Closer Look: 'The Alienist: Angel of Darkness' Team on the Show's Modern Relevance

Stars Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans and Dakota Fanning examine the ways in which their TNT series reflects the world we live in today (despite its 1890s setting).

Years after its first run, TNT's The Alienist is back in the cultural conversation, thanks to a second season based on Caleb Carr's novel of the same name: The Alienist: Angel of Darkness. In the new batch of eight episodes, the intrepid trio of Lazlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl), John Moore (Luke Evans) and Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) reunite to investigate a new series of gruesome murders.

While much has changed between seasons one and two (Sara runs her own detective agency, as one prominent example), The Alienist: Angel of Darkness highlights the ways in which the world has not changed nearly enough since its 1890s setting — even if there are meaningful technological and human advancements made along the way.

With Angel of Darkness now underway on TNT, The Hollywood Reporter sat down for a closer look at The Alienist with its three core stars — Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans and Dakota Fanning — and got their thoughts on what to expect from the second season, as well as the ways in which the series reflects the struggles of our own modern world.

Daniel, what can we expect from season two?

DANIEL BRÜHL It's another very gripping, captivating, dark tale this time around. We're dealing with a lot of very current and relevant subject matters, even more than back in season one. We get back to the world we know. We see the characters we liked in season one, some new ones joining us. It feels like a different show, though. It has a different pulse, rhythm and energy. That's what kept us as actors very motivated. We didn't have the feeling of repeating ourselves. We felt like we were doing it as a different journey.

Dakota, what drew you into The Alienist to begin with?

DAKOTA FANNING The character I get to play, Sara Howard, is a very modern woman in this period setting. It's very interesting, playing a character who pushes the boundaries and fights for progress and equality in the 1890s. I love exploring stories that are set in a time that I will never fully understand or be able to live in. You see similarities to the time that we live in now, for better and for worse. Examining that through a very entertaining and gripping story is exciting as a person and as an actor.

How about you, Luke?

LUKE EVANS For me, it really was the character who drew me into the story. He's changed an awful lot from the years since season one. When we pick up his journey in season two, he's a man who has found purpose. I could see this was like playing a new character. He's shed the skin he had in season one, [such as] his addictions. He's put more in order. He's in love, he's engaged, he found his career. He's a man with drive and ambition. It's a very different character from the one I was playing in the first season.

What are some of the challenges and demands of combining the procedural drama with a period piece?

BRÜHL In a way, we all play pioneers in their own fields. I've always had the impression of playing someone who has an advanced and modern mind. It never felt I was playing or portraying someone who was very old-fashioned. He was just in a very old-fashioned surrounding and world. I had a lot of help and advice from my wife, who is a real alienist. That intensified our own relationship. It made me understand the incredible job she does. It was a fantastic process.

FANNING That's something I was excited by from the beginning. Even though this is a fictional story, you do have real historical characters sprinkled throughout. We get to see the suffragettes, the womens' rights movements, and real elements woven into a gripping story. For Sara Howard, there was a real Sara Howard in real life. I didn't want to make Sara Howard into Isabella Goodwin, [the first female detective in New York City], because I think Sara stands on her own. But certainly, she's inspired by the real life Saras of our history. That's wonderful, giving exciting historical versions of these women.

Despite its setting, the series does feel extremely relevant, covering issues such as racism, sexism, work place disparity, police corruption, on and on. How front of mind was the modern relevance of The Alienist when reading the scripts?

EVANS Part of what's so special about this story is we touch on so many cultural and topical things that we're dealing with now that were still relevant then. That we're still dealing with the same things… it poses a lot of questions. It makes people talk. It makes people think. It makes people question how far we still have yet to go, if we can still see our reflection in a show that takes place 120 years ago.

BRÜHL Adding to that, what I found interesting is that the world is set in 1897, but the books were published in the 1990s. It still feels more relevant and current than ever, even back in the 90s, which was 30 years ago. It's quite remarkable — unfortunately, I have to say — that history repeats itself in that way. But it's always important to look back and learn from history, no matter how painful it is. It always goes in waves, though. Sometimes, we do advance and we do evolve. If you think about psychology. We are in a different position right now [than then]. We've gained so much more knowledge than we had in 1897. But many of the questions Lazlo Kreizler has — the longing to understand the human mind, to heal people with mental illnesses — some of these questions are still not answered today. My wife tells me about this all of the time… how many complex illnesses we're still not able to fathom and fully understand.

FANNING The first season was filmed in 2017. When it wrapped and started to air, it was the era of Me Too and Time's Up. There were so many moments with Sara, with harassment in the work place and abuses of power, sexual harassment. It was all woven into the story the first time around, and it was so topical when it started to air. This time around, I watch the show and I'm so struck by the scenes I'm watching and the scenes I'm seeing on the news, with Black Lives Matter and gay rights and trans rights and women's rights. I was watching the show through that lens of what I was seeing. It's really powerful to see the ways in which racism is touched on the show, the women's rights movement, anti-immigration… it's all woven into a gripping mystery, but there's no way you can watch the show and not see the parallels. I'm really proud to be a part of that.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This partnered feature is produced by Hollywood Reporter editorial staff in conjunction with a paid brand partnership with TNT.