Ask any little boy what his dream job is, and “spy” is likely to be at the top of the list. But don’t call Alex Pettyfer a little boy.
“It is every young man’s dream,” the 16-year-old actor corrected. “Otherwise we’ll be attracting the wrong people to this film.”
The film is “Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker,” a new take on the familiar fantasy. Pettyfer is the titular hero, a 14-year-old who, after his uncle’s death, is recruited into the elite ranks of the British secret service, MI6, where he must uncover a secret plot by a rogue billionaire intent on destroying the world.
“I think a lot of kids out there would love for someone to be like, ‘Hey you, come and save the world,’ ” co-star Missi Pyle said. “I think it’s a really exciting story, but [most of all] I think Alex is just cool. He is sort of like James Bond Jr. He gets all the gadgets. I think [it's interesting] that he is this ordinary kid who gets thrust into an extraordinary situation. He didn’t ask for it.”
Based on the best-selling series of books by British writer Anthony Horowitz, “Stormbreaker” shows the evolution of Alex Rider from sheltered youngster to master of espionage. At MI6 he’s taken under the wing of Agent Blunt (Bill Nighy), who informs Alex that his uncle had been grooming him for intelligence work ever since he was a young boy. That comes as quite a shock, but it also carries real consequences, which the stars of the film found lacking from other, similar movies.
“I think ['Stormbreaker'] is a bit more sophisticated — like, ‘Spy Kids’ is so great, but it’s definitely a children’s movie,” said Alicia Silverstone, who plays Alex’s American nanny, Jack. “It felt more sweet or something, more like ‘Scooby-Doo.’ This is more like a young person’s ‘Bourne Supremacy.’ It’s a little bit edgier and a little grittier.”
Pettyfer credits a more mature script — in which characters change and real choices must be made — for separating “Alex Rider” from more childish competition.
“Agent Cody Banks is given a skateboard and thinks it’s a joke to be a spy, and this is more reality, you know,” he said. “The characters are much deeper, and you kind of go through an emotional ride with these guys.”
Although the second “Cody Banks” movie was subtitled “Destination London,” Pettyfer believes the British locations weren’t used to full effect in that film, a fate he argues “Alex Rider” avoided.
“['Alex Rider'] is set in London, which is fabulous,” he said. “No one has ever filmed in the Science Museum before. No one’s ever filmed being chased by the Queen’s Cavalry. We have some amazing features.”
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Pettyfer seems the ideal choice to play a multilingual super-spy of broad expertise. The son of actor Richard Pettyfer and former model Lee Ireland, Alex has attended some of the most prestigious boarding schools in England. He was picked from more than 500 hopefuls for the role.
“Alex is just groomed. He probably came out of the womb knowing he was going to be a star,” Pyle joked. “He’s so charming, he really knows how to talk to a lady and he is great in this movie. He really holds his own. Before this he hadn’t done a whole lot, and I just think he handled it with such ease.”
While child actors are often locked in for several sequels, Pettyfer said producers are waiting until after the Friday release to decide whether or not there will be more to come.
“I love playing Alex,” he said. “But no one knows what’s going to happen in the future. I don’t have any opinion. If they change the character and give him more depth and make the film bigger and better, I’ll always come back.”
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