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Ron Howard on the making of ‘Genius’

Entertainment
IT was quite a surreal experience sitting across Ron Howard at the London media junket for National Geographic Channel’s first scripted drama series, Genius.

Despite his numerous accolades and accomplishments on the big and small screen, he remains a very unassuming individual.

That he is most passionate about Genius is evident in the way he describes the historical figure. His awe of Albert Einstein is unmistakable.

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Ron Howard sheds light on the making of Genius.

But first he had to address the eye-popping sex scene between Einstein and his secretary.

Howard laughs, “I had no idea he was such a ladies man. He loved nature. He loved music. He loved being a part of the scientific community and being a part of those discussions. And he loved woman. Everything was linked by his fascination with how things worked.

“Here’s what I think. I think he made a commitment earlier on that he was going to follow his logic.”

The first episode magnifies his rebellious nature to simply accepting certain things, especially from his rigid lecturer.

By questioning many things, he ruffles feathers. Even his father couldn’t contain his unquenchable curiosity and he tried.

“His logic demands truthful answers and his mind led him to conclusions that were unconventional. I think that was in many ways one of his frustrations.

“I think that in many ways one of his frustrations, which he laments later in life, is that he wasn’t able to make that full commitment to the people around him. He was so fully committed to understand what the natural world order was and he didn’t have enough room for everyone. That was the paradox; for everything there was a price to be paid.”

On the type of person that he was, he notes, “I think he was a couple of different personalities. It depended on his workload and the outside pressure he was dealing with.

“I think he could be relaxed and romantic and paternal. And very, very playful. He enjoyed nature. He liked hikes. He liked sailing. He loved his music. And he loved being a part of the intellectual social circle.

“He had all that. But there were times in his life where his health actually suffered during times when he was focused on trying to solve a problem. There’s a time when he nearly died as he was working himself to absolute exhaustion.”

This was in his early to mid 30s when he was in competition with another physicist to solve the same problem.

This series, which jumps between the present and the past, also documents the rise of fascism and how it impacted on Einstein.

RECREATING HISTORY: Oscar-winning film-maker Ron Howard sheds light on Genius, where he wears the hat of co-executive producer and director. 

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As for casting the two main leads, he recalls, “Once we had Geoffrey, we knew that casting a younger Einstein had to be a good fit. We had to find the very best actor. That person needed to be great because he was going to have to carry some of the episodes.

“When the casting director sent a photo of Geoffrey and Johnny, we realised the bone structure and shape was similar. I went to the make-up artists and asked if he would work. She said, ‘I really do.’

“Once both men were cast, Geoffrey had the idea to take some of the behaviours, which you can witness from the archived footage, for Johnny to adapt into his performance. And they both worked with the same dialect coach to create a pattern as well.”

To help deliver a story that will be palatable to a crossover audience, he says, “I worked with physicists and visual artists and came up with a way of presenting something that gives the audience, maybe not a comprehensive understanding of the theory, but a sort of understanding overview and a sense of what was guiding his thinking.”

The great thing about making this particular series is that it is anchored by fact and, as such, is safe from being heavily criticised for lacking authenticity or deviating from history.

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