The new TNT series “The Alienist” is set in New York City in the 1890s, but it is filmed more than 4,300 miles away, in Budapest.
“It was kind of a long journey to get to end up in Budapest,” says production designer Mara LePere-Schloop. “We were in Montreal briefly. We added New York pretty extensively, not just New York City but the state — all the boroughs around Manhattan as well.”
LePere-Schloop, who also worked on the first season of “True Detective” and films like “Elvis & Nixon” and “Split,” says one of the challenges of film a show like “The Alienist” — about a psychologist (Daniel Brühl) and a newspaper illustrator (Luke Evans) investigating a murder — is how expansive it is, and you can’t just put the characters into a police station and let them solve the crime from there.
“It’s really the story of a city in change, not just about our characters,” she says. “You’ve really got to get out and see the city. And so we knew the scope was always going to be huge.”
So huge, in fact, that the show has a set that is 10 city blocks in full scale in the Hungarian capital. And, as an added bonus, LePere-Schloop says Budapest was also filled with some decorative architecture that could be utilized for filming as well. Of course, they also recreated some iconic constructs from the city.
The opening crime scene of “The Alienist” is set on the construction site of Williamsburg Bridge.
“In Budapest, we actually built a portion of the Williamsburg Bridge and that was pretty exciting and a bit of an engineering feat,” she says. “I think for us within the art department, it was such a great project because you get to dive into the research and go into the historic photos and archives and really see how these things were built, what the construction mechanisms were and then recreate those things.”
Star Brühl says it is a privilege to work “with people who are so good, who put so much effort and passion into every single detail.”
“It makes it so much easier for us to really dive into that time period,” he says. “Very often I was thinking I was time traveling. And I really got goose bumps because I was looking around sometimes and nothing was wrong. It was all accurate and sometimes I was thinking to myself, ‘God, It’s 1896.’
“And I had to fly in some friends and family just to see that set because it was a perfect recreation of New York,” he adds. “It was a very funny feeling when we traveled to the upfronts in New York and to walk down the very same street. It was the most bizarre experience, because we just came from Mulberry built in Budapest inch-by-inch. To then go to SoHo in New York, 2017, was very peculiar; it was very awkward.”