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.
In which way do you feel your character is more conflicted and more troubled than previously?
As much as she’s very secure in what she wants to do, I think that this isn’t being kept a total secret. I don’t think that things are completely over between John and Sara, so there’s that aspect of confliction for her.
I think that she’s also facing tougher challenges and much higher stakes this time around because being the owner of the detective agency, being the lead detective on these cases even though she’s confident, she still has fear inside her that she’s going to mess it up somehow or not fulfil her commitments so the stakes are a bit higher for her.
She has a little bit more to lose and also what’s shown a little bit more in this new season is, Sara has to present herself to the world in a way to be taken seriously. She has to be strong, be tough, be aggressive and be unafraid and she is still a young woman who is vulnerable and has emotions and feelings of confliction about could she marry and have a child or what’s the right thing to do.
I think that you just see that a little bit more because the stakes are a bit higher this time around and she’s older and a little bit wiser. I think definitely the same for Laszlo and John that there’s more to lose and more to gain in this new season. So, yeah, inevitably there’s more confusion for them which, again, was interesting to get to continue on and see how they can grow and develop as characters was fun.
How is your life these days during the lockdown?
I’m very lucky that I am healthy and my family and close friends are all healthy so I’m very grateful for that. You can go on walks and sort of get outdoors in a safe way so I’ve been taking advantage of that while keeping my distance from others and doing all the precautions.
I think it’s been a time of reflection and being a little bit more still which we don’t all get to do. I wish it wasn’t because others were potentially ill but I’ve just been trying to keep focused on being safe and staying healthy and keeping my family and friends healthy.
Hopefully we will one day be through this and it will be a memory of a time that we went through. So that’s just what I’ve been doing. Trying not to get too far ahead of myself and stay in a little bit.
Talk about the costumes in the show, your relationship to fashion and how it changed during the time of coronavirus.
For the show, something that was important was to continue Sara’s journey through the flow so she wears in “The Alienist” I wore culottes one time. You saw me walk up the stairs and it looked like a skirt but they were actually pants.
This time around, I wear those almost all of the time and I think it’s simply because in this new role as a detective, Sara has to move a bit more and be a little more agile and also, again, another small act of rebellion to sort of make people around her slightly uncomfortable and a lot of the jackets are a little like armor, they’re for protection.
She’s going into a battle every day and so that really comes through the clothes. As far as now when I’m at home, I fluctuate between being comfortable and also sometimes just wanting to put a little make-up on and put on a summer dress and have a little bit of that normalcy, but I haven’t thought about it too terribly much I have to say. Whatever the day brings I just follow suit.
What is it like to have a sister like Elle in the same business?
Elle and I are very different in a lot of ways. At our core, though we’re very similar. We’re sisters so, we do share a little piece of our brain in a way; of how we think about things and how we approach things.
Having a sibling who grew up in the same house, with the same circumstances is everything, I couldn’t imagine living life without her to back me up or set me straight or just provide that unconscious understanding as siblings can provide. So, yeah, I’m beyond grateful to have her for many, many reasons. [Source]