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The unexpected inspiration behind Daniel Brühl's role on The Alienist - Exclusive

In the 1800s, psychiatrists were called alienists because they were thought to help with the "mental alienation" an ill patient suffered. That historical fact is at the heart of premise of the TNT series The Alienist, which is based on the book of the same name by Caleb Carr and is about to wrap up its second season this Sunday, August 9 on TNT. 

Set in New York City in the late 1800s, the gritty period drama stars Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds, Captain America: Civil War) as Laszlo Kreizler, a revered psychiatrist specializing in children suffering from mental illness who is drawn into a grisly string of murders. The first season deals with the disturbing deaths of child prostitutes, while the second season — entitled The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, Carr's sequel to the original story — centers around the horrific killing of infants.

Joining Kreizler in the criminal probes are newspaper illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans), who draws the dreadful scenes, and Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), the first woman employed by the NYPD who later goes on to open her own private detective agency.

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Brühl discussed his role on The Alienist, revealing the unexpected place from which he drew inspiration.

Daniel Brühl prepared for his Alienist role with the help of his wife — and many, many books

In preparation for his role on The Alienist, Brühl expectedly turned to the source material — reading both of Carr's related crime novels, which were initially released in the 1990s. For the actor, the genre in which Carr writes is something he's enjoyed since he was young.

"I just love the universe that he created," he said of Carr's work. "My inspiration [for the role of Laszlo] came mainly by reading the books. The combination of darkness and eerie, gripping material is something that I've enjoyed since I was a child. And I loved learning so much about that time — about history, about New York, about all the sciences that were created in those days. It just fascinated me. I think they did a brilliant job in adapting it and keeping elements of the books, yet changing a couple of things to benefit our show."

But the Carr books weren't Brühl's only source of inspiration for his role on The Alienist. In fact, he had a source very near and dear to his heart: his wife, Felicitas, who is a practicing psychologist.

"Thanks to her, I got to read a lot of interesting material of that time, because psychology was born, I think, 20 years prior to the [era of the] show," said Brühl. "She had studied it all and still has the books. So, I have all these books — Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and others — that I had to read, which was quite a lot."

Bruhl continued, revealing that he read a "very, very fascinating" book by the first woman investigative reporter, Nellie Bly. The information contained within Bly's book tied into the events of The Alienist season 2 and provided Brühl with even more unique inspiration.

"[Bly] wrote a book about something called the Madhouse, where there was horrible psychiatry on an island in New York. She pretended that she was mentally ill and got in there, and it's thanks to her, after the articles were published [in the late 1800s], things changed," he told Looper. "It was a very interesting read in preparation for the show, because it had a bit to do with the hospital we are dealing with in season 2 and the horrible things that are happening there. So, that was an interesting inspiration."

The season finale of The Alienist: Angel of Darkness airs Sunday, August 9 at 9 PM ET on TNT.