Netflix’s latest crime series, The Alienist, promises viewers a grisly watch – but it’s not all doom and gloom, say its stars, Luke Evans and Dakota Fanning. Gemma Dunn finds out more.
If you’re after a good psychological thriller that gets your pulse racing, look no further than The Alienist.
The latest Netflix crime fix, the 10-part series – based on the award-winning novel by Caleb Carr – offers up an unflinching, turn-of-the-century murder mystery like none other.
Transported back to the underbelly of New York City’s “Gilded Age”, the story introduces viewers to Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl), an obsessive “Alienist” in the controversial new field of treating mental pathologies, who holds the key to hunting down a ritualistic killer murdering young boys.
Invested, too, in the dark goings-on is newspaper illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans) and Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), an ambitious secretary determined to become the city’s first female police detective.
For both actors, it was a complex period – and mindset – to delve into.
“The ‘Gilded Age’ of New York City meant many things,” begins Evans, 38, having done his research.
“As well as wonderful wealth and the industrial age, there was also extreme poverty and the merging of immigrants from all over the world put in this little microcosm of Lower East Side New York City.”
“There were no health regulations, there were no child labour laws,” continues The Girl On The Train star. “There was extreme corruption … the sex industry was rampant for many different forms of it.
“I mean, we had some moments, didn’t we?” he asks, turning to his Fanning. “There were scenes that Sarah and John had in a tenement, an apartment where there were 20 people living, which was absolutely accurate.
“[From] screaming babies to the grandparents all living on top of each other, it was so real, so visceral, so hot, so desperate. It was almost like a history lesson as much as it was us trying to tell a story.”
Of the bleak undertones, he adds: “I mean, I’ve done some dark stuff in my work in the last few years but this is quite close to the top of the list.
“It’s not just that it’s dark, it’s that it’s so close to reality and it’s so extreme.”
“I’m naturally attracted to darker subject matters,” adds Fanning, 24. “But as we got in to it, we found so much more than that.
“That darkness, you became de-sensitised to it,” she reasons. “I got lost in the world more than I usually do.”
Did she make her own enquiries into the era?
“Well, I don’t usually do research!” admits Fanning, with a laugh. “I just used the story that we’re trying to tell, the scripts and, in this particular case, the world that was created around us.
“The set, the costumes, the extras,” she elaborates. “You fit the time period and find yourself in these clothes, so it came very natural to get into the headspace.”
But prising on a corset isn’t a feat to be scoffed at, recalls Fanning, who rose to prominence as a child in such big-screen hits as I Am Sam and Uptown Girls.
“I actually fainted in my first shooting!” she quips.
“I’ve worn corsets before for other roles, [but] it’s so amazing how it changes everything about the way you sit, walk, move and breathe,” she adds, praising costume-designer-to-the-stars Michael Kaplan for his “genius”.
“Someone has to help you get dressed in the morning and take it off of you at night – all of those little things can be annoying but also very helpful,” she says.
“Ultimately, it was real privilege to wear the costumes.”
Even if it was in the searing summer heat in Budapest.
“There were some days when we were doing a winter scene and there was sweat pouring down my leg under the costume!” cries the US-born star.
“Probably the biggest challenge of the whole acting job was trying to stay cool, as it was actually boiling hot,” agrees Welshman Evans.
“You mentioned about having to have someone dress you?” he addresses Fanning. “The gentleman and women of a certain class, who dressed in a certain way, could only get into those outfits with help, so they all must have had servants, or a maid or a butler.
“I couldn’t get into my costume without help,” he muses. “It was really interesting.”
“Also, just as a female, it was another thing you couldn’t do for yourself,” Fanning responds. “You had to wear these elaborate costumes to keep up this facade of what a female was supposed to be and you couldn’t even take them off on your own at the end of the day!
“I thought about those things all the time – and you do get used to it. After seven months, it was familiar.”
Much like the 19th-century attire, the duo became accustomed to their new digs in the Hungarian capital too.
“That was the thing I was most nervous about – six-and-a-half months in Budapest, away from home,” confides Fanning, who will also feature in the much-hyped Ocean’s 8 this summer.
“But when I got there, it immediately went away and I met everyone,” she adds. “Within the first four weeks, we were connected and going to dinner and knew everything about each other’s lives.
“That made the experience just so much fun – we were all away from home, so it bonded us and it became our community.”
“We did everything. We would be the best tour guides ever,” Evans concurs.
“We could tell you the best places to eat, the things not to do, the things you shouldn’t miss out on, the things you haven’t been told about that you should do. We connected so quickly with the city, probably one of the most I ever have.”
“The most I ever have, for sure!” chimes Fanning. “I had a whole life going there. I was the last one [to leave] and I was crying. Truly, it was sad.”
The Alienist will be available on Netflix from Thursday April 19.