Well, it’s certainly been busy in the lead up to shooting for TNT’s adaptation of The Alienist with lots of casting and production news coming out in recent weeks. As I mentioned in the previous update, it appears as though actors who have already been cast have been making their way to Budapest in preparation for filming, and the photo to the right shared on Luke Evans’ (playing John Moore) twitter feed on March 16 appears to indicate that shooting has now begun!
An additional photo has also appeared on twitter from Antonio Magro sharing his new look for his role as gangster Paul Kelly, with Falk Hentschel seen behind playing Biff Ellison. Meanwhile, Dakota Fanning commented recently in an interview with Collider on what prompted her to take the role of Sara Howard in the upcoming series:
The reason I wanted to do it was that, first of all, I loved the story. I love the other actors that I’m working with, and the character that I’m getting to play is a super strong woman, especially for the time in which she lives in. She’s the first woman to work at the New York City Police Department, and that’s really cool. And as for why I wanted to do TV, I think work is work, and telling stories is telling stories, no matter where they’re shown. I’m such a huge fan of television and what’s happening in television, right now. You are able to visit characters and visit a story, week to week, push things in a different way than you can in a film, and you are able to go deeper, simply because you have more time. I’m just excited to do that. It’s always good to do new things. It felt, for so many reasons, like the right time in my life and the right piece of material. I’m thrilled!
On the casting front, it was announced on March 9 that Sean Astin will be playing Theodore Roosevelt. Astin is perhaps best known for his role as Sam Gamgee in the Academy Award winning Lord of the Rings trilogy, but has also appeared in numerous TV and movie roles over the years ranging from The Goonies (1985), to Rudy (1993), to the TV series 24 (2006), and most recently Stranger Things (2017). TNT’s press release for Roosevelt describes the Police Commissioner as a “brilliant and ambitious yet principled … crusading reformist determined to clear up corruption in the police force he now heads. While usually inured to crime in New York, Roosevelt becomes outraged over the fact that children are being murdered in his city and develops a warlike zeal to find the perpetrator.” This is a fitting description of TR’s character, and Astin’s recent appearance in Bad Kids of Crestview Academy (2017) as pictured to the right certainly gives the impression that he will look the part of a younger TR at least.
Unfortunately, this is where the good news ends. Deadline reported on March 17 that a new character has been cast who is not in the novel. Emanuela Postacchini has been cast as Flora, “a beautiful young prostitute at the Frenchtown brothel who indulges in some twisted role playing and is a favorite of newspaper illustrator John Moore.” It should go without saying why this is a troubling piece of news. First, it is confirmation that John Moore’s profession has indeed been changed from crime reporter to newspaper illustrator, a change that — as I noted late last year — is concerning for several reasons, not least its connection to the disturbing audition recordings that surfaced in early 2016. Second, and more importantly, it suggests that John’s character has been changed. While we can all acknowledge that John has a weakness for a beautiful woman (or as Stevie puts it in The Angel of Darkness, “Mr. Moore’s always [been] an easy mark for a charming lady”), there is quite a far divide from that and engaging in “twisted role playing” at a Frenchtown brothel. Moreover, the wording of the character description appears to indicate that John is a frequent patron of this particular brothel. Given that, at its core, The Alienist is a story about the rescue of children from the sex industry — a cause that John is vocally passionate about at numerous points in the novel — the decision to change his character to someone who would engage in “twisted role playing” at a brothel undermines the entire message of the novel.
In addition to Flora, another character who doesn’t appear in the novel, Ernestine (played by Ezra Fieremans), has also now appeared on the cast list at IMDb. There is no word yet on what role this character will be playing in the adaptation. I suppose that only time will tell what direction the production team are taking this adaptation in. However, as Dakota herself suggested, the beauty of a television adaptation is that it allows us to get to know the characters in a deeper way than movies usually allow. Given this, my own question to the producers of this show is why not get to know the fascinating three-dimensional characters that long-time Alienist readers have come to know and love from the bestselling books themselves? After all, historical fiction can be wonderfully evocative and thrillers can be exciting, but the only reason to return to the same book time and again is because we find connection in the story through characters we come to know and love. That is the enduring legacy of these books — and that is what, one would hope, the production team should be aiming to capture on the screen.