Daniel Brühl on ‘The Alienist: Angel of Darkness’ and Revisiting the MCU

     August 8, 2020

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The TNT original drama series The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, the follow-up season to The Alienist, is an unflinching and sinister murder mystery set at the turn-of-the-century during New York’s Gilded Age. The series follows Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl), an alienist in the field of treating mental pathologies, John Moore (Luke Evans), a New York Times journalist, and Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), an ambitious woman who has opened her own private detective agency. Together, they are on the case of a kidnapped infant and on the dangerous path after an elusive killer.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Daniel Brühl talked about digger deeper into the story and characters with the second season, what he found most interesting about this case, how Dr. Kreizler challenges him, the deepening relationships between this trio of characters, what he’s learned from co-star Dakota Fanning, and whether he’d return to play this character for another season. He also talked about reprising the role of Zemo for the Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and he hopes they’ll return to filming that soon.

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Image via TNT

COLLIDER: What did you most enjoy about doing the first season of this series and exploring the introduction of this world, and how did it feel to return to it and build on it for the second season?

DANIEL BRÜHL: I’ve always enjoyed the world that Caleb Carr, the writer of The Alienist and Angel of Darkness, had created because I’m a fan of dark mysteries and of gripping thrillers, but I’m also fascinated by history. I enjoy reading about history a lot. So, the combination of these two things was very appealing, to go back in time and explore the beginning of so many fascinating sciences, like psychology and criminal psychology, and also to explore so much about New York at the time. But [that] they’re all embedded in a very gripping and dark tale was always a fascinating thing. And in the second season, to evolve, to have a different dynamic, to have a power shift within the team, and to have a strong woman now being in charge, and my character having to accept this, with all of the machismo that he had in the first season, and his stubbornness and arrogance, and to be in a world that sadly is even more current than the first season was, was very interesting to experience. To read about the female empowerment movement and the women’s rights movement, back in the day, in the late 19th century, was very fascinating. And then, generally speaking, because I’m a father of a little boy, that whole [parental] theme in the show was very touching.

It’s certainly an interesting story this season. Last season seemed dark, but then this season was somehow even darker. What did you find most interesting about the case this season?

BRÜHL: This time, it felt more universal. My wife, who is a real alienist, is always very interested in what I do, or at least she pretends to be. In this case, she really was, given the fact that I was playing an alienist myself. She read the script and she also watched the second season, and it resonated more with her because kidnapping a baby and exploring all of these different social classes felt more universal and terrifying than being in that very precise world of the first season. This time around, many more people will be naturally able to connect to and feel for the mothers and the fathers losing a child or having a child be kidnapped, at least for me. And it didn’t feel as shocking when we actually shot it. If something is well done, although I was in it, it totally worked when I watched it. It gave me a couple of nightmares. It really did. It’s such a terrifying thing to witness the helplessness of these people and these kids who, all of a sudden, disappear. So, this something that I think almost everybody will understand and be touched by.

In what ways has this character challenged you that’s been different from any other character that you’ve played?

BRÜHL: Well, first of all, it’s the amount of time that I’ve spent with this character. I hadn’t done TV, so I never had the luxury of spending more than a year now with one character and with other actor who became dear friends, like Dakota [Fanning] and Luke [Evans]. To keep yourself motivated, and to keep the stakes high, and to challenge yourself to go deeper and deeper, and to go on exploring facets about your character and about the stories is the challenge, but also the fun about something like that. It never felt like a routine. It never felt like it became boring. So, after a year, we still enjoyed each other’s company. We spent most of our downtime together in Budapest. And we were interested in our own characters and everybody else’s. That was a wonderful experience.

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Image via Disney

You’re also getting to return to your Marvel role for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. When and how did you find out that you’d get to play Zemo again, and that it would be for that project specifically?

BRÜHL: It was funny because Angel of Darkness was the first time I’d ever revisited something and came back to the same project again, or to go on playing that part. And then, whilst I was shooting Angel of Darkness, I got the news that they wanted me to come back to shoot The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I remember that Kari Skogland, the director, came to Budapest and we recorded something with me being Zemo, and I was very happy and enthusiastic to see the mask. I was incredibly thrilled to go back because I remember that I had a lot of fun being in something completely different and getting to explore the MCU and become part of that. I have the fondest memories of collaborating with all of these wonderful actors, and to see Sebastian Stan again, and Anthony Mackie this time around, and to come back to something which, on the one hand, felt common and known, and on the other hand, being something completely new and something fresh.

Do you still have more filming to do on that? Is that something you still need to return to production on?

BRÜHL: Yes. We were affected by the coronavirus whilst we were shooting the show, so hopefully we’ll be able to return very soon. We were not able to finish and to wrap it up. That’s still something that we have to do. Fingers crossed that it will happen, as soon as possible.

With The Alienist, you’re not just getting to return to the character, but you’re also returning to relationships that the character has and exploring those further. What did you most enjoy this season about digging in deeper with the relationships he has with Sara and John?

BRÜHL: They all help each other, despite all of the conflicts and arguments they have. They all realize that they’re really close friends and they have a strong bond with each other, and that makes them understand that it has to go in the right direction. Kreizler understands that Sara has all of the qualities, the psychological skills, the boldness, the smartness, and everything, to take the lead. And she also, as a good friend, gives him precious advice on personal matters. She is the reason why he is now also able to open up emotionally, and is ready to meet a kindred spirit. He will also find someone who shares the same interests and becomes important in his life.

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Image via TNT

What have you enjoyed about working with Dakota Fanning and Luke Evans, and what have you learned from working with them? Do they approach the work and their process in similar ways that you do, or are they very different in how they approach what they do?

BRÜHL: We have a lot of common, and yet we’re very different. For me, it’s fascinating to be able to shoot with people from different countries. Every single one of us has his own past and culture and life, so it was very interesting to shoot with a young American actress who didn’t feel that young because she’s been around longer than probably Luke and I combined. And then, you have that wonderful Welshman and me. This season, Sara Howard is in charge more than in Season 1, but actually, Dakota Fanning was in charge from the very first day of Season 1. She really was. That was great for me to experience. She gave me great advice, here and there. She sometimes complained about my German grumpiness and my strange outbursts when I wasn’t happy with a scene or a take. She just calmed me down and said, “That doesn’t help you right now. Just move on and think of the next take.” She’s half my age. Well, she’s not, but almost. She’s so experienced and so good that I happily tried to take her advice. And Luke brought his very own dynamic to it. It was a very symbiotic relationship and a great chemistry that we shared all the way through.

Is this a character that you would like to continue to explore? Do you feel like there’s more story to tell with him?

BRÜHL: There’s definitely more there. That whole world is like a huge treasure box. So many things happened in New York, back then. If you compare Season 1 and Season 2, within a year, so many things changed and evolved. Also, our characters have a lot more to offer. There’s no plan to go on, for the moment, but that would be an option somewhere. We probably wouldn’t say no. I can’t speak for everyone, but I wouldn’t.

The Alienist: Angel of Darkness airs on Sunday nights on TNT.

Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.

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