National Geographic welcomed more than 400 guests to see the first episode of the upcoming series “Genius” at the Cineworld London Haymarket theater on Thursday, March 30. National Geographic Global Networks CEO Courteney Monroe and “Genius” executive producer and Oscar-winning director Ron Howard introduced the screening, which was followed by a panel moderated by special guest Stephen Fry and featuring Oscar- and BAFTA Award-winning actor Geoffrey Rush, who stars as Albert Einstein; Oscar-nominated and BAFTA Award-winning actress Emily Watson, who stars as Elsa Einstein; Ron Howard; actor Johnny Flynn, who stars as young Albert Einstein; actress Samantha Colley, who stars as Mileva Maric; executive producer and showrunner Ken Biller; and producer Gigi Pritzker.
During the 20-minute discussion, the panel touched on the initial approach to the “Genius” story, based on Walter Isaacson’s book “Einstein: His Life and Universe.” Gigi noted that the original plan was to tell the story as a single film but that the format was “too small a time frame and too small a tableau for someone like Einstein.”
Stephen asked Ron about his history of making films that tell true stories, from “Apollo 13” to “A Beautiful Mind.” Ron shared that when he first set out to make “Apollo 13,” he feared that telling a true story would limit his imagination – a presumption that turned out to be far from the truth.
“You get to take on stories that are far more complex, far more extreme, and audiences will accept the behavior because they know it really happened,” he said.
Ken talked about his own apprehensions with telling the story of Einstein’s life – namely, whether the man’s life could fill 10 hours for a drama series.
“Was there enough drama in this man’s life?” he remembered thinking. “He smoked a pipe and did a lot of thinking, so inherently one doesn’t say: ‘Oh, that sounds really dramatic. That’s going to be 10 juicy hours of television.’”
However, Ken said the more he and his writing staff dug into Einstein’s life, the more they realized they could easily fill up 10 hours, if not 15. A lot of the storytelling had to be left out because of the 10-hour limit.
“Genius” premieres April 25 on National Geographic in the U.S. In the U.K. and much of the EU, the series premieres April 23.