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, Evans speaks with us about digging deeper into these characters for Season 2, exploring such dark material, and how this character has challenged him. He also chatted about reprising the role of Gaston for the upcoming Beauty and the Beast spinoff Disney+ series and his experience playing such a wild role in the thriller Ma.
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?
LUKE EVANS: What’s lovely about it was that we really loved it and we invested a lot of time creating multi-layered characters, in the first season. For Dakota [Fanning], myself and Daniel [Brühl], it was our first time to revisit a character, I think. Daniel has done it in the Marvel world, but this was a fully-fledged revisitation. So, these characters have come a long way, since the first season. Sara Howard now has her own all-female detective agency, and she is getting the respect and the equality from John and Dr. Kreizler, which is wonderful.
John, the character that I play, definitely has changed, almost completely. He’s not an alcoholic anymore. He’s given up the liquor and completely transformed his life. He’s engaged to a young lady, which is also a great storyline, and he’s got a career, so he’s a man with purpose, where he was lacking in purpose, in the first season. He’s a different man and he’s ambitious. He uses his new role as a journalist at the New York Times and finds a place within the team, which he often struggled with, in the first season, so that’s great. Kreizler has also moved on and is opening up a bit more. He’s not as cold and stiff and starchy, as he was, in the first season. So, we’re all in different places, but we’re all the same people. We’ve moved on. As with any friendship between three people who have been through what they went through in the first season, there’s a depth and a trust between the three of them, which we were able to play on, even more so, in this season. When you get to know somebody that well, you know their ins and outs, and that was something that was very lovely play, throughout the new storyline.
Just when we think the first season is dark, then comes this season, which seems to get even darker. What’s it like to explore that kind of material, especially when these cases dig into such darkness?
EVANS: We knew we weren’t coming to make a comedy. That was never the job that we were thee to do. We were there to tell a very gripping, suspenseful, thrilling, deep, dark, sinister story about a baby being kidnapped. It’s very uncomfortable subject matter. Also, with everything else that goes on within the story, as you know from Season 1, there’s an incredibly brilliant and talented supported cast, and the extra storylines that we’ve laid out by the supporting cast members, are all intertwined with our storylines. It was very enjoyable. I felt that the pace of our story, in the new season, seemed to be even quicker, and that’s probably because of the familiarity of the characters. It gets up and is moving extremely fast, and that’s probably because people know each other, having been on a journey already.
In what ways would you say this character has challenged you, that’s been different from any other character that you’ve played?
EVANS: Well, the period, itself, is challenging because it’s the past, and people don’t look that way, speak that way, or act that way. Society has changed, in some aspects, but society hasn’t changed, in other parts of the story, as well. All of those things are a challenge. What we were lucky enough to have is a great script and a lot of knowledge about the period of New York’s history in 1897, what was historically happening during that time, and how we touch upon it, in many different aspects of New York life. Those things were a joy to play. I never get bored of playing John Moore. He has changed a lot, and that was a fun thing, for all of us. We all had changed very much, and parts of us were completely the same. It was really fun, really enjoyable, and very satisfying, to bring him back to life.
Is this a character that you would like to continue to explore? Do you feel like there’s more story to tell with him, especially if he does continue to grow, in the way that he has already?
EVANS: Absolutely. They all have the potential to carry a storyline again, further and further – some other story, some other plot, some other twist, some other murder, some other sinister subject matter. I love playing John. If that happened, then yeah, it’d be great.
What do you think would most surprise people, as far as what it takes to make a show like this?
EVANS: It takes hundreds and hundreds of people – people designing the sets, dressing the sets, the costume design, the prop department, the extras, casting the extras, the way they dress, how they look. Finding the right spaces for that period was a very big job, and then dropping Dakota, Daniel and myself into that world and making us fit was an enormous undertaking. Those big, huge ensemble scenes, like the big engagement party and the big street scenes on the backlot that we had built for New York City, they were just so breathtaking. It was a joy to be working with such amazing people. From the crew, to the costumes, to the make-up, everybody was there to do the best job, we were given incredible tools to do that, and we loved every second of it. We’ve all talked about how impressive it looks and how it doesn’t feel old. It doesn’t feel like we’re revisiting the same sets because they changed all of the backlot of New York City. They updated it, they put gas lamps onto the streets, they changed the houses and the hotels to represent New York, a year later. It’s a time in New York when things moved so fast. It was just and absolute joy to do the whole thing.
