You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘The Alienist’ Bosses on Crafting a Scene as ‘Microcosm for the Triangle of the Series’

Caleb Carr’s first in his Kreizler series of novels, “The Alienist,” introduces a rich world of turn-of-the-century crime-solving. Set in 1896 on the cusp of the introduction of forensic science and psychology in investigations, the story focuses on one man’s perspective of the job in the historic New York City setting. But when Hossein Amini and E. Max Frye worked on adapting the story into a 10-episode limited series for TNT, they knew immediately they had to expand the points of view.

“One of the things that I always loved about the book was the combination of an incredibly dark world with violence and murder and corruption but with almost incredibly innocent characters at the heart of it,” Amini says. “We felt keeping the balance of those tones was important, but it leans on character a bit more than the procedural.”

Traveling Back to the Turn of a Century

In addition to Carr’s novel, Amini and Frye had about “a dozen books” that they read in order to more fully research the crime-solving techniques of the time period.

“People are used to technology now and used to crime, but back in 1896 that was all new. So we wanted to take the path of that introduction into the contemporary society of the time,” Frye notes.

Although the distinct time period would immediately put the audience ahead of the characters in terms of knowledge, Amini says part of the draw is watching characters “in absolute awe of fingerprints, for example, when we know it’s the future.”

Similarly, the character of Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) defies expectations of the others in her midst, especially crime reporter John Moore (Luke Evans) and psychologist Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl), when she reveals she is an employee of the NYPD and gets involved in investigations herself.

A Tense Trio

In the novel, Sara meets Moore and Kreizler independently, but in order to create more immediate conflict, Amini and Frye created a new scene for the premiere episode: In their version, Moore and Kreizler come to her together — while she is at her desk, focused on her work.

“In the book in the same scene, she sort of gets on with John Moore,” Amini says, “We just felt right off the bat we wanted to get her in a position of not just stating she’s the first woman [at the NYPD] but also [addressing] the idea that she belongs in the gossip pages as opposed to the world of policing.”

Sara initially responds to the men out of frustration at being interrupted — and being underestimated. When Moore calls Sara simply by her first name, which establishes their familiarity and history, she quickly corrects him. Just moments later, she quotes an unfavorable line in an article he wrote about her back to him to further put him in his place.

“We wanted to establish very quickly that she is going to be a formidable character,” Amini explains. “The scene is really a microcosm for the triangle of the series.”

More TV

  • Karl Lagerfeld'Lagerfeld Confidential' Photocall at the

    Karl Lagerfeld Remembered at Costume Designers Guild Awards

    The death of fashion and costume designer Karl Lagerfeld cast somewhat of a shadow over the usually jubilant Costume Designers Guild Awards — the only award show where clothes literally steal the spotlight away from actors — which was held at the Beverly Hilton on Tuesday night. Here it was obvious that Lagerfeld’s impact on [...]

  • Ramon Rodriguez

    NBC Drama Pilot 'Prism' Adds Ramon Rodriguez

    Ramon Rodriguez has joined the NBC legal drama pilot “Prism” in a lead role, Variety has learned. “Prism” is an exploration of a murder trial in which every episode is told through the perspective of a different key person involved. Each new version of the facts ratchets up the mystery and the suspense, calling into question [...]

  • Rob Lowe TCA

    Rob Lowe Talks About Life in Boston (England) and His New British Cop Show 'Wild Bill'

    Before shooting his new series “Wild Bill” for Britain’s ITV, Rob Lowe had no idea there was a Boston in England – which the U.S. city in Massachusetts is actually named after. “Wild Bill” is currently in production in the original Boston, in eastern England, and Lowe, appropriately enough, plays a fish out of water [...]

  • ABC-Oscar-Game

    ABC to Launch Oscars Live Play-Along Game With $50,000 Grand Prize

    ABC is hoping to drive viewers to its host-less telecast of the 91st Academy Awards on Sunday by dangling the promise of cold, hard cash to one lucky winner. The broadcaster on will launch “The Official Oscar Game,” a live game that will let viewers play along in real time during the awards presentation. The [...]

  • Desus and Mero

    Desus & Mero Are Doing Late-Night Their Own Way

    It wasn’t too long ago that Desus Nice and The Kid Mero were living their lives as Daniel Baker and Joel Martinez, two bored Bronx guys throwing jokes on Twitter about their frustrating jobs. But six years after joining forces, they’re poised to crash the overwhelmingly monochrome late-night talk-show party with their wicked wit, supreme [...]

  • Norah O'Donnell

    CBS Mulls Changes to 'CBS Evening News,' Eyes Norah O'Donnell for Anchor Slot (EXCLUSIVE)

    CBS News is considering making significant changes to its flagship “CBS Evening News,” according to four people with knowledge of the talks, part of a top-down look at the news division by incoming president Susan Zirinsky. Executives are considering putting “CBS This Morning” anchor Norah O’Donnell in the lead role of its evening-news broadcast, these [...]

  • Lena Waithe-Produced Comedy Scores Pilot Order

    Lena Waithe-Produced Comedy Scores Pilot Order from Showtime

    Showtime has ordered a pilot for “How to Make Love to a Black Woman (Who May Be Working Through Some Sh*t), a half-hour comedy anthology series created by Casallina “Cathy” Kisakye. The show landed at the network through Emmy winner Lena Waithe’s first-look deal with Showtime. Kisakye, who will write the pilot, joins Waithe and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content