Audition Recordings from The Alienist TV Series

Earlier this week, I reported that a troubling audition recording for the role of Marcus Isaacson in The Alienist TV series had surfaced publicly on Vimeo. The recording suggested that Marcus had taken a woman with a baby into his family’s house so that he could “fornicate” with her. As any Alienist reader would know, this is completely inconsistent with Marcus’ portrayal in the novel. Since posting this, I have been made aware that several more — equally troubling — audition recordings have surfaced, also publicly on Vimeo (see below).

I am making this public because it disturbs me significantly that the team working on this adaptation appear to be corrupting the characters from the novel. Please note that this concern does not relate to the actors whose recordings have surfaced; it relates exclusively to the script they are reading from. Although most of the recordings have now been pulled down, I strongly encourage Alienist readers to share your feelings about what is being done to your favourite characters and spread this news to any other fans of the novel that you know.

Sara Howard

One of the most offensive portrayals in the audition recordings relates to Sara Howard. In the worst scene, Sara is portrayed as silly and immature, giggling and unable to bring herself to say the word penis, before naively asking her maid about the size of one she saw earlier that day. (This from a character who, in the The Angel of Darkness, told John, “even through the sheets I could clip off both your testicles with one shot — so I advise you to unhand me.”)

In another scene that does not appear in the novel, she indicates that she could be enticed to steal coronial reports, betraying Theodore Roosevelt’s trust, if John would portray Roosevelt and herself in a more flattering light in The New York Times.

The recording has now been removed.

Transcription from the recording —
Sara: “Tessie, have you ever seen a…”
Tessie: “Yes, miss?”
Sara: “I’m trying to say the word but I’m failing…”
Tessie: “What is it, miss? Is it a man’s… manhood?”
(They both giggle.)
Tessie: “Oh dear, what sort of things have they been exposing you to downtown?”
Sara: “It has been mainly civilised, Tessie, I swear it. But I did see one today. And it occurred to me, I didn’t know whether it was a large one or a small one.”
(She tries to demonstrate size using her fingers.)
Tessie: “Was it rigid?”
Sara: “Dear God, Tessie, I didn’t touch it! Have you ever…? I’m sorry, I’m being impertinent, aren’t I?”
Tessie: “No, it’s fine, miss. I never thought I’d have this conversation with you of all people. Yes.”
Sara: “Yes! And…”
Tessie: “It felt… dangerous.”

Marcus Isaacson

As I explained above, Marcus is portrayed in the following recording as a man who would take a woman with a baby into his family’s house under the pretext of caring for his mother so that he can “fornicate” with her. He also chuckles inappropriately at the conclusion of a bastardised ‘prayer’ he sings over the mutilated bodies of the Zweig children that, according to another tape in which the prayer is read in English, translates to: “May the Lord bless us and keep us and our loved ones off the autopsy table.”

Although the recording has now been removed, much of the same dialogue can be found in a Lucius Isaacson audition that is still publicly available.

Transcription from the recording —
Marcus: “Doesn’t the Torah say desire is no more a sin than hunger or thirst?”
Lucius: “If you’d bothered to read the Torah, you’d know it says no such thing. It says there are impulses we have to control. That’s what makes men different from beasts.”
Marcus: “I guess I fall somewhere between the two, then.”

Dr. Laszlo Kreizler

No audition recording has surfaced as yet for Dr. Kreizler. However, hints about how his character has been changed can be found in lines that appear in auditions for other characters. For example, he appears uncharacteristically rude in the preceding Sara audition:

Transcription from the Sara Howard recording —
John: “Miss Sara Howard, this is Dr. Laszlo Kreizler. Dr. Kreizler, Roosevelt, and I were at Harvard together.”
(Sara holds out her hand to Dr. Kreizler.)
Sara: “It’s a pleasure to meet you, doctor. I believe I’ve read a great deal about you.”
(Kreizler does not return the handshake.)
Kreizler: “A pleasure to know you can read. We’re here to see the Commissioner.”

The Sara Howard audition also suggests that Theodore Roosevelt does not want to associate himself with Dr. Kreizler, in complete contrast to Kreizler and Roosevelt’s relationship in the novel.

John Schuyler Moore

As with Dr. Kreizler, no recording of John has surfaced as yet. However, the first scene from the Patrick Connor recording suggests that John is no longer a crime reporter in the adaptation, while the first scene from the Sara Howard recording suggests that he is a society reporter who has published a piece containing the following line: “Her [Sara’s] father was a childhood friend of Commissioner Roosevelt, although the intimacy of their working quarters calls decency into question.”

As anyone who has read the book would realise, this is the last thing John would ever write about either of his friends. In addition, Sara would have to be exceptionally young in order for Sara’s father and TR to have been childhood friends.

Patrick Connor

The recording that has appeared of Captain Connor indicates that he is being used in place of Sergeant Flynn when the body of Giorgio Santorelli has been discovered, and that he has multiple scenes in the adaptation long before he first appears in the novel. While the decision to blend Flynn and Connor may not appear problematic at first glance, I would like to remind readers that Connor’s role belongs exclusively behind the scenes for most of the novel. If he is introduced this early, what will be the big reveal two thirds of the way into the story at the meeting with J. P. Morgan?

