The Cast of Genius Answers Was Albert Einstein a Likeable Pig

first_imgNational Geographic is premiering its new drama series Genius on Tuesday, April 25. Each season will tell the story of a famous scientist. The first focuses on Albert Einstein, played by Geoffrey Rush in his later years and by Johnny Flynn in his younger days. We got to see an early screening of the first episode at TriBeCa Film Festival and got a chance to talk to some of the actors beforehand. Naturally, I asked them about DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.There are now two shows in recent memory that featured Albert Einstein. This and Legends of Tomorrow. In the first episode of the recently concluded second season, the Legends met and kidnapped Albert Einstein. (They’re trying to save him from Nazi captors and prevent a devastating attack on 1940s New York.) Martin Stein reveres Einstein like a god and is flustered to find out that the man himself is a womanizing smart-ass. Mick Rory, on the other hand, is delighted. He enjoys watching Martin be called “stupid” by his hero. Most of all, he has one of the best lines of the episode: “I like him. He’s a pig.”How close to the truth is that line? Well, the cast of this show has certainly learned a lot about Einstein over the course of production, so I asked them what they thought of that assessment. Yes, when given the opportunity to interview great actors of film and television, I ask them about my favorite comic book TV show. That’s who I am.Czech Republic – Emily Watson (Elsa Einstein) with Geoffrey Rush (Albert Einstein) in National Geographic’s Genius (National Geographic/Dusan Martincek)First up was Richard Topol, who plays Einstein’s friend, Fritz Haber. Topol first shared a little information about Haber, and why he was so excited to play this role. Haber was born Jewish but converted to Christianity. He was a chemist who figured out how to use Nitrogen as a fertilizer and grow more food. He saved Europe from famine. He then used the same process in World War I to make poison gas. That dichotomy is what made the role so interesting to Topol. The actor promised that Genius will also tell Haber’s story.But onto the important question. Is “I like him; he’s a pig” an accurate description of Einstein. Now, if anyone’s going to have a good answer to a question, it’s the guy who plays Fritz Haber. In describing Einstein’s friendship with Haber, Topol said Einstein asked Haber to help him divorce his first wife. Einstein wanted his wife to either agree to let him keep his mistress or agree to divorce. Haber’s the one that fixed it for him. So what does the man who played Fritz Haber think?“I think he’s portrayed as somebody who doesn’t want to grow up,” Topol said. He sees Albert Einstein not as a pig, but as an immature person, who probably should have behaved more like a grown up than he did. “We forgive him. We forgive him his weakness, his childishness. So how about that? Slightly kinder.”Most of the cast, after working on this series, had a much kinder outlook on Albert Einstein and his womanizing ways. Now, it’s almost certain many of them aren’t familiar with how blunt Mick Rory typically is, but it’s not surprising that after studying the people in Einstein’s life so closely, they have a more nuanced take on him.Gwendolyn Ellis, who plays the young version of Elsa Einstein, the physicist’s second wife and first cousin, very much disagreed that the man was a pig. She describes Einstein’s relationship with his second wife as a deep romantic friendship. That they knew what each other needed, and they found that they wanted the same kind of marriage.“I think he was a regular guy. He certainly slept with his fair share of women, and I think that Elsa didn’t like it, but I think she admired him to an extent that she knew that that’s what he needed,” Ellis said. “No, no I don’t think he was a pig. I just think he was a morally complicated person.”Next came T.R. Knight, who plays J. Edgar Hoover on Genius. Knight, who had not seen the finished show yet, promised that it will tackle the issue of whether Einstein was a pig or not. He didn’t give any opinion on the issue himself, though he did admit that Einstein did have some issues with women.