SA-born actor Johnny Flynn’s take on playing a genius
Flynn plays a younger Albert Einstein in the globally acclaimed series Genius.
PRAGUE – Johnny Flynn plays young Albert Einstein in National Geographic’s Genius. (Photo Credit: National Geographic/Dusan Martincek)
Though his scientific endeavours continue to inspire awe, few know the entire story of the tumultuous private life of the 20th century’s most brilliant icon, Albert Einstein.
Now, for the first time, you get all the sauce in National Geographic’s new series Genius, starting Sunday night. Featuring Einstein’s lovers, enemies and fellow scientific luminaries, the all-star cast includes Geoffrey Rush as the celebrated titular scientist, Johnny Flynn as Albert in the years before he rose to international acclaim, and Emily Watson as his second wife – and first cousin – Elsa Einstein.
The show will enjoy a global release Sunday night – and to show just how global it really is: Flynn was born in South Africa, before being raised in England.
Here’s Flynn’s take on the acclaimed series.
What was it like working with Geoffrey Rush and portraying the same character?
Geoffrey and I met on Skype and for a while we were just talking and gathering ideas from our impressions. He was incredibly gracious and helpful. In Shine he played a character that had a younger self and he explained what they did and how it worked, so I felt safe in trusting him.
What are the similarities between you and Einstein?
I like that we share a birthday and this gives me a tiny bit of a sense of synchronicity that I am supposed to be here – not just some blond, blue-eyed guy that has been scrubbed up and has the right to impersonate him or channel him. I strongly identify with a lot of the feelings he had about belonging or not belonging to any dogmatic sect, or group of beliefs or nationality. I have always felt the same way and do not identify with any nationality. Like him I got to move around a lot as a young kid and lived in several different countries and did not want to be identified with any of them. I completely get that and felt the same way about conflict in all its forms.
What has been your favourite scene to shoot?
There are too many to call a favourite but I hugely enjoyed the moving and challenging ones to do, like when his father died. We had that scene with Robert Lindsay, who plays Albert’s father, and it was very moving and, as an actor, it was thrilling and challenging. I quite enjoyed the funeral scene in a synagogue in Prague. We had about 100 extras and it was very powerful.
What was his relationship like with women?
He was charmed by certain women and there are accounts of him being quite naughty. He fell in love several times in his early life. In my half of the series, there are three women: Marie Winteler, who was his kind of teenage love and crush; but then he goes to university and meets his first wife, Mileva Maric, who was a brilliant scientist, as well as the only girl in his class; and then his second wife and first cousin, Elsa Einstein.
What will viewers get when they tune into Genius?
We are showing someone who re-interpreted the laws of science in ways you could not fathom. He changed everything! And on a personal level it is a fascinating story of someone doing all that amazing stuff and his personal relationships and the drama he suffered trying to give these things to the world and his reason for existing.
Where: National Geographic Channel (DStv 182)
Genius sits on a unique shelf, especially on National Geographic. It is the first time in the history of the channel that is showcasing a wholly scripted series.
The difference is, unlike a bio-film or even a show with dramatised re-enactments Genius presents the life of Albert Einstein in a closed-ending cinematic narrative sort of way.
Genius has been renewed for a second season and the new titular genius will be introduced at the end of the first season (Auf wiedersehen, Einstein).
The show presents Einstein in a different light. He’s self-centred, sexed-up, confused, rebellious and humble all in one.
The non-linear narrative also plays an important role.
In Sunday night’s episode, the Jewish-born Einstein grapples with the thought of fleeing Nazi Germany, while the younger version of himself flunks out of university and tries to get entry into a programme that will allow him to study physics.