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The TNT original drama series The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, the follow-up season to The Alienist, is an unflinching and sinister murder mystery set at the turn-of-the-century during New York’s Gilded Age. The series follows Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl), an alienist in the field of treating mental pathologies, John Moore (Luke Evans), a New York Times journalist, and Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), an ambitious woman who has opened her own private detective agency. Together, they are on the case of a kidnapped infant and on the dangerous path after an elusive killer.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Dakota Fanning talked about digging deeper into these characters for Season 2, her character’s biggest strength, what she appreciates about Sara Howard, the incredible wardrobe, the Sara-John relationship dynamic, and whether she’d want to continue playing this character for another season. She also talked about her desire to step behind the camera to direct, and that sacred relationship between actor and director.
Collider: What did you most enjoy about the first season and exploring the introduction to this world and these characters, and then how did it feel to return to that for Season 2 and dig in even deeper with her?
DAKOTA FANNING: I loved that. It’s really the first time that I’ve gotten to dive into something for a second time and for another eight hours. It’s really an exciting thing to do, when you get to take a character that you’ve grown to love and that you feel like you know so well to a different level and into a new place, and I really got to do that with Sara. I loved playing her in The Alienist and seeing that she was the first female to hold the position at the police department, as a secretary, but having aspirations of more. And then, right away, in the first episode, we see that she’s opened her own detective agency and has realized that dream, and is still forging ahead to fight for people and to solve these crimes that are not being looked at because the police department is corrupt, or that people don’t care about. She’s a very compassionate, empathetic person, and I think that allows her to look at the people that she’s solving these crimes for, in a very non-judgmental way, and that’s ultimately her biggest strength.
The TCA panel for The Alienist: Angel of Darkness came right before the two-part season finale on Sunday and even though showrunner Stuart Carolan and stars Daniel Brühl and Dakota Fanning remained tight-lipped on what we could expect for the ending of season 2, they did give us insight in how it was like revisiting these characters in a new story. In particular, Fanning talked about her character Sara and how it reflects the movement of female empowerment.
In the new season, Sara has opened her own detective agency and has employed women who she is mentoring. “In The Alienist, we saw her as the first female to hold a position at the New York Police Department and we saw her wanting more,” said Fanning. “Right away in this new season, we see that… she has opened her own business and is struggling to be taken seriously as a female detective and constantly discovering and rediscovering what it means to be a modern woman 1897, the choices that women were and still are forced to make and the pressures of having a career, family and what that all means. We see her all season grappling with that.”
She added, “We get more female energy this time around and that was important to me and I was really happy to see that.”
Later in the panel, Brühl talked about how the themes of the show reflect the current landscape. “Nowadays it is important to have a political and social conscience and to stand up and do the right thing,” he said.
Fanning talked about how Sara is a disruptor and is unafraid to speak up. “I think we see even more of that power that she has discovered within herself in this new season,” she said. “It’s not always easy to do the right thing and to speak up for those who can’t use their voice. Sara uses her privilege to do that. That’s such a core value of who Sara is. I am very proud to play a character like that and learn to continue to implement that in my real life.”
Carolan speaks to the fact that it was the book that speaks to the current feminist movement and the series is just following its lead. Fanning addresses the themes that are resonating with audiences, pointing out that the books were written in the ’90s. “While the feminist movement is not only something that’s been happening currently, it’s clearly been happening for a long time,” she said. “Shows like this, that are set so long ago, really do help put the current movement we see on the news into a perspective to show the origins of them and that they existed for a long time and that 1897 is not so long ago when you really examine the socio-political aspects of the age. When you examine them today, there’s a lot of similarities.”
When we visited the set of “The Alienist: Angel of Darkness” in Budapest, Hungary last year, we were blown away by the passion and detail that was poured on the set as well as the costumes of the actors.
The period drama TV series is based on the 1994 novel of the same name by Caleb Carr is set in the mid-1890s New York City and deals with corruption, sexism, racism, anti-immigration, crime and violence — pretty much what we are still dealing with these days in the 21st century.
As Dakota Fanning, who is portraying Sara Howard, told us in a recent virtual interview in Los Angeles, “A lot of things are relevant if you watch the show. You can see and will be struck by the parallels. There is also the fight for women’s rights, injustice, and anti-immigration in this series. It shows young people that a lot of things have not changed. There are still the same conversations going on. It is what it is. The only way to change our future is by examining our past and through television and the movies, we are not only entertained and have a suspenseful mystery but we are still able to ask the hard questions.”
What is fascinating about this season are the steps that women are taking to be independent in their jobs. Your character is starting this agency but nobody wants to hire her. Can you talk a little bit about how important this reflection is?
I think that’s been the most interesting thing about “The Alienist” and now “The Angel of Darkness” are, the similarities to things that we are seeing in the world right now; a lot of the conversations with women and women in the workplace and women’s rights and all that.
In “The Alienist,” you see Sara being the first woman to hold a position in the New York Police Department and then here, you see her with her own detective agency which was definitely unheard of. And you also see the way in which Luke and Daniel’s characters view her differently from the beginning when she’s an equal from the start.
She’s no longer having to prove herself to her own team which I think was a change and seemed sort of an evolution in that and you see her have her mentees that are working at her agency seeing this sort of example that she’s setting for other young women during this time.
We still see that now with female-owned businesses and the importance of female mentors to younger women. What I also love about this show in general is mixing the real historical figures in with the fictional aspects to seeing Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Suffragette movement and getting that sprinkled in throughout the series is really something that I’ve always enjoyed getting to see the real characters.
TNT has moved up the season premiere of The Alienist: Angel of Darkness to Sunday, July 19. Two episodes will air back to back that Sunday, starting at 9 p.m. ET/PT. The series will continue as a four week event with two episodes airing every Sunday thereafter at 9 p.m. ET/PT. The season runs through August 9.
The move eliminates the one week gap that had existed after the end of TNT’s current prestige series, Snowpiercer. [Source]
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