Ron Howard On Einstein: a Paratrooper In War Against Darkness

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Geoffrey Rush is Albert Einstein in National Geographic's "Genius".

Dusan Martincek/National Geographic

[ ] is explaining what makes a genius. "If you view the known as the light and the unknown as the darkness," he says, "then scientists and geniuses are working on that front line. It's a war against darkness. These are the paratroopers. They go in behind enemy lines, parachute in and have to fight their way back with any bits of knowledge they can discover. And some of them don't make it back."
I'm on the phone with Howard to talk about "[ Genius]", a new show exploring the life of legendary scientist Albert Einstein. [ Geoffrey Rush] and Johnny Flynn play Einstein at different stages in his life, as he [/news/genius-review-albert-einstein-national-geographic-ron-howard-geoffrey-rush/ chases knowledge and girls with equal passion] -- until the turmoil of the 20th century forces him to confront very real threats that resonate with today's troubled times.

The project began with [ Gigi Pritzker], who bought the rights to the biography of Einstein by Walter Isaacson. Isaacson also wrote the biography of Steve Jobs that was turned into the [ 2015 film], and Pritzker was intrigued by his exploration of creativity and where it comes from. "To me," she remembers, "that unlocked a way of looking at Einstein that I hadn't really thought about before."
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Ron Howard directs Johnny Flynn on the set of "Genius".

Robert Viglasky/National Geographic

Originally the plan was to adapt Isaacson's book into a movie. "We tried for a number of years to develop it into a film," said Pritzker, "and it just wasn't working. Regardless of the number of writers, regardless of how we tried to approach it, his life is much bigger and much more complex than two and a half hours allows you to do."

The rise of prestige television over the past few years presented the scope required for a bigger and more complex story. The 10-episode series allows the producers to expand on the turbulent times in which Einstein lived, as well as give room to important and oft-overlooked figures like Mileva Maric, Einstein's wife and a brilliant scientist in her own right. Pritzker credits writer Noah Pink with juggling these various intertwining strands and unlocking the intricacies of who Einstein was, "and not just the caricature of the crazy professor with his tongue sticking out."

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What made Einstein a 'Genius'?


Producers Ron Howard and [ ] had worked with National Geographic on earlier projects, and proceeded to make "Genius" the first fully scripted drama from the popular science brand. Howard even decided to direct the first episode, helming his first nondocumentary television project since 1987.

As well as following Einstein's life, the show sketches in some of the scientific theories he developed. Howard had experience presenting complex concepts in a visual way thanks to his work on "A Beautiful Mind", the story of troubled mathematician John Nash. Luckily, Einstein used thought experiments, encouraging students to, for example, picture light waves by imagining themselves traveling through space. "If you don't understand it, it's not going to be the lesson that brings you absolute clarity," admits Howard, "but it may nudge you in the direction of understanding."