Set during New York City’s Gilded Age, the TNT psychological thriller series The Alienist follows Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl), a brilliant and obsessive man in the controversial new field of treating mental pathologies who, along with the help of newspaper illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans) and Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), an ambitious secretary determined to become the city’s first female police detective, decides to hunt down a ritualistic killer gruesomely murdering young boys. Inspired by the novel by Caleb Carr, it is a fascinating story of the emergence of the world’s most powerful city, with enough darkness and madness to overtake it all.
While at the TCA Press Tour for TNT, actor Daniel Brühl spoke to Collider for this 1-on-1 interview about the appeal of The Alienist, his attraction to dark material, this interesting triangle of characters, and the show’s gruesome mystery. He also talked about working on the third Cloverfield movie, due out in theaters on April 20th, the secrecy and wanting to tell a story set in space.
Collider: There is so much to this character that it’s easy to see why it would be attractive, but was there a specific aspect of the character or story that reeled you in?
DANIEL BRUHL: It was everything about it, really. The second I started reading the book, I was mesmerized and fascinated. I felt like a 12-year-old with a torchlight under the blankets. I couldn’t stop reading it. I think I read it in a day or two. It was the combination of it being a gripping psychological thriller with very compelling characters. It is also a fascinating history lesson about New York, at the time. It was probably the most fascinating city in the world because it was an exploding melting pot with all of these different aspects and social classes, from the Vanderbilts and Roosevelts, down to the rotten tenements. Also, you get to learn about the politics, and the corruption within the police department, at that time, and there’s the combination of having real characters, and then the fictional characters. And then, personally for me, my wife is a psychotherapist. We’ve been together for seven years, and since I’ve been with her, I’ve always been interested in what she does. She was equally happy that I was offered this part because it deals with the beginning of the science of psychology, which is a fascinating science. I found it very endearing to follow these characters, not only mine, but also the others, who were all pioneers in their own fields. It’s so interesting to learn about the beginning of forensics, of psychology, and of having Sara Howard be determined to be the first female detective in the police department.
This trio would likely never have been friends under different circumstances. They have nothing in common, aside from a curiosity that drives them all.
BRUHL: Exactly! And then, later in the show, you’ll find that they do have something in common. Sara Howard and Laszlo Kreizler have to fight their own demons, and they have a very tough background with horrible traumas that they’re facing. Another thing that I love about the story is that it’s also a journey into the minds of these characters. Nowadays, my wife told me that every psychologist does instructive analysis. They go to see their own shrinks to cope with the pressure and all the issues in the job, to keep sane, but back in those days, they did not. I love that my character is so arrogant, in a way, that he wants to show everyone that he can analyze and understand the people around him, but when it comes to face his own past and his own persona, he becomes quite nervous.
It’s interesting that Dr. Kreizler takes no issue with Sara being a woman, the same way that everyone else does. Why do you think he’s more accepting of that?
BRUHL: I think he’s a liberal modern soul, surrounded by very conservative people who are not accepting what was then seen as a very controversial science. Psychologists were seen as charlatans by religious people. This is a man who’s used to dealing with prejudices and criticisms, so his thinking is far more advanced. That’s why he knows that Sara Howard is smart and has as much of a psychological understanding as he does.