Genius is not born in a vacuum. That may be the guiding principle of the National Geographic Channel’s first-ever scripted series, Genius, a compulsively entertaining portrait of Albert Einstein that focuses as much on his personal life as on the work that made him a legend in his own time.
Based on the 2007 biography by Walter Isaacson and produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, the ten-part series illustrates that even a man most famous for contemplating the abstract rules of space and time was challenged by the messy realities of being human—money, politics, war, and, yes, sex. “There’s a very fresh perspective on the minutiae of his domestic life, his marital lives, and his relationship with his children,” says Geoffrey Rush, who portrays the physicist in his autumn years, while British newcomer Johnny Flynn inhabits Einstein as a young man. “The story is not actually told in any kind of conventional, linear way,” says Rush, a best-actor Oscar winner for 1996’s Shine. “It flashes back and forth from his youth. It’s a little bit like the theory of relativity—the perception of the events depends on where you’re standing.”
While the two actors never appear in a scene together, there was still close collaboration, Rush says. “There needed to be a change between Einstein as a struggling, radical, rebellious young student questioning how the world works and the very famous Einstein of his older years,” Rush says. “Johnny and I had many conversations about how that shift would affect body language, costumes, hair—I mean, how did he get that crazy hair?” Because there are some questions even general relativity cannot explain.