Jumping into the junior spy role, and doing his own stunts
He's not quite a junior James Bond, but Alex Rider has all the tricks and the moves of a young 007. In the film version of Anthony Horowitz's popular novel series, Alex Pettyfer plays the young British agent in Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker.
Out of 500 kids who auditioned, 15-year-old Alex was chosen; he knew the books, which definitely helped him in his preparation. "I read the books two months prior to getting the script in. I was nervous reading the script about bringing a character out of a book onto the screen. Obviously, it's a nerve-wracking thing to do, but I was excited."
Before even getting the part, he went through extensive training to build muscle and stamina. "When I was going through the audition process, I started going to the gym, because if I was lucky enough to get [it], Alex Rider is quite a muscular, bigger guy; I wanted to train up obviously and get prepared for the role. And also when I got the role I went into training for 3 weeks doing martial arts, kung fu, kick boxing, learning how to wheelie on a quad bike or whatever; it was quite an experience."
During the prep, Alex did suffer a minor injury. "I was actually training with a lovely woman called Eunice (Huthart), who was Angelina Jolie's stuntwoman and I thought she wasn't as tough as she was and I went in for a move and she got me in the knee. Actually I figured out it was a good omen, because I went to my former coach, who is an ex-SAS guy, and I created a bit of the character; I took a piece from him. Not an arm or a leg, just a piece of him towards Alex Rider."
Once he got the role, it was all about nailing down the character; Alex spoke with Anthony, who also wrote the screenplay, about who Alex Rider really is. "Yeah, I talked to him for about 3 hours. We sat down on my sofa and I was just talking to him and got some information from him. A book is like a door; you go into the imaginative world of a kid and I always see that kids see themselves as characters, so I really wanted to portray him as a normal guy. He's not a superhero, he's not someone who can fly and who is out of reach that you could be; children come out of the cinema and want to be a character until they see the next film. But I want people to come out and actually believe they could be that someone; and that's what I really took from the book, just being normal and people could relate to this guy."
On set, it was the action and stunt work that Alex was focused on - and he had a pretty good coach. "Donnie Yen was coordinating the martial arts sequences; I did all of them, but Donnie Yen brought his team on because they decided two days before to change the choreography to rope fighting. Also I thought it was good input because Alex Rider isn't an aggressive character, but he'd rather run. So they were going to take over and do this stunt and I watched them one day; and one day before the actual shoot I said, 'Give me one day to train and I'll do it. I don't care even if I look crap.' Because he's just picking up this thing from out of nowhere. And I did it in one day and I actually got quite good at it. I spent 8 hours, I think, training that day doing the neck rope stuff and they allowed me to do it the next day."
Some of his scenes took a lot of timing and practice. "The bike scene, a kid was asking me if I really did that or if it was blue screen? I said, 'No, it's like ballet, you need perfect timing. If I had accidentally gone astray I would have been run over; so it was all choreographed down to the split second and they were really against me doing it, along Chelsea Bridge, which also was another location we got lucky enough to use, but I did do it and I enjoyed it very much."
Since the movie has already opened over the pond, Alex has become the affection of some young female fans. "I got out of the car and obviously I had shaved my head from prior doing the film, just to change my image. My biggest fear was that there might be 5 or 6 kids there who just want an autograph and then I would walk in and do my press. I got out of the car and it was probably 3 seconds and 3,000 girls were screaming for me. It was quite a big shock, especially as I had never done any big feature films or anything big prior to Stormbreaker."
One of Alex's favorite scenes was with Missi Pyle and Bill Nighy. "When she's in that room and she first comes in and says, 'Are you ready to see Stormbreaker?' No one can see above her head, but two horns are above her head. No one can see it, but Bill Nighy goes, 'Not careful enough.' There is a statue behind him that goes like that as well. You miss all the funny jokes that aren't that visible, but if you are an actor and you've seen the set they are hilarious. It was all in the script; [Bill] created this character. We got him in the caravan to do makeup and he had already been there and I didn't know who he was and I didn't want to say much so I just sat down, and the first thing he said, he put his glasses on and he said, 'I look like my dad.' So it was quite funny to work with him as well; he's a great character."
Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker also stars Alicia Silverstone, Mickey Rourke, Sarah Bolger, and Ewen McGregor. It hits theaters October 13th; it's rated PG.