Dakota Fanning has done a lot of interviews in recent months about her TNT drama “The Alienist,” and one theme keeps popping up: How sadly relevant the show’s treatment of women, immigrants and the poor in the 1890s feels to 2018.
“That comes up a lot when I discuss the series,” she told IndieWire’s TURN IT ON podcast. “On the one hand, you want your series to be relevant and to speak to people and create conversation, and be modern. But some of the reasons this series is relevant and modern are actually why you wish that weren’t true… There are parallels, that’s a fact.”
In “The Alienist,” Fanning plays Sara Howard, an ambitious secretary determined to become the city’s first female police detective. That puts her in many ways at odds with the times, as women were not accepted in the workplace.
“People my age think 1896, that was forever ago,” she said. “Watching the series you realize, ‘whoa, maybe certain things haven’t changed as much as I thought.’ You hope it can create some sort of positive conversation about how the past influences the present and future and how you can learn from the past to make the future better.”
For director and executive producer Jakob Verbruggen, one of the strengths of “The Alienist” is its timelessness.
“It deals with immigration, it deals with an elite that tries to keep the status quo,” he said. “It raises the question of how do we treat the weak in society, it asks the question, do we embrace new ideas or are we opposed to them? These are very relevant for us to discuss.
“It’s also about childhood and how we treat children, and what did childhood mean back then and what doe sit mean now if you’re fortunate and from the west.”
IndieWire’s TURN IT ON podcast recently sat down with Fanning and Verbruggen to discuss the intricacies of shooting the series, as well as how unique Sara Howard is compared to other women of that period, and whether there will be a Season 2. Listen below!
An adaptation of Caleb Carr’s historical-fiction novel from 1994, TNT’s ‘The Alienist’ stars Daniel Bruhl as Dr. Laszlo Kreizler an “Alienist” who treats mental pathologies in turn-of-the-century New York City. Kreizler holds the key to hunting down a ritualistic killer murdering young boys. while Luke Evans plays newspaper illustrator John Moore, who later becomes a love interest for Sara. The series was shot in Budapest, Hungary, under the eye of Verbruggen.
“I wasn’t familiar with the book when I read those scripts, but I was so intrigued by the world,” Fanning said. “The Gilded Age of the upper class and the lower class and immigrants flooding into Manhattan trying to find their place.”
Verbruggen said the elaborate set was mostly filled with practical effects, giving the performers a feeling of really being transported to the era.
“We wanted to create this visual time machine,” he said. “Thanks to our obsessive research and the importance we gave to every detail created this visceral, authentic feel for New York. Being able to have a set and environment where a camera can turn 360 degrees around without being bothered by blue screen or modern day building allows actors to walk out a door in costume, in character, and all that helped us to be transported in time.”
That also included the costumes by Michael Kaplan, which for Fanning meant wearing a tight corset in the sweltering summer Hungarian heat.
“Michael Kaplan doesn’t believe in cheating it,” she said. “The costumes are real, he would not cut holes in them for microphones. Our costumes were all made for us, and there was not movie magic.”
That corset also left a mark, which ended up being incorporated into the show as visual imagery of what women faced in that era. It’s a dark show, but Fanning said it didn’t take its toll on her.
“I’m drawn to darker subject matter,” she said. “I like the challenge of that and exploring that because it’s so wildly different from my life. I think the other actors that were a part of this felt the same way, I have such a clear boundary between the scene and the moment ‘cut’ is yelled. I had the best time making this, some of the most fun experiences on a set ever.”
As for Season 2, Fanning is still under the impression that this was a limited run series, and that it’s one and done. But none of the main characters died, and Carr wrote “The Angel of Death” as a sequel, so the source material is out there. Stay tuned.
IndieWire’s “TURN IT ON with Michael Schneider” is a weekly dive into what’s new and what’s now on TV — no matter what you’re watching or where you’re watching it. With an enormous amount of choices overwhelming even the most sophisticated viewer, “TURN IT ON” is a must-listen for TV fans looking to make sense of what to watch and where to watch it.
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