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Toby Stephens: 'Alex Rider' is made for kids, but 'not patronizing'

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Toby Stephens: 'Alex Rider' is made for kids, but 'not patronizing'
Toby Stephens appears in a scene from "Alex Rider." Photo courtesy of IMDB TV

NEW YORK, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- Toby Stephens says his young-adult spy thriller, Alex Rider, is family entertainment that also smartly addresses some mature topics such as wealth, power, corruption, technology and addiction.

"What's great is, it's made for children. It's dealing with very adult issues in a way that is kind of terrifying for kids, but, also, it is not patronizing," Stephens, 52, told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

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"Alex Rider becomes this cipher figure for all children having to deal with the adult world. We all want to be Alex Rider or we want somebody like Alex Rider rooting for us or helping us navigate this complicated world of adults."

The series also boasts snappy dialogue, beautiful European locations and exhilarating action sequences.

"I really like the aesthetic. I really like the way it was lit," Stephens said. "I think that that's great for a kids' show, making it look really zippy and zappy and cool rather than [giving it] a kids' show aesthetic. It looks like a grownup show and I really like that."

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Stephens joined the series for Season 2, which will premiere on IMDB TV Friday. The Black Sails and Lost in Space alum plays Damian Cray, a tech billionaire who keeps indirectly impacting teen MI6 agent-in-training Alex Rider (Otto Farrant.)

Early in the season, Alex's best friend Tom (Brenock O-Connor) is so obsessed with Cray's latest video game, he doesn't want to do anything else. The home of Alex's love interest Sabina (Charithra Chandran) is also blown up as her journalist father researches a book he is writing about Cray. The ensemble also includes Stephen Dillane, Vicky McClure, Howard Charles, Marli Siu and Ronke Adekoluejo.

Stephens signed on to play the mogul because his real-life son is an enormous fan of the Anthony Horowitz book series on which the show is based.

"When I was offered the role, I said, 'Hey, what do you think of this character, Damian Cray?' [My son] was like: 'Oh, my God! He's my favorite character!'" Stephens recalled.

"So, that kind of sold it for me and I really enjoyed this script and I thought it was just a really fun role and a nice complicated character to throw into the mix."

Stephens studied Damian's backstory from the books and screenplays to figure out how to play him, focusing intently on his childhood and how it shaped the man he became.

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"That's behind everything he does and he has this facade of being this really super-successful, positive guy, but underneath it is this very damaged kid and I think that's where I started," the actor said. "I really enjoyed playing the nuances of that and building the character around that."

A prominent theme that winds through Season 2 is the debate over what is better: virtual lives or actual experiences.

Stephens thinks this reflects what society is going through in reality, but he emphasized the show doesn't have a big anti-technology message.

"It's something that is very much in the zeitgeist at the moment," he noted.

"On one level, the world of technology has so many positive things about it, but there is a darker side to it and we all know that, especially after a pandemic when so many children had to do online schooling and what that does to people's worlds -- how narrow that becomes."

In his own life, Stephens tries not to be too dependent on the devices he uses to acquire information or communicate with people.

"Too much time online means you are not actually living your life," he said. "The more you can turn it off and put it away and ration your usage [the better]... I'm a great believer of family time when all of that stuff gets put away."

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