shoes of Alex Rider in a small-screen adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s novels about the young spy. Some 14 years after Rider appeared in movie Stormbreaker, Farrant brings energy and charm to this story, based on the novel Point Blanc, of a schoolboy who discovers he has been secretly trained as a spy and is then sent on undercover by a shadowy government agency.

13. Zoë Kravitz
In a cast that boasted Hollywood heavyweights such as Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Meryl Street, arguably the breakout performance in HBO’s hit series Big Little Lies came from Zoë Kravitz. Her career has been built on film roles in Mad Max: Fury Road, X-Men: First Class and the Divergent series, while she will soon play Catwoman in upcoming movie The Batman. For now, though, she is starring in High Fidelity (pictured top), the Hulu series based on Nick Hornby’s novel that flips the lead character’s gender to introduce Kravitz as Rob, the owner of a record store who revisits past relationships through music and pop culture, while trying to get over her one true love.

12. Joanna Kulig
Polish star Kulig takes centre stage, literally, in The Eddy, Netflix’s vibrant Parisian drama about the titular nightclub from director Damian Chazelle (La La Land). As Maja, the singer of the house band and the on/off girlfriend of club owner Elliot (Andre Holland), Kulig’s conflicted performance gives an extra edge to the drama as Elliot’s personal and professional worlds quickly begin to unravel.

11. Russell Tovey
Tovey has grown up on British screens, notably starring in the History Boys stage show and its subsequent movie adaptation and then supernatural drama Being Human. Last year, he was a key member of the cast of Russell T Davies’ dystopian family saga Years & Years, while in 2020 he has already appeared in Flesh & Blood, playing one of three siblings suspicious of their widowed mother’s new love interest. Tovey’s character shines a light on toxic masculinity, addiction and the struggle of a father separated from his wife and children. Later this year, he will take the lead in Because the Night, a four-part story about a man trying to escape his past, written by Neil Cross (Luther).

10. Juno Temple
The English actor’s film credits include Killer Joe, Black Mass, The Other Boleyn Girl and Atonement, as well as US TV series Vinyl and Dirty John. This year she will headline Little Birds, a visually enticing Sky Atlantic series set in the hedonistic environs of 1950s Tangier. Temple’s character, New York heiress Lucy Savage, is given the chance to flee her gilded cage and embark on a moving and provocative journey towards freedom and independence.

9. Marcel Rodriguez
Having played roles in 7 Days Berlin and Der Barcelona Krimi, Rodriguez now fronts political thriller Dignity, the first original drama for fledgling German streaming platform Joyn, which is inspired by the true story of German sect Colonia Dignidad in Chile. He plays federal prosecutor Leo Ramírez, who is tasked with bringing the group’s elusive leader and former Nazi soldier Paul Schaefer to justice – though his mission is clouded by his own secret history with Colonia.

8. Sonoya Mizuno
The Japanese-born British actor has become a regular cast member in Alex Garland’s beautifully shot and realised sci-fi dramas. Having appeared in the writer/director’s movies Ex Machina and Annihilation, Mizuno now leads audiences through the complex themes of Garland’s BBC and FX series Devs, a thriller set against the backdrop of a giant tech company and its messianic leader. In an emotionally taut and nuanced performance, she plays Lily, who is investigating the apparent suicide of her boyfriend.

7. Aaron Pedersen
The Aboriginal actor became one of Australia’s biggest stars on the back of roles in shows such as Jack Irish, The Circuit, City Homicide and The Code, with recent credits including period drama A Place to Call Home, political thriller Total Control and supernatural mystery The Gloaming. But it’s his towering performances as Detective Jay Swan with which Pedersen has become most synonymous, first in films Mystery Road and sequel Goldstone and then in the Mystery Road series that bridges the two movies and brings Indigenous stories to a mainstream audience. Season two airs this year.

6. Josefin Asplund
Swedish actor Asplund has a list of credits familiar to many international viewers, from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Vikings and Arne Dahl to Ingen Utan Skuld (Conspiracy of Silence) and Sanctuary. Next she will star in Top Dog, a series based on Jens Lapidus’s novels, as lawyer Emily Jansson, a hard-working careerist who comes together with ex-criminal Teddy Maksumic (Alexej Manvelov) to solve a mysterious disappearance.

5. Tahar Rahim
Rahim broke into television in European crime drama The Last Panthers, before playing a CIA agent in Amazon drama The Looming Tower. This year, he stars in Netflix music drama The Eddy as Farid (right), one of the struggling nightclub’s owners who may be involved in some questions practices, before leading the cast of BBC drama The Serpent. The latter is based on real events and sees Rahim play Charles Sobhraj, the chief suspect in the unsolved murders of young Western travellers across India, Thailand and Nepal’s ‘Hippie Trail’ in 1975 and 1976, who repeatedly avoided capture to become Interpol’s most wanted man.