The recording has now been removed.

Please share this news with any other Alienist readers who may be interested.

19 comments on “Audition Recordings from The Alienist TV Series

  1. It is SO frustrating. The real work was done when it was written- perfection. Adaptation is like translation – its the time for thoughtfulness and respect/ it’s not the time to insert adolescent penis humor….. Save us all.

  2. Thanks for putting this up Kim. First of all I want to say that the caliber of the actors looks promising, it’s just such a shame that I can’t say the same for the scriptwriter/s, some of this dialogue is so bad and so out of character.
    What on earth was Connor doing in the scene when he mentions the large rat? I thought I could hear the sound of liquid running, he appeared to be busy with his hands mumbling something about shaking. Sara’s response that she has killed rats on her father’s estate with a loud clap of her hands. What on earth is this about? I hope he was only washing his hands with the tap running but having listened to Sara’s film about seeing a penis earlier in the day makes me put two and two together and wonder what the hell the scriptwriter was thinking.
    Surely this couldn’t mean that Connor has exposed himself to Sara, if I’m right then I suggest that these script parts don’t need reworking they need to be thrown out! Come on scriptwriters, show a bit of class, anyone can write trash.
    The Alienist was a #1 NY Times best seller, an accurate representation of the book has the potential to be just as great.

  3. I like the actress in the audition for Sara- stunning eyes! But I’m disappointed they aren’t following Carr’s advice. That juvenile script is horrible.

  4. Ridiculous. Sara Howard wouldn’t have giggled at saying “penis” if you’d dropped one in her lap. Stick to writing dialogue, people – Carr’s characters are brilliant and his story is compelling. Don’t dumb them down for mass market consumption.

  5. I have recently finished The Alienist about a week ago and can honestly say it was one of the best books I have ever read. Seeing the news you’ve updated us on appals me. Carr’s unique way of writing the phenomenal character development and the accuracy of depicting the setting in that time period shouldn’t be tarnished through amateur script writing. I’m ashamed at what production and writing has come to nowadays to completely ruin an amazing book. I really hope they change these scripts because from what I’ve seen, the characters are not correct and are completely different from Carr’s originals ones from the book. I wish to see them consult with Carr and to make the show follow the book as it was written.

  6. I shared this on Facebook and encourage others to share this on your various social media outlets as well. Perhaps our voices can sway TNT to request a better script from the producers.

  7. Did they read the book? What the hell? This book is one of my favs, but if this is the dialogue, I won’t watch TNT’s corrupt version. The book almost reads like a screenplay, how did they screw it up so bad?

  8. Thank you so much for sharing Caleb Carr’s response! It’s comforting to know that he’s still involved and defending his work. Honestly, I’d rather they pull the plug on the project if they won’t consult Carr– which is clearly happening now.

  9. The three videos of the below actor’s portrayal of Marcus is still up on Vimeo containing the same dialogue as previously noted. I just don’t see how the writer(s) were able to create such dialogue so incongruous with these characters. It makes one wonder if they even read the book.

  10. Pretty revolting. There are also some other audition tapes on Vimeo that you don’t have listed above, and the script in those is equally as horrifying and blasphemous as these.

    Why bother calling it “The Alienist” if you are going to totally butcher the plot, characters, and essence of what makes the story the story?

    My support goes wholeheartedly to the author: it would appear that Anonymous Content, Paramount, and TNT are simply paying lip service to fans of this incredible book by saying they are consulting its author, Caleb Carr. The script makes it clear that they aren’t. Certainly not in any substantive way.

  11. These auditions are definitely troubling. On one hand, I certainly have no qualms with the process of adaptation; if the demands of a television series dictate that certain scenes need to be cut or others added, it’s entirely understandable. I also don’t mind the idea of taking minor liberties with characters; obviously, the TV series needs to stand out on its own and tell the story in a way that it sees fit, and I’m not precious about details.

    That said, I think what’s troubling is what seems to be *underlying* these changes. In every instance, characters appear to have been made lighter and less eccentric. This implies that they’re making changes in the interests of mass appeal. This, to me, is not only frustrating but also confusing, as the landscape of American television has changed drastically in the past few years. What gave me hope about this series was the fact that cerebral, ‘quality’ television has increasingly gained headway and proven to be marketable on a mass scale. Fukunaga’s True Detective was an example of this phenomenon, so he knows full well that American television shows no longer need to shy away from challenging material to garner viewership. With him at the helm, I felt confident that The Alienist would fall in line with other recent so-called ‘quality’ television. Going a more traditional (in American terms) mass market route would, quite frankly, be a rather stupid decision for the producers, not just because it would alienate fans of the book (pun shamelessly intended), but also because it would inevitably make the show feel outdated and lead to poor reviews, which is not what a series like this needs.