How do you feel about the relationship between Sara and John, this season, and the journey that they take?
EVANS: Great. It’s unexpected. People will not expect to see what they see. I don’t wanna give it away because it’s a spoiler. They have this love and respect for each other. As much as John wants something that Sara doesn’t, they love each other, in a way, and they respect each other, and they see that they both have to go on a journey. They both want different things, but there’s unfinished business between the two of them, and that definitely does get revisited. You see a very interesting storyline there, which I was very happy to have with Dakota. We love our characters, independently, but we also saw that there was a dynamic between the two of them that was quite unusual for that time, as well. They’re a single man and a single woman who had a friendship, and they were together and with no chaperone. That’s a very different, very progressive, very modern-day dynamic between a man and a woman, which you never saw, in those days. We liked that because the whole show is pushing a modern, liberal, open and equal feel. It’s really interesting because then it gives it a very contemporary feel, and people can relate and the storylines resonate. There was a lot in there that was really fun to bring to the screen.
I absolutely loved your work as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. There’s something so delightfully fun about Gaston and LeFou. Is that what made you want to reprise the role alongside Josh Gad for a Disney+ series?
EVANS: Oh, absolutely. Josh and I, even when we were working on Beauty and the Beast, I recall, as two human beings, we liked each other a lot. We made each other laugh, we respected each other’s talent, and we had a great time. Even then, we were talking about what we could do and wanting to find another project. We’ve been searching, for the last several years, projects and scripts and ideas and concepts. In the back of our minds, we definitely had thoughts about revisiting Gaston and LeFou in a different story, obviously. So, when the idea really came to fruition and we got on board some incredible writers, and Josh, especially, had an incredible idea that, once it was born, it just flew itself. And when we pitched the idea to Disney+, they were very excited about it.
Now, we’re in fully fledged development. The second and third episodes have been written and we’ve heard some of the music by Alan Menken. We’re just so honored to have him on board, writing the music, which is extraordinary, in itself. We feel so lucky to have this talented group of people creating a story about two much loved and much hated characters, but that’s the excitement. There are a lot of questions about, where we will start? What we will tell? !ho are these people? When you visit them, where will they be? So, it’s going to be a really fun experience. Me and Josh are literally vibrating with excitement to shoot it.
Because we’ve been told that it takes place before the events of the film, does it feel like that will allow audiences to understand Gaston a little bit more? Do you feel like he’s someone who’s misunderstood, or do you think this will just reinforce what we already think of him?
EVANS: Well, you’ll just have to wait and see. That’s all I’m going to say.
Gaston is a character that seems like there might be a little bit more to him than we think there is.
EVANS: Well, no human being is one layer. There are many, many chapters to our lives, and they all inform the character and who we are. There’s a lot of intrigue, as to who these people might have been, and how they became who they were. But you’ll just have to wait to see. I’m not going to spoil it for you.
I also loved you in Ma. That movie was so crazy, and you did some wild stuff in that. What was that experience like for you?
EVANS: It was great fun. I was just my second time working with Tate Taylor, who directed me in The Girl on the Train. I remember him calling me up and saying, “Hey, look, I’m doing this movie. It’s a horror film/thriller film/dark comedy, Octavia Spencer is the lead, she’s gonna do terrible things to you, you’re gonna work with Juliette Lewis and Missi [Pyle].” The list was ridiculous. We basically were all gonna live in the same house together, in Tate’s big house in Natchez, Mississippi, and have a lot of fun. And we did. As much as the subject matter was extremely dark and twisted and gory, we were all in this big house and, in the evenings, we all got to hang, have dinner together and laugh, and have a glass of wine and talk about the day. It was a real joy. Tate is very loyal to his cast, and he’s worked with all of the actresses, many times. So, for me to jump into that and be one of the gang, was a real gift. I loved every minute of it. Some of the days were a little more uncomfortable than others, I’m not gonna lie, but that’s the whole point of playing a character who has to be induced with his own dog’s blood.
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.