4. Gugu Mbatha-Raw
The UK-born actor began her career with appearances in British series such as Spooks and Doctor Who, before a breakout performance as Kelly in acclaimed Black Mirror episode San Junipero. More recently, she played a pivotal role in Apple TV+’s standout series The Morning Show, portraying the show-within-a-show’s head booker Hannah, a character whose traumatic experience goes on to shape the series’ powerful #MeToo storyline. From one new streaming service to another, Mbatha-Raw’s next television series will be Loki, the Disney+ drama based on the Asgardian villain from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

3. Laura Smet
From the team behind Dix Pour Cent (Call My Agent) comes La Garçonne, in which French star Smet (Les Corps Impatients, The Bridesmaid) plays Louise Kerlac. In Paris in 1920, Kerlac witnesses the murder of a relative by government agents who want to blame her. She subsequently poses as a man to join the police under her brother’s identity as a means to investigate the killing, drawing her into the dark underbelly of high society and bohemian Parisian nightlife.

2. Adam Pålsson
Stepping into the shoes of police officer Kurt Wallander, a role already made famous by Rolf Lassgård, Krister Henriksson and Kenneth Branagh, is no easy task. But that’s next up for Swedish actor Pålsson, best known for roles in The Bridge, Moscow Noir and Before We Die, who will appear this year in Netflix original series Young Wallander. Inspired by Henning Mankell’s detective, the English-language series is set in contemporary Sweden and sees the young Wallander investigate his first case as a recently graduated police officer in his early 20s.

1. Yvonne Strahovski
The Australian actor is best known as Serena Joy in the harrowing adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale. She can now be seen on screen with an equally emotional and complex performance in six-part Australian drama Stateless. Strahovski plays Sofie, an air hostess who, after fleeing a performance cult that initially captivates her before leaving her on the brink of a breakdown, surfaces at an on-shore detention centre. Under a new German identity, Sofie’s experience is shown alongside that of an Afghan refugee, a prison guard and a bureaucrat who all come under unprecedented pressure.

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Easy Rider

Anthony Horowitz’s teen super spy Alex Rider is coming to television in an eight-part series drawn from the writer’s hit novel series. DQ went back to school to visit the set.

In a hazy, smoke-filled school corridor, a blond-haired teenager is hurtling down a passageway. Shadows dance on the dimly lit walls as he charges along, his jacket lifting behind him, while a camera positioned on a moving platform captures him in full flight.

It’s not clear what he’s running from – or to – but the arrival on set of a group of ‘agents’ carrying guns suggest this isn’t your average school day. But then, since he was recruited by a shadowy government agency to work as a spy, no day has quite been the same in the life of Alex Rider.

Fifteen years after Anthony Horowitz’s literary character made the leap to the big screen in 2006’s Stormbreaker, Alex Rider will land on the small screen in an eight-part adventure of the same name produced by Eleventh Hour Films (EHF) and Sony Pictures Television (SPT).

Taking its lead from Horowitz’s second Rider novel, Point Blanc, the series sees the teenager learn that his recently deceased uncle, who unbeknown to him was a secret agent, had been surreptitiously training him his whole life to follow in his footsteps.

Anthony Horowitz

Then when clandestine MI6 offshoot The Department calls Alex up, the reluctant spy is sent undercover to the Point Blanc Academy, deep in the French Alps. Here he must uncover the sinister truth behind this exclusive boarding school, which is home to the troubled children of parents who run successful global businesses.

Otto Farrant stars as Rider, with Brenock O’Connor as his best friend Tom. At The Department, Stephen Dillane plays Alan Blunt, while Vicky McClure is his second-in-command, Mrs Jones, and Ace Bhatti is John Crawley.

Unusually, the series has been financed and produced without a commissioning broadcaster, with distributor SPT now shopping the coming-of-age drama worldwide for a 2020 broadcast. Horowitz previously partnered with EHF – where his wife, Jill Green, is CEO – on crime dramas Foyle’s War and New Blood, and exec producer Eve Gutierrez says she had been tracking the availability of his Alex Rider novels for some time.

“The world has changed so much since Stormbreaker that we realised there is now this huge TV landscape opening up and a desire for things that are more ambitious,” Gutierrez explains on the school set where Alex and Tom both attend lessons.

“That coincided with the rights situation clarifying itself and us being able to then start conversations more seriously with Anthony about what we might do with it and how it might evolve for the screen.”

As well as admiring the books’ story of an ordinary person becoming a hero, Gutierrez noted the popularity of series such as Stranger Things, in which children and teenagers are forced into adult situations, and saw an opportunity to bring the young spy to TV.

