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NatGeo’s ‘Genius’ Cast, Crew on How Einstein’s Life Parallels Current Headlines

Variety logo Variety 4/20/2017 Dawn Emery
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While season one of “Genius” gives insight into the life of legendary physicist Albert Einstein, who died in 1955, cast and crew at the London premiere were unanimous about how pertinent the themes are today, given headlines about the refugee crisis.

The National Geographic series, which premieres on April 25, shows Einstein trying to flee Nazi Germany but facing tough U.S. immigration policies.

“It wasn’t lost on any of us how similar our situations were,” says Gigi Pritzer, who served as executive producer, alongside Ron Howard and Brian Grazer.

Geoffrey Rush, who plays the freethinking Einstein, describes him as an “antihero.” “The world at the moment feels a bit anxiety-ridden, a lot of the people in charge don’t seem to be terribly good human beings,” says Rush. “And Einstein really believed in passion and curiosity and knowledge… and not being part of an orthodox group.”

He and Emily Watson, who plays Einstein’s second wife Elsa, filmed their immigration scenes in the days after the U.S. election. “It was like events were re-enacting themselves,” she said.

Michael McElhatton (“Game of Thrones”) plays Philipp Lenard, a German physicist who won the Nobel Prize for Physics, but was an anti-Semite who supported Hitler and dismissed Einstein’s contributions to science as constituting “Jewish physics.”

He drew his inspiration for his character, he says, from a certain famous political figure. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I said to Ron, ‘We’ve got to think ‘Trump.’” And he said, ‘Yeah, I didn’t know where your politics lie, but that was the note I was going to give.’”

Howard, who directed the first episode, says that he’d wanted to tell the story of Einstein for a long time, and praised the scientist’s “courage and fortitude based on his principles.”

Einstein renounced his German citizenship in 1933 shortly after learning that his home had been raided by Nazis, and that the new German government had barred Jews from holding official positions.

“What’s amazing is that he was a complete pacifist yet was considered such a threat,” says Pritzker.

“I hope the series sheds light on the complexity of the decision to leave,” says Howard. “You know, it’s not so easy to become a refugee. It’s nothing anyone wants.“

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