Are people who watch a ton of crime dramas more likely to think there’s a serial killer around every corner? It’s a topic that’s fresh in the minds of the stars of The Alienist (whose second season airs Sundays on TNT), including leads Dakota Fanning, Luke Evans, and Daniel Brühl. The A.V. Club talked to the trio about that and more via Zoom earlier this summer, touching on everything from yellow journalism to turtle soup. Excerpts from that interview are above, with a full transcript below.
The A.V. Club: Season two of The Alienist is premiering a week earlier than expected, and we’re getting two episodes every week, which is basically the equivalent of an Alienist movie every Sunday night. How do you guys hope that people watch the show, and how do you guys consume television on your own?
Dakota Fanning: I think especially right now, when so many people are at home and have watched everything that has been on their televisions, I think it will be really exciting for people to be able to watch two at a time. I certainly like that. I like being able to really get into something. I do think it’s nice, though, that you do have to wait a little bit for the next. This show is so suspenseful, and it is about the mystery. So the excitement for that increases as the days go by. Anyway, I think it’s perfect that people can watch two at a time and get to see this whole story in four weeks. I also think people are really starved for new content, and I’m really excited to give that to the people.
AVC: Luke, what about you? How do you like to consume TV? I read that you’ve been watching Ozark. Are you a “binge it all at once”-type person, or do you try to have some restraint?
Luke Evans: I don’t watch a huge amount of TV, but streaming platforms help because you take them with you nowadays, so you can watch them on planes. You can download shows to your iPhone or your laptop and watch on long flights or wherever you are.
What was hard with Ozark was to not binge the whole thing, because there was very little else to do. So we tried to ration ourselves to a maximum four episodes of Ozark a night so that it would at least take two weeks before we finished all three seasons. It was just fun to do it. In fact, you know, it was something I looked forward to in the evenings after dinner.
Going back to the two episodes at night that we are doing for The Alienist: Angel Of Darkness, most people I know that watched the first season watched it straight through. They marathoned 10 episodes. So I think it works very well that people will get the two episodes a week, but it is good to get a little cliffhanger now and again. It keeps people on the edge of their seats wondering what will be next. And there’s a lot of twists and turns in this season. I think it will be fun to see how the audiences react over the four weeks that it’ll be on.
AVC: Daniel, your show’s not exactly kind to police, and they’ve been in the news a lot lately. Around all of that, there’s also been some discussion about crime shows and about if shows that feature a lot of crime make people feel that maybe there is more crime than there actually is. “There’s always a serial killer over my shoulder,” and that kind of thing. Is that something you guys have thought about in the past or are trying to think about going forward when you make choices about roles?
Daniel Bruhl: Well, you have to be reasonable when you touch those fields. If you make a show like we did, what’s the purpose? What should people take away from it and what should they learn? And I always think that when it comes to well-done historical shows like ours, you learn a lot about the present, because you have to know about history to know where we are right now at the moment. Sometimes it’s a very sad conclusion to realize that we haven’t advanced that much, and to see how incredibly current the subject matters that we touch in our shows still are. The show is set in 1897, and the book was published in 1996, I think. But on our show, I think you learn a lot about these issues of discrimination and where it comes from, and also how everything was corrupted. It is a history lesson but an entertaining one that I think also attracts young people and hopefully makes them understand a couple of things.
AVC: This season, you’re diving a little deeper into the world of yellow journalism with the introduction of William Randolph Hearst as a character. What was getting into that whole world of competing sensationalist journalism like for you, Luke?
LE: Well, it’s interesting, isn’t it? It hasn’t really changed at all. It just got worse, frankly. Hearst was sort of the godfather of tabloids, and it was about sensationalizing. Anything to sell a paper! [Evans’ character] John Moore doesn’t work for Hearst. He works for The New York Times. But he’s privy to what goes on there and fights very much for the truth to be heard and for the newspapers to use that power in the correct manner. You could draw a parallel so quickly with how the media and the press is used and abused today.
We haven’t really made up much on the show, in terms of that’s how it was. The headlines used to be put on big billboards in New York City on newspaper row. Now we just have bulletins at the bottom of news channels. Those tell us the headlines. So nothing much has really changed.
AVC: Sara is getting the brunt of it, too, at least toward the end of the season. Hearst tries to discredit her by calling her “a scandalous female detective,” though it’s not necessarily working out for him as well as he may have thought.
LE: No, I think that people at that time even were starting to see right through it. People are smart, and they saw through that 1897 clickbait that was being spewed about Sara Howard.
DF: I think it’s important to show that, too, though, even though we’re telling a story with very progressive, liberal open-minded modern characters. They are still living in a time where there was so much injustice and there was so much inequality, and I think it was always very important for me that Sara’s journey was not just a bed of roses. It’s important to show the fight and what she’s up against every day. And yes, the lady detective with the unflattering sketch in the paper is an example of that.
AVC: To end on a different note, the show spends a lot of time at Delmonico’s. Do you guys have a Delmonico’s order? What would you get if you were dining there at that time? Are you vichyssoise people?
DF: We actually had the after-party for the first-season premiere in New York at the real Delmonico’s, which was very fun. I have to say I’ve never been, but there was actually a period food artist for the scenes at Delmonico’s making kind of that old-fashioned food. Dr. Kreizler orders Sara Howard terrapin soup every time, so I guess that’s his order. I don’t know what I’d order. I’d have to go back and look at the menu of the time. There were some menus laying around on set that someone had made, and everything looked so good.