Cover story

Daniel Brühl stars as a crim­i­nal psy­chol­o­gist on the trail of a killer in a New York-set pe­riod drama

TV & Satellite Week - - News -

NEW CRIME DRAMA The alienist avail­able from Thursday 19 april, net­flix

NEW YORK CITY, 1896. The mu­ti­lated body of a boy is found on the as-yet-un­fin­ished Wil­liams­burg Bridge. Adding to the mys­tery is the fact that he is dressed as a girl…

So begins Net­flix’s dark and com­pelling pe­riod thriller The

Alienist, which ex­plores the early days of psy­chol­ogy and crim­i­nal pro­fil­ing through the hunt for a twisted se­rial killer who is tar­get­ing young male pros­ti­tutes.

The 10-part se­ries, based on Caleb Carr’s novel, cen­tres on pi­o­neer­ing psy­chol­o­gist Las­zlo Krei­zler (Daniel Brühl), who is known as an ‘alienist’ be­cause, at that time, those suf­fer­ing from men­tal ill­ness were thought to be alien­ated from their true na­tures.

‘Krei­zler is a smart, ob­ses­sive man who’s lib­eral and mod­ern­think­ing,’ says Ger­man ac­tor Brühl, best known for film roles in Rush and Cap­tain Amer­ica:

Civil War. ‘His the­o­ries are shock­ing, which brings him a lot of en­e­mies be­cause peo­ple are scared that he wants to ex­plore the evil of the hu­man mind.’


The grisly case in­trigues Krei­zler when he spots a pos­si­ble link to the death of one of his own for­mer pa­tients. His old ac­quain­tance, fu­ture US Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt (Brian Ger­aghty), the city’s new po­lice com­mis­sioner, re­luc­tantly al­lows Krei­zler to try to iden­tify the killer by at­tempt­ing to un­der­stand how his mind works.

‘Krei­zler spe­cialises in want­ing to help chil­dren and that’s why he is so shocked to find some­one who is

killing th­ese boys in the most hor­ri­ble man­ner,’ re­veals Brühl, ‘and we find out what hap­pened in Krei­zler’s own life that makes him so de­ter­mined to solve this case.’ Krei­zler then calls on his loyal com­rade John Moore (Luke

Evans), an il­lus­tra­tor

for The New York

Times, who is a hard-liv­ing fre­quenter of broth­els. Krei­zler also re­cruits Moore’s fam­ily friend Sara Howard (Dakota Fan­ning), who is Roo­sevelt’s sec­re­tary but wants to be the po­lice de­part­ment’s first fe­male de­tec­tive.

‘Krei­zler and Moore met at Har­vard and are un­likely friends. Moore sees the heart that Krei­zler has deep down,’ says Evans, 38, whose cred­its in­clude The Hob­bit and Drac­ula Un­told.

‘Sara and Krei­zler rel­ish be­ing in­volved in this sin­is­ter world but Moore has no in­ter­est in be­ing near a dead body. A love tri­an­gle de­vel­ops be­tween the three of them and they all end up in such dif­fer­ent spa­ces to where they started.’

To pre­pare for his role, Brühl quizzed his psy­chol­o­gist wife, Felic­i­tas Rom­bold.

‘She was the big­gest sup­port and put me in touch with crim­i­nal psy­chol­o­gists and gave me lots to read,’ says the 39-year-old. ‘Now I know about the ori­gins of sciences such as foren­sics, which the show ex­plores as well.’


The cast also car­ried out ex­ten­sive re­search into life in New York at the turn of the 20th cen­tury. Along with Roo­sevelt, other his­tor­i­cal fig­ures ap­pear in the se­ries, while the seamier side of the city’s so-called Gilded Age and the up­per ech­e­lons of so­ci­ety are ex­posed fur­ther as the se­ries pro­gresses.

‘It’s a dark psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller but also a fas­ci­nat­ing por­trayal of New York in the 1890s,’ says Brühl. ‘You learn so much about pol­i­tics, po­lice cor­rup­tion, so­cial di­ver­sity and this huge gap be­tween the world of the Van­der­bilts and the hor­ri­ble rot­ten ten­e­ments where the im­mi­grants lived.’

For Evans, too, shoot­ing some hard-hit­ting scenes on the drama’s set in Bu­dapest gave him pause for thought.

‘I’ve done dark stuff in my work in the last few years, but this is close to the top of the list,’ he says. ‘Look­ing at the replica bod­ies of th­ese mur­dered kids had such an im­pact be­cause they looked so real.’

‘Some­one is killing th­ese boys in the most hor­ri­ble man­ner’




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