“What I like about it is it shows his failings. I think that’s what’s so fascinating, especially about modern biopics. It’s so easy to hero worship him, but what if you know all the uglier sides of someone and then you still respect them? That’s fascinating to me.”Of course, I couldn’t have J. Edgar Hoover standing in front of me and not ask about another famous portrayal of the former FBI director. I asked Knight who would win in a J. Edgar Hoover-off, him or Leonardo DiCaprio. Knight said he wouldn’t want to fight Leo, as the Oscar winner is much taller than him. Also, he’s a pacifist. On the other hand, given the prosthetics at work in both J. Edgar and Genius, Knight would like to see the prosthetic teams face off against one another. You listening Nat Geo? I think I smell a spin-off series.We also spoke to the actor who plays an agent working under Hoover in the first episode. Vincent Kartheiser plays Raymond Geist, who questions Einstein about his loyalties and intentions before he enters the United States. It was funny to see that, although Kartheiser described his character as morally closer to himself than Pete Campbell was, we feel similarly about Geist as we did about Pete. In fact, he’d be a great villain on next season of Legends of Tomorrow. Pete Campbell: Time Asshole.Kartheiser disagreed with Legends‘s characterization of Einstein as a pig but said that doesn’t mean the show is wrong. “I think that calling anyone a pig is a vague and broad term, and I think we all have moments like that, don’t we?” he said. “If they went back in time for just one moment, just one year, just one month… I guess in certain rooms with Albert Einstein you would think that, and in other rooms, you would think he had a very high level of integrity and discipline. I think we all have our places where we’re at our best and places where we’re at our worst.” He added, “I’m at my worst in the shower.”Eugene Simon, who plays son Eduard Einstein, very much insisted that Albert was not a pig. He even had some advice for the fictional DC character. When telling me about the role of Eduard, Simon said he felt the sense of abandonment Eduard feels towards his father very personally. He was also fascinated by Eduard’s response to his abandonment issues and his own chase of schizophrenia. Eduard Einstein dealt with his mental illness by learning everything he could about psychology at the time. “It’s a story that’s enormously powerful, and I was very lucky to tell it.”Upon hearing about the scene in question, Simon replied “Well Heat Wave, I don’t know what books you’ve been reading, or not reading. No, I think Albert Einstien was, certainly I can tell you from my understanding for my character, a flawed father. To say he’s a pig is probably a little bit too harsh.” Simon pointed out that Einstein lived during one of the most turbulent times in the 20th century, and tried to impart a message of pacifism to a world that wasn’t too keen on it. “He was a man of great integrity, but flawed. So Heat Wave, read more books.” Not sure Rory will take the advice, but there it is.Finally, I had to ask one of the writers of Genius what he thought of the comedy superhero show’s portrayal of the man he no doubt spent a lot of time researching and getting just right. Kenneth Biller co-wrote the script with Noah Pink. Biller said he wanted to tell Einstein’s story because he had such an eventful, dramatic and dangerous life. He also said he thought it was important, during a time when science is not valued by those in power, to tell a story about a time where it was. Not only valued, Biller said Einstein was an international superstar for his ideas.So what did he think about Mick Rory’s interpretation of the character? He didn’t see Einstein as a pig at all. “I don’t think Einstein was a womanizer, he didn’t objectify women,” Biller said. “He really valued women, and in many ways, his ideas about women were very modern. His first wife, Mileva Maric was a student with him and he was very excited about the idea of having a Ph.D. for a wife… He valued women’s intellect, and yes, he did love women, a lot of women, but as you’ll see in the show, he had his own Einsteinian logic. He just didn’t really believe that monogamy was natural, he thought it was an artificial social construct. He came to an accommodation with his second wife, Elsa, who knew about and tolerated his affairs.”Biller said that while he doesn’t see Einstein as a big, he was a flawed human being, and the show will depict his many mistakes as well as his successes.Despite Einstein’s many flaws and well-documented infidelity, the people that have just made a comprehensive biographic TV series about him wouldn’t say he’s a pig. While it’s not news that the National Geographic show would be a little more nuanced than the superhero time travel comedy in its depiction of Albert Einstein, everyone had their own interpretation of who Albert Einstein was. He may not have been a pig, but he was a flawed human being, who occasionally hurt those closest to him. Either way, he’s so much more than the E=MC2 guy with crazy hair. It’s exciting to see shows like Genius and even Legends of Tomorrow (in its own way) try to show us that.Genius premieres tonight Tuesday, April 25 at 9 p.m. on National Geographic. For more, read PCMag’s Fast Forward: Ron Howard on Einstein’s Genius, the Future of Filmmaking.All photos by Managing Editor, Sheilah Villarilast_img read more

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