    Ultimately, the producers need to recognise their audience: The Alienist is never going to be light entertainment, no matter how much you dumb it down, because it’s a talky, heavy historical thriller about murdered child prostitutes and child abuse. Trying to make it ‘lighter’ will just confuse its audience; those who like ‘lighter’ costume drama equivalents like Poirot mysteries or what have you will be put off by the series’ subject matter, while those who like more challenging television (and those who fell in love with the book) will find it rather silly. Obviously, the smart way to go is to place high value on quality, to avoid the temptation to simplify or lighten material, and to market it to the ‘quality’ television audience, which is really the only audience to whom it can successfully appeal. Otherwise, it will just fall by the wayside and be forgotten. And after 22 years, that would be a pretty spectacular waste of time and money.

  12. Would somebody PLEASE post the requisite email addresses so fans have someplace to voice their frustrations that will hopefully accomplish something before it’s too late. It’s all well and good to say that the novel is being utterly destroyed by the network but it won’t make any difference at all unless fans everywhere can actually shove their displeasure into the face of someone who can actually DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

    As a fan of the novels since a month after the first one was released, I’ve been waiting and hoping FOR YEARS to see this incredible story brought to the screen. If TNT has bought the rights only to rewrite what is already EXACTLY as it should be, then I for one want rain all over their ugly parade. C. Carr should, by rights, have been the one to write the screenplay. It’s well within his wheelhouse and it’s HIS STORY to tell. If TNT intends to bastardize that, then I intend to do everything within my power to fight it.

    But I can’t do that without names and emails. TNT is a tough nut to crack when it comes to finding ways to contact the people who could actually effect some real change in regard to this series. We need to tell them they’ll be launching the series to as few viewers as possible since anyone who’s read the book isn’t going to sit in front of a screen to watch the mess they’re making of it.

    Thank you for ANY information that will help fight TNT who, it would appear, has no intention of staying true to the novels and characters we have all come to love.

    • Hi Janine,

      While I thank you for voicing your disappointment and I agree with many of your sentiments, I respectfully ask that you direct your frustration toward the right people, not me or this website. Nobody could be more angry regarding the direction the producers appear to be taking this adaptation than myself. However, at this point I have done all I can to bring this matter to light in my capacity as the owner of 17th Street.

      As the recordings were taken down in response to this post appearing, it appears that the studios are aware 17th Street exists. Until this news makes it into the entertainment press and receives wider coverage, however, I fear we will have little chance to effect the kind of change we would like to see—assuming that Paramount, Anonymous Content, and TNT are not already planning to rework the script.

      At this stage, the best I can suggest is to contact Mr. Carr directly through his Facebook page; many readers appear to have considerable success contacting him through that platform. He may be able to provide you with the email address(es) you seek, or at least point you in the direction of someone who can provide them.


  13. I never intended to offend and was asking for help precisely because I don’t know who to contact. Apparently, I incorrectly assumed that you were asking for help in order to make the people in charge of these changes aware that this is disappointing, at the very least, to fans of the novel. I have posted on my FB page and on the FB page of The Alienist. Caleb Carr’s page has been difficult to access and write on.

    I’m sorry for overstepping. I suppose whatever TNT puts out is just going to be whatever it’s going to be. I won’t ask for anymore help and I’ll remove your site address from my post on The Alienist page (if it can be done) and delete the post on my page altogether.

    I wish you luck, however you decide to act or not to act in regard to a problem you were the one to bring to light.

    • Janine, my reply related to the second sentence of your previous comment (“It’s all well and good…”). Perhaps incorrectly, I felt that sentence implied that what I have done so far has been inadequate in bringing this matter to light, and I was asking you to try and keep your frustrations (which I fully understand and share) directed at Paramount, Anonymous Content, and TNT rather than the site on which this news was first shared. Even if I had the executives email addresses (I don’t), I would be reluctant to share them publicly as I would like to avoid legal action. However, as I indicated in my previous reply, wider exposure is precisely what this issue requires, so you are, of course, more than welcome to share a link to this post anywhere that you like, and I sincerely thank you for doing so. Apologies for any misinterpretation on my part.

  14. I’m confused. THE ALIENIST has been trapped in development purgatory for decades, and is finally — by all appearances– being handled w/ respect by professionals. $5 million per episode & at the perfect time — cable series’ dominate 90% of this years’ Emmy noms & a show like THE KNICK should everyone hope. ANON CONTENT & TURNER may knock it out of the park (as they’re hoping) as opposed to Janine’s assumption that they fully intend to “bastardize” it…
    Be proactive and make positive suggestions, instead of making assumptions and angrily judging a production that hasnt even released footage?

  15. I remember watching “The Knick” how it would be possible to adapt “The Alienist”. And then big news it will finally happen ! And reading your post about the casting videotapes leaks i must say i’m a bit worried. But wait and see, i hope it won’t be too bad because it’s been so many years i want an adaptation of this book.

  16. This is so weird. Caleb Carr made it clear how protective he was of his books by pulling the plug on the movie adaptation. In fact I wondered if these audition tapes were of the movie, not the tv series, but it doesn’t sound as though the movie got that far. :( Thank you for posting this, Kim.

  17. Praying for scripts that are true to the book, which in my opinion was fairly perfect. Glad they are looking at some talented unknown and non-star actors who won’t put their “thing” on the characters.

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