Whereas the books are predominantly aimed at a young-adult audience, however, writer Guy Burt has endeavoured to broaden Alex Rider’s appeal to viewers beyond that demographic. To emphasise the point that this isn’t a kids’ series, Austrian director Andreas Prochaska (Das Boot) was brought in to lead the show’s visual style alongside second-block director Christopher Smith.

“The books are written very much from Alex’s point of view, while the other characters are very peripheral in his world,” Gutierrez notes.

“So we have opened up all the other characters that exist in his world, particularly the characters who work at The Department, played by Vicky and Stephen, and also Jack, the girl who shares Alex and his uncle’s home and was a nanny when she originally joined them. She’s more a housekeeper to them now and provides a 20-something point of view of the world.”

Otto Farrant (left) and Brenock O’Connor as Alex Rider and his best friend Tom

The intensive six-month shoot began in March 2019 on location in the Romanian mountains, which doubled for the French Alps and the location of the Point Blanc academy.

The site was so remote that cast and crew had to use skidoos to reach the set, while the first few weeks of shooting involved several action-packed stunts, including a sequence from the book where Alex snowboards down the mountain on an ironing board.

“I was seriously intimidated by the prospect of bringing this sequence to life in Romania, a country I’d never shot in before,” admits series producer Matt Chaplin. “This iconic sequence was first up in the entire shoot, the first thing Otto had to do.

“We very quickly identified Romania as the place to do it. They have a film-friendly infrastructure, the right climate and topography, and had the right location to use as the basis for Point Blanc, which we are enhancing with effects.

“Then we set about figuring out how we would get 100 people up to the top of the mountain, shoot safely and then get them down again. The Romanian people we were working with were just brilliant. I’d go back there in a heartbeat.”

Filming then resumed in London for five months, in locations including Bermondsey, Crouch End, the South Bank and the Shard. Hornsey Town Hall was used for interiors of Point Blanc.

To find the right actor to play Alex, the production team embarked on an extensive search across the UK, scouring schools, drama groups and theatre schools. All the leading candidates were seen at least twice by the casting team, with the role open to candidates from anywhere and of any ethnicity. “We even had a girl turn up to the open casting demanding to know why Alex Rider couldn’t be a girl,” says Chaplin. “It’s a valid question.”

Ronke Adekoluejo (right) plays Jack, the Rider family’s housekeeper

Eventually, Farrant (Mrs Wilson, The White Queen) was selected for the role, with the producers convinced he could convey the emotional depth required to take Alex from an ordinary boy to an extraordinary hero across the series.

Speaking during a break in production, Farrant describes a vigorous week filming stunts at the West London school location for the climactic eighth episode. A demanding training regime before shooting started, incorporating running, Tae Kwon-do and Israeli martial art Krav Maga, has kept him in good stead for the gruelling schedule.

“It’s been a real test of endurance,” Farrant admits. “It’s a big job; it’s not something I’ve done before so it’s been really useful to take that [training] experience and put that into the work. I hope that reflects on screen.”

Farrant puts Alex’s literary popularity down to his relatability. “He’s a normal kid – he goes to parties, he has trouble with girls. He’s just a typical teenager,” he says.

“Then you throw in this world of espionage he has to navigate and he’s out of his depth. He really has to dig deep to essentially save the world. That is such a cool and epic story. I don’t think we’re telling a story of someone who has it easy, we’re telling a story of someone who really has to fight to save himself and save his friends.”

Part of Farrant’s task has been the aforementioned emotional journey, as Alex confronts the loss of his uncle, as well as lying to his friends and seeing his two worlds collide. “So you do see the struggle he goes through as a kid, becoming a man throughout all this turmoil,” he continues.

“He has to dig deep to find out who he is and how he fits into this world and the world of spies. He has to readjust throughout the series. That’s why it’s interesting to watch.”

British Olympic snowboarder Billy Morgan doubled for Farrant in some of the iron-boarding scenes, though the actor says he has tried to do as many stunts as the production team would let him. However, insurance practicalities prevented him from later joining Morgan on the slopes.

Farrant was keen to do stunts himself where possible

“I’m happy to do them and I love doing them. It’s a welcome relief from some of the more intense emotional sides of the character,” Farrant explains. “It’s actually quite cathartic doing those stunts. Mostly, I’ve done my own stunts bar some big hits and the snowboarding, because there’s some big hits in the snowboarding. Those guys were insane!”

Meanwhile, Alex’s best friend Tom has been given a beefed-up role in comparison to the books, where he doesn’t feature until further down the line. “There wasn’t a great deal on the page, so one of Guy’s fantastic contributions to this is that Tom is essentially his character,” says Gutierrez. “The relationship between Tom and Alex is one of my favourite things in the show.”

Tom is one of the few people to know about Alex’s double life, providing someone to whom the title character can reveal his worries about his covert activities.

