The Alienist, TNT’s limited series about the search for a serial killer, is set in 19th century New York. But Dakota Fanning, who plays police department employee Sara Howard, says women back then faced similar challenges on the job as they do today.
As the only woman in the police department, Sara must deal with discrimination, and she is sexually harassed on the job in an incident that seems like it was ripped from current headlines.
“The same things were happening in 1896 that are happening in 2018,” Fanning said Sunday during a panel at Deadline’s The Contenders Emmy event.
Based on the novel by Caleb Carr, the 10-part Alienist series follows Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl), a brilliant but controversial “alienist” who uses new psychological methods. Luke Evans co-stars, while Fanning plays a key role as the secretary who secretly helps Kreizler with the search for the serial killer.
Fanning said her character was a trailblazer.
“Seeing a female character, in 1896, we’re used to seeing a certain kind of woman in that time because there were so many things that women weren’t allowed to be and weren’t allowed to do,” she said. “So I really wanted to show a strong character in this time period who is pushing the boundaries that have been set for her.”
The Alienist explores controversial new psychological methods used in 1896 to catch a serial killer preying on male sex workers. But at the time, there was skepticism about the use of psychological profiling and forensic science.
“These guys had to face a lot of obstacles and many enemies,” said Brühl, who joined Fanning on the Contenders stage. “There were many prejudices. It wasn’t easy for them to work as a psychologist.”
Executive producer and director Jakob Verbruggen said the show stayed stayed true to the book, thanks in part to the series’ length.
“Being able to have 10 hours to get under the skin of these characters, that was crucial,” Verbruggen explained. “I think that’s why television is the perfect platform for adapting this book by Caleb Carr.