Interview with the Stormbreaker cast and crew...
Stormbreaker is the first in what is sure to be a successful movie franchise, recounting the adventures of Anthony Horowitz's teenage spy hero Alex Rider. Alex has so far appeared in six bestselling novels, and this transition from page to screen has been eagerly anticipated by fans around the world. They will not be disappointed.
Anthony Horowitz - whose other works include Foyle's War - adapted the novel for the screen himself. The director is Geoffrey Sax, who directed the UK number 1 box office hit movie White Noise.
Alex Pettyfer makes his feature debut as Alex Rider having won acclaim for hisperformance in the ITV adaptation of Tom Brown's Schooldays. His hopes for 2006 presumablycomprise a good box office showing for Stormbreaker and some positive GCSE results.
Are you prepared for this role to make you a heartthrob for teenage girls everywhere?
I don't think about that yet. But hopefully, touch wood.
How did you get the role?
I was the first person they saw, and oddly enough the last person too. I went through this gruelling process of audition after audition. I finally got to the stage where I thought I couldn't face another one, but that was when they offered me the role. It was fantastic, a great opportunity.
Were you already a fan of Anthony Horowitz's books?
I was, I'd read Stormbreaker and Point Blanc and thought they were both great. Anthonyis a terrific writer and he made the screenplay for Stormbreaker even better than the book.
Describe some of the things you get to do in the film?
How many days can you drive a quad bike at 70 miles an hour on a runway, with about 40 assorted vehicles chasing you and firing machine guns at you? And then there was a 120 mph cargo helicopter coming towards me, and I had to skid as it went over and shoot a thing that would pull me 120 foot into the air. That was the biggest adrenaline rush.
There must have been an adrenaline rush too working with your illustrious co-stars, wasn't there?
In my eyes they're some of the best actors working today, people like Bill Nighy andMickey Rourke and Ewan McGregor. It was fantastic to work with such a great cast and a fantastic crew. I learnt so much from them.
Away from the screen what do you enjoy best at school?
Everything, I love PE, I love English. You've got to take school with a knock on the chin because it's gearing you up for real life.
Skiing, tennis, all round sports. That's what set me up for the physical side of Alex.But there were so many physical things that he has to do in the movie that I still had to train pretty hard.
Is acting something you want to continue when you leave school?
Of course, I love it. I love bringing characters to life, I love what I do.
What are the downsides to the job?
You have to sleep sometime. With acting I always want stay awake and keep at it.
Geoffrey, does working for the small screen equate to shooting a feature?
It really does. To my mind when you're a director you're telling a story whatever medium you're in. With TV there always used to be the tyranny of having to have lots ofclose ups. Well now with 40 or 50 inch screens TV is becoming more like film, and someof the high end TV is absolutely as good as some feature films. And in terms of approachingit as a director it really is exactly the same. You're always mindful when you're doing something for the big screen that you have to have big screen moments, but apart from that the discipline is, I would say, the same.
Didn't you shoot many key Stormbreaker scenes on the Isle of Man?
We did, and it worked well. It was doubling for Cornwall. Obviously the chase at the beginning was meant to be Port Tallon. And all the stuff when Alex goes into that complex and he looks down and sees Darrius Sayle at the bottom, that was actually filmed at the Isle of Man incinerator. We were there for the best part of a week. And the exterior was also the Isle of Man incinerator which we replicated. So there was actually only one building but we made it look like we had half a dozen or so.
You actually shot a motorbike chase on the famous island TT route then?
Exactly, it was all very motorbike friendly. On the coast road we painted our own white lines in to make it look faster on camera, we did about a mile of those, and a lot of that was where the TT is held every year.
Do you find with a location like that it becomes harder to find an unspoilt bit to film?
With everything you do you just have to approach it for your film and make it work for your film. Certainly the incinerator I've never seen before, that was a real find. I'm not sure whether they've filmed in there before or not, but that was like a million dollars worth of set, it was on such a scale. We made it look like Alex was coming into it from above, like it was a subterranean facility. When he looked like he was on ground level we had to get to the top of the building and look down.
You also made use of some familiar London locations, didn't you?
We had an amazing location manager, Jane Soans, and she seemed to be able to talk her way into anywhere. She got the co-operation of the police, the City, the horseguards and God knows what. Her whole thing is if you don't ask you don't get. We managed to close the Albert Bridge for the whole of a Sunday. And on another Sunday we closed Piccadilly for four hours in order to film the horse chase. We caused all sorts of chaos. We had to put our own vehicles in, we had about 60 cars, taxis and buses in there, because obviously you can't let a horse charge up through normal traffic. We got tremendous co-operation. I wonder if, because so many kids read the books, that the people in these positions of authority knew the books and were therefore quite willing to help out.
Bill Nighy delivers another scene stealing performance here, even eating
a biscuit he manages to get a laugh.
As soon as you cut to Bill Nighy you start laughing, don't you? That biscuit scene was amazing, funnily enough, because the laughter it got drowned out what was happening next. You go from the munching of the biscuit into boots marching in the training camp, but the audience laughed and drowned that out. It was literally a last minute idea on the set, I asked the prop man if he had any biscuits, and of course you give Bill a comedy moment and he gives you so much more than you expect."
Damian Lewis plays your bad guy, and has to hang upside down from a helicopter on a couple of occasions. Was he literally hanging upside down?
He was. We did that in Pinewood with the green screen behind him and we added the backgrounds later. He was up and down, up and down for about three hours. When we brought him back and straightened him out his face looked fairly odd for a while, like his skin had sagged. But he was game for it, he was another trooper. You couldn't really wish for a nicer cast than we had.
Alex Pettyfer is quite a discovery, he really holds the screen playing Alex Rider doesn't he?
If you look at the trailer, when the teacher says 'Alex Rider have you prepared something for us?' and he looks up and says 'yes sir', there is so much going on in that face at that little moment. It's the first moment in the film, I always used to say when we were on the set that the audience will love or hate it at that moment. That's when they'll decide if they're going to enjoy the film, when they first see the boy playing Alex Rider and the first thing he does. He's a very nice boy, a wonderful actor, he has extraordinary looks and he's nice with it. I think what we have with him is something that is really unique; it was a one in a million chance that he got that role. I'm just so happy that he did.
Your villain has changed too hasn't he?
The villain is Herod Sayle in the books, Darrius Sayle in the film. The reason for that is that Mickey Rourke entered the picture. Suddenly to have him be a small balding Lebanese businessman - which is what you get in the book - was ridiculous, so I completely reconsidered the part, called him Darrius, made him Californian, but kept the same motivation. The reason why he does what he does remains the same. It's basically inverted racism, he's a foreigner who's been badly treated by the British.
Your involvement presumably insulates the film adaptation from too much criticism from fans, doesn't it?
Having agreed to be the screenwriter of it, I became the guardian of Alex's probity, of making it right.
Do you have ambitions to direct anytime soon?
No. I have directed a television series in the past, and very quickly learnt that my talents do not extend to directing. It's very tempting, but as somebody who's beenworking writing film and TV and books for so long, part of me does say try it again and have another go. What's the point of continuing unless you're going to continue to challenge yourself and find new things to do? And scare yourself a little bit. So maybe. I talk sometimes about projects, I've got a short film in my head that I might turn my hand to directing. But I don't think I have a huge career ahead of me as a director, especially having watched Geoff doing it on the set of Stormbreaker. I think I'm very much better locked in a dark room with my computer.