Behind the scenes with the cast and crew of ‘Genius' about Albert Einstein
New National Geographic miniseries reveals the story of the man often called the world's first international celebrity.
Known worldwide for his theory of relativity and the equation E = mc2, Albert Einstein is arguably the most famous scientist in history – and with his wild halo of hair, the most recognizable. But beyond the brilliant mind and distinctive mane, most people don’t know that much about him. That’s about to change with the premiere of “Genius,” a 10-part series that chronicles his scientific accomplishments but also paints a very personal portrait of a passionate man.
Based on Walter Isaacson’s critically acclaimed book “Einstein: His Life and Universe” and premiering April 25, “Genius” is National Geographic Channel’s first scripted series. It features A-list talent behind the scenes, with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard as executive producers (Howard also directed the first episode) and Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush (“Shine”) sharing the role with Johnny Flynn as the young Einstein.
To play the same person at different ages, Rush and Flynn “Skyped and then we hung out and did a lot of chatting about being doppelgangers. It was a good exercise for us,” says Rush.
“We had the same dialect coach, and that was a huge help because Geoffrey had worked with her before,” adds Flynn. “She was a medium for us to communicate and get a sense of this person physically and vocally, and combine our ideas and work together.”
Approaching the role, “I wanted to think outside of him being a scientist because that's a given. He’s a great heroic figure. He was a glass half full kind of guy. He always saw the better side of humanity,” Rush notes.
But as Ron Howard points out, “There was a lot of pressure on Einstein. Sometimes it was his own foibles. But, very often, it was society’s old, rigid thinking, and sometimes bigotry that threatened to prevent the world from having what this remarkable individual had to offer. So it's not just a story of achievement, it's also a story of struggle.”
That story jumps back and forth in time in the premiere before following a more linear structure, depicting the rebellious teenage Albert, his battles with authority and his first loves. It unfolds as he makes his discoveries, becomes famous and deals with that in the context of the world at large.
“Einstein is an icon, but few people understand what he went through, who he was, and I think that will be a very surprising and entertaining aspect of the show,” says co-executive producer Noah Pink, who wrote the first and fourth episodes. “He lived through two world wars and was in many ways the first international celebrity. He was not only a brilliant scientist but also a brilliant writer, philosopher, musician – he played violin, really complex Mozart sonatas. He was a humanist, an outspoken pacifist. He led a very full life, one we all should aspire to.”
Pink was on the set when filming commenced in Prague, Czech Republic. “We had a physics advisor with us there and in the writers’ room in Los Angeles. Our goal was not to get everyone to understand the intricacies of what relativity is but to grasp the basic idea and how Einstein saw the world differently. You watch for the characters, not a science lesson,” he says. “While it was very important to pay homage to his work, it was equally important to tell a story about characters, a man with all his flaws.”
Besides the Isaacson book, Pink used Einstein’s letters and papers from the Einstein archives on the campus of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He tried to incorporate many of Einstein’s actual words into the script. “The writing staff wanted to stay as true to the story as possible. Not only because we were doing it for National Geographic but we felt the story was so powerful and intriguing that we saw no need to stray too far from the truth,” he explains.
He hopes that audiences come away with a better appreciation of true genius that goes beyond Einstein’s contributions to science and humanity. “If we could see the world through Einstein’s eyes and see the wonder of the universe we live in,” he says, “just maybe we can be a better world because of it.”
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