That is one of many famous quotes by Albert Einstein, one of the most influential physicists of the 20th century.
Of course, to many of us – he’s remembered as that brilliant mind behind the theory of relativity and is synonymous for his wild hair.
National Geographic Channel’s first scripted drama, Genius, retraces his story. Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush and newcomer British actor Johnny Flynn play Einstein at different stages of his life.
Following London’s premiere screening of the first episode of the 10-part series, Tonight caught up with the two actors to find out more on how they worked together to bring this fascinating character to life.
Flynn said he already had a personal interest in this historical figure a few years before this project manifested.
He says: “I have a band and I play music. Three years ago, I did this song and the idea was to try and explain the theory of relativity to my then 2-year-old son as a lullaby. It was done as a sort of joke.”
Little did he realise that, down the line, he would be cast as this iconic figure.
He notes: “I had this sense of him as almost like a fatherly energy and presence. When I read about him, I realised that was kind of accurate. His gift to humanity was to try to break down these incredibly complex structures in our understanding of the universe. To give them these succinct universal truths. And he often relayed his ideas in terms of what he often called ‘thought experiments’ using childish pictorial images of trains moving at the speed of light, lightning striking and so on. So I had a sense of him, but not so much as a young man. To see him as a quite rebellious and energetic character. Nobody believed him and that is what drove him to begin with.”
He continues: “He was writing these papers in 1905. He wrote four papers and eventually changed our understanding of the universe. At that point, he was working at a patent clerk in Switzerland.”
In the first episode, viewers are introduced to Albert Einstein and his libido with his secretary up against the chalkboard, sharing his state of arousal.
The subsequent scenes follows his youthful self, with the storyline fluidly oscillating between past and present.
On sharing a character with Rush, he admits: “It was amazing. He was incredibly generous in his approach to me and revealed that he had shared a character before in Shine. And he said ‘these are some of the things that we did and this is what worked’. So it was a good starting point. I watched him as much as I could and I think he did the same with me.”
Rush takes over, saying: “It’s about following the man behind the mind. When reading the scripts, I knew nothing of the contradictions he encountered, his domestic life and all of that. I was four when he died. So I had the same image of him having hair like an atomic bomb going off. Finding the human being inside of that is the most interesting thing.”
On him being a ladies man, Flynn jokes: “He had a huge mind.”
Rush continues: “I don’t know whether it was the celebrity. He seemed so curious about his chosen field of theoretical physics. He was also curious about how human beings were. There was much empathy and passion for his thought experiments and thinking outside of the box. He’s also like that in a social context. I think people of both sexes gravitated towards him.”
Flynn adds: “If you saw him in a press conference, he would be the one looking around going ‘this is ridiculous’. And that is what is dramatised. He had this amazing correspondence with different types of people. Some were the women he fell in love with. To those women he had a connection with, he was a wonderful friend. I think that is what made him exciting.”
His older counterpart elaborated on the different relationships he enjoyed with his first wife, Mileva Maric (Samantha Colley) and second, Elsa (Emily Watson).
He offers: “Meeting Mileva who, in the late 19th century, was the only brilliant female mind who was allowed into that institution there’s a great dramatic tragedy to their relationship. She was probably a great co-partner in the development of his special relativity theories. His marriage to Elsa was quite different. You will see in later episodes, there is a fantastic scene where Emily eats me alive about the rules of the marriage. She says: ‘I don’t care who you sleep with but respect for me and what I do has to always be paramount,’ and stuff like that. He even offers a kind of apology for his wayward life.”
He also touches on how Einstein questioned everything, even monogamy.
Much of the story is based on Walter Isaacson’s Einstein: His Life and Universe.
With Ron Howard and Brian Grazer lending their Midas touch as executive producers, the storytelling is compelling. Every frame is picturesque and reminiscent of that time period. Of course, the cast steal the show for me. In revisiting the life of this legend, viewers are taken on an emotional roller-coaster with jaw-dropping facts and a few artistic liberties.
Genius airs on National Geographic channel (DStv Channel 181) from this Sunday April 23 at 8.05pm.