Interview : Anthony Horowitz


The “Stormbreaker” scribe talks to Guy Davis

‘Stormbreaker’ author Anthony Horowitz’s storytelling style is fast and furious, and so is his style as an interviewee. His answers are sharp and to the point, but the creator of teenage secret agent Alex Rider has had plenty of practice in speaking about his young hero, both as the writer of the series of novels featuring the character and as the screenwriter of Rider’s first big-screen adventure. ‘Stormbreaker’ sees 14-year-old Alex, unwittingly groomed for a life of espionage by his daredevil spy of an uncle, facing off against a technology magnate with some sinister intentions, and Horowitz initially wanted nothing to do with bringing the book to the screen.

“When Mark Samuelson, the producer, first bought the book I didn’t want to write the screenplay,” says Horowitz. “I was very nervous about it. I thought the book worked really well as a book and I didn’t want to chop it up, change things and spoil it. But then they persuaded me to do it because if I didn’t, somebody else would and it seemed better to keep some measure of control than send it off to Hollywood, wait two years and get something unrecognisable back.”

But even though Horowitz did stay on board in an effort to maintain some faithfulness to the original text, the machinations of the motion-picture industry saw a few major alterations made. For instance, computer billionaire and bad guy Sayle made the transition from Lebanese to “California trailer trash” when American financiers added their two cents to the picture and started tossing about casting suggestions like Mickey Rourke. “Obviously he couldn’t play the part as written,” says Horowitz. “He had to be white and American. The point about the character is he is someone who has suffered at the hands of the English class system. And the English can be as mean about Americans as they can about Arabs. It seemed the right way to go so I completely rewrote the character, which was the only piece of casting that required that. Still, Mickey Rourke doesn’t quite appear to be from the same film as someone like Andy Serkis [who plays Sayle’s henchman].”

He’s happier about ‘Stormbreaker’’s most vital casting decision – young British actor Alex Pettyfer as Alex Rider. “If you look at the [first scene of the film], when the teacher says, ‘Alex Rider, have you prepared something for us?’ and he looks up and says, ‘Yes, sir’, there’s so much going on in that face at that little moment. I always used to say when we were on the set that the audience will love or hate Stormbreaker 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 see the first thing he does. Alex [Pettyfer] is a very nice boy, a wonderful actor and he has extraordinary looks. 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, and I’m just so happy that he did.”

Horowitz and the filmmakers had to walk a fine line in bringing ‘Stormbreaker’ to the screen, calibrating the stunts, spectacle and action just right so they wouldn’t turn off young viewers or alienate their parents. “That’s part of the problem we’ve got,” says Horowitz. “Movies are so much more difficult than books because you have very little control over who sees them. If six-year-olds come to the film we have a responsibility not to make it too violent or bloody, but at the same time the target audience is aged eight to 15, and they demand a grittier film. I didn’t really give any consideration to who I was writing the movie for. I just wrote the story. But I hope the six-year-olds are entertained by it. There’s nothing too violent in there. I’d like to think of the audience as a family audience. I’ve been wanting to do a film that caters to families for years, because there aren’t many films that do it.”

Stormbreaker opens in cinemas Thursday.