After 20 years of failed attempts at adaptation, and three years in development, The Alienist is finally coming to television.
The upcoming TNT series is a psychological thriller set in New York City in 1896, and is based on the novel of the same name by Caleb Carr (who is a producer for the show). Daniel Brühl (Captain America: Civil War) plays Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a criminal psychologist -- then called an "alienist" -- who uses new and cutting-edge technologies like fingerprinting to track down a killer whose victims are young male prostitutes.
"We started from a blank page because all previous scripts were all features," said executive producer Rosalie Swedlin at Turner's 2018 Television Critics Association winter panel this afternoon. "Part of the richness of Carr’s writing is the impact of the investigation on the characters. Back in 1896, so much of what we take for granted was new and exciting."
Swedlin found that, despite being set more than a century ago, the story feels more timely than ever. "There are immigration issues. There are tech issues. There was the Suffragette movement and growing distrust in institutions. It feels relevant and modern despite being 1896."
Actress Dakota Fanning, who plays Sara Howard, a headstrong police secretary who joins Dr. Kreizler and crime reporter John Moore (Luke Evans) in the investigation, said the period clothing really helped her get the feel for the time. "Everyone coveted our clothing, and we did too the first week," said Fanning, who felt the restrictive corset was a metaphor for the time period. "It changes the way you talk when you’re sucked in that much. It was incredibly helpful, and a window into the different levels of difficulty of living in that time."
One of the more unique angles of The Alienist is that the newly appointed police commissioner in New York is one Teddy Roosevelt -- before he was president. "We call it the origin story," says Swedlin.
Brühl described the show as "a history lesson about politics and corruption" at that time. Director and executive producer Jakob Verbruggen promises the show will take the audience into the seedy underbelly of New York City, into "brothels and Bellevue," the first psychiatric hospital in the country.
The Alienist tells the complete story of the book in 10 hourlong episodes. Fanning loves that they are "telling a complete story," even though they are open to coming back for more. Carr has written two other Kreizler novels, with a deal to write two more.
The Alienist premieres on TNT on Jan. 22.