Daniel Brühl stars as a criminal psychologist on the trail of a killer in a New York-set period drama
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’
THREESOME: DAKOTA FANNING, DANIEL BRÜHL AND LUKE EVANS AS SARA, LASZLO AND JOHN
SARA IS A POLICE SECRETARY WITH AMBITIONS TO BE A DETECTIVE