“He’s definitely there to support Alex going through whatever it is he’s going through,” says O’Connor, best known for playing Olly in Game of Thrones. “From a human standpoint, Tom’s best mate loses an uncle very early on in the story. If your best mate at 16 loses his parental guardian, it’s a horrendous trauma, so that’s what Tom’s role is in the early part, to be the support to that, and then there happens to be some spy stuff along the way.”

It’s not all deep and meaningful, however. “For the first couple of episodes, all I do is pop up occasionally, say something sarcastic and then disappear again,” he jokes.

“It’s been such an easy ride for me. It gets messy – you don’t get to be friends with a super spy and get away with it. But I really love Tom, he’s exactly like I was at 16. He thinks he’s cool as hell and really isn’t. Tom’s very relatable to me; there’s very little acting required.”

The other person to learn about Alex’s secret spy games is Jack Starbright, played by Ronke Adekoluejo (Been So Long). Arriving in the UK from the US to study, she becomes a housekeeper in the Rider household, growing up alongside Alex.

Scenes set in the Alps were filmed in the mountains of Romania

In the beginning, Alex lies to Jack about his new role, struggling with the deception that comes with his secret life. She puts their changing relationship down to his growing pains as a teenager, until she learns there’s something bigger behind it.

“Obviously, discovering he’s a spy is a bit much to handle,” Adekoluejo says. “It doesn’t quite make sense. There was a child before and now there’s a spy. She definitely doesn’t approve. It’s a very dangerous profession!”

Keeping her role in the series quiet proved to be her own secret mission, particularly when she began borrowing the novels from her younger brother. But Adekoluejo says his excitement, and that of her younger, female cousins, means she is now even more thrilled to be a part of the show.

“We all have the desire to be the best version of ourselves and to save the day, whether it’s our own day, our family day or the world,” she says of the reasons for title character’s popularity. “So because Alex is so ordinary and very much a representation of us in our day-to-day lives, when you see him go on to become a super spy and save all these people, even though you might not admit it, you think you could do it too.”

With a dozen Alex Rider novels to draw from – the 13th will be published in 2020 – Gutierrez says there’s hope the series can run for several seasons. And as superhero films and series continue to dominate the screen, there’s something refreshing about watching Alex Rider save the world. “It’s so normal,” O’Connor adds.

“He’s just a normal kid in a normal school – and then he fights a supervillain!”


Have you met Mrs Jones?
Best known for starring roles in Shane Meadows’ gritty This is England franchise and Jed Mercurio’s hard-hitting police corruption series Line of Duty, Vicky McClure doesn’t often get to introduce younger members of her family to her work.

Clockwise from left: Vicky McClure in Alex Rider, Mother’s Day, Line of Duty and This is England ’86

So when the opportunity to star in Alex Rider came along, she immediately sought the advice of her 11-year-old nephew.

“I wasn’t familiar with the books, just because I’m not the demographic to have read them. But I asked my nephew and he knew exactly what they were,” McClure tells DQ on set, her hair in rollers ahead of the day’s shoot. “He’s been on a school trip while I’m shooting this where the theme was Alex Rider, so he was a big reason for doing this. I don’t think he’s really ever been able to watch anything I’m in because the majority of what I do is fairly dark. And the success of the books and the writers and the involvement of everyone in it – it seemed really exciting.”

McClure plays Mrs Jones, second-in-command of The Department, the shady organisation that recruits Alex. The actor describes her character as “very headstrong and probably slightly frustrated with certain decisions that get made.” Her relationship with Alex, however, is less business and more personal, with Mrs Jones adopting a nurturing role towards the teen spy.

“She does have this concern for him,” McClure says. “If it was an adult they were putting in that position, I don’t think she’d feel quite the same, but there’s a history there as to why she’s concerned for Alex’s welfare. He’s a child and he’s being put into situations and scenarios that are really dangerous, and part of the reason he’s in those positions is because of her part in The Department. There’s that element of responsibility.”

McClure says she always likes to push her characters’ hairstyles and costumes to the extreme, hence the rollers, so that she can change her appearance between series while remaining believable.

“[Line of Duty’s] Kate Fleming has got quite a distinct look, Lol [in This is England] has quite a distinct look, and it was the same for my character in [fact-based single drama] Mother’s Day,” she explains. “All these different roles I’ve done all have quite distinctive looks, so I’m always up for making sure there’s something to play with. Mrs Jones is very suited so I’m in predominantly in suits, which is fine by me.”

But why does she think Anthony Horowitz’s young hero appeals to so many readers, particularly youngsters? McClure points to the chance to escape reality within the pages of the novels, which also offer adventure, excitement and some humour.

“The scripts and the writing are brilliant – it’s a page-turner – and you could see there’s something we can all play with,” she says. “It doesn’t have to have blood and guts everywhere to make it exciting. It can still be exciting without those elements in it, so it’s quite safe but, in the same breath, there is violence, there are fights. There’s a lot at stake.”

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