'Genius' Premiere: Pondering Albert Einstein and the March for Science

"I think Einstein would have been at the front of that march," said the National Geographic series showrunner Ken Biller.
Over the weekend — on Earth Day — thousands of people all over the world participated in the March for Science. How would one of the world's most famous scientists, Albert Einstein, have felt about the fact that people felt the need to hold a march in support of something that seems so vital to everyday life?

Ken Biller, showrunner of National Geographic's first-ever scripted series Genius, told The Hollywood Reporter that the subject of the anthology's first season would have probably loved it.

"I think Einstein would have been at the front of that march," he told THR on the Genius premiere's red (well, yellow) carpet at the Fox Theater in Westwood Monday night. "If you watch the show, what you see is that Einstein as a young man really wanted nothing to do with politics. He says that politics are a matter of present concern, but a mathematical equation stands forever."

Biller added: "As his life went on, and as forces began to line up against him to try to silence him and to try to denigrate his ideas, he became more and more politically active, and he had a really well-developed social conscience and sense of social justice. ... He believed in logic and empirical proof, and I think he would have been horrified but not surprised, unfortunately, by the fact that science has become politicized, because it was politicized in his lifetime too."

Biller's cast agreed. Johnny Flynn, who plays the young version of the famed physicist to Geoffrey Rush's elder version, told THR that his character "certainly" would have approved of the march.

"He was just a very broad-minded, principled humanitarian with a huge conscience and a huge amount of compassion. And I think he would have been absolutely disgusted and horrified that that was necessary," he said.

Said Samantha Colley, who plays Einstein's first wife, the physicist Mileva Maric, "He had a real sense of humor, and he had a real love of humanity, actually, and I think he would've loved the galvanizing nature of everyone mass marching for science."

Einstein is a world-famous figure, but not many people know the full story of his life. Genius follows the physicist from his academic beginnings as a 16-year-old in Germany to his later years as a professor at Princeton over the course of 10 episodes.

Executive producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard (who also directed the premiere) introduced the first episode to a packed theater full of guests that included cast members, Nat Geo and Fox execs, and even Genius main title composer Hans Zimmer.

"Right now we're living in a time where it's the epicenter of modern discovery. It's the most disruptive period in our modern world, and we see all these different things are changing with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos — driverless cars, people going into outer space far beyond our access, into Mars," mused Grazer as he addressed the crowd. "As a counterpoint to that, Albert Einstein was the earliest modern progenitor of disruption, and that's what made this such an amazing subject."

After the screening, guests walked down the block, past two men riding bikes in steampunk costumes (sure, why not) and into a massive tent filled with photo booths, two balancing acrobats, a machine that electronically sketched portraits on a chalkboard, and a performance by the electronic chamber music band Ponytrap. Food stations from some of the best restaurants in L.A. with cheeky names lined one wall — Bunsen Burgers (In n Out), Pieces of π (Jon & Vinny's), E=MChicken² (Free Bird) — and a massive bar in the middle of the venue served nerdy themed cocktails sponsored by Chopin Vodka and Clase Azul Tequila.

Genius premieres Tuesday, April 25 at 9 p.m. on National Geographic Channel.

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Geoffrey Rush (left) and Johnny Flynn

‘Sexist Pig!’ Albert Einstein Slammed for Sexism After Premiere of NatGeo’s ‘Genius’

Much-hyped new National Geographic series Genius chronicles the life of Albert Einstein. The first episode premiered last night and right from its opening scene, in which the groundbreaking theoretical physicist has extra-marital sex with his office assistant, we know we’re probably not going to be subjected to long-winded digressions on the theory of relativity.

In common with most other intellectuals, Einstein had a complicated private life. He was married twice and frequently unfaithful. But still it would be a shame if Genius, which stars Johnny Flynn as the cocky young Einstein and Geoffrey Rush as the older equivalent, resulted in Einstein’s domestic arrangements eclipsing the fact that E=mc2.

Genius, produced by Ron Howard, is said to get more scientific as the series progresses. But for now the status of Yahoo Serious’s 1988 movie Young Einstein—which imagined the scientist as an Australian splitting the atom with a chisel and inventing surfing and rock’n’roll—as the most frivolous biopic out there about Albert is in jeopardy…

10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Einstein

1. He renounced his German citizenship when he was 16.

From an early age, Albert Einstein loathed nationalism of any kind and considered it preferable to be a “citizen of the world.” When he was 16, he renounced his German citizenship and was officially state-less until he became a Swiss citizen in 1901.

2. He married the only female student in his physics class.

Mileva Marić was the only female student in Einstein’s section at Zürich Polytechnic. She was passionate about math and science, and was an aspiring physicist in her own right, but she gave up those ambitions when she married Einstein and became the mother of his children. (Watch: “When Albert Met Mileva”)

3. He had a 1,427-page FBI file.

In 1933, the FBI began keeping a dossier on Albert Einstein, shortly before his third trip to the U.S. This file would grow into 1,427 pages of documents focused on Einstein’s lifelong association with pacifist and socialist organizations. J. Edgar Hoover even recommended that Einstein be kept out of America by the Alien Exclusion Act, but he was overruled by the U.S. State Department.

4. He had an illegitimate baby.

Einstein’s future wife Mileva gave birth out of wedlock to a baby girl in 1902 while staying with her family in Serbia. The baby was named Lieserl, and it’s believed by historians that she either died in infancy, probably of scarlet fever, or was given up for adoption. In all likelihood, Einstein never saw his daughter in person. Lieserl’s existence wasn’t widely known until 1987, when a collection of Einstein’s letters was made public.

5. He paid his first wife his Nobel Prize money for a divorce.

Anticipating winning a Nobel Prize, Einstein offered all his expected prize money to his first wife, Mileva Marić, so she would agree to grant him a divorce. The award added up to $32,250, which was more than ten times the annual salary of the average professor at the time.

6. He married his first cousin.

Elsa, the second Mrs. Einstein, was the daughter of Albert’s mother’s sister, making them first cousins. They were also second cousins, as Elsa’s father and Albert’s father were cousins. Her maiden name was Einstein.

7. He was a civil rights activist before the civil rights movement.

Einstein was a strong supporter of civil rights and free speech. When W.E.B. Du Bois was indicted in 1951 as an unregistered agent for a foreign power, Einstein volunteered to testify as a character witness on his behalf. After Du Bois’s lawyer informed the court that Einstein would appear, the judge decided to dismiss the case.

8. His son was institutionalized for most of his adult life.

Albert’s second son, Eduard, whom they affectionately called “Tete,” was diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized for most of his adult life. Eduard was fascinated with psychoanalysis and was a big fan of Freud. Although they corresponded in letters, Albert never saw his son again after he immigrated to the U.S. in 1933. Eduard died at the age of 55 in a psychiatric clinic.

9. He had a rocky friendship with “the father of chemical warfare.”

Fritz Haber was a German chemist who helped recruit Einstein to Berlin and would become one of Einstein’s close friends. Haber was Jewish but converted to Christianity, and preached the virtues of assimilation to Einstein before the Nazis came to power. In WWI, he developed a deadly chlorine gas, which was heavier than air and could flow down into the trenches to painfully asphyxiate soldiers by burning through their throats and lungs. Haber is sometimes referred to as the “father of chemical warfare.”

10. He had an affair with an alleged Russian spy.

In 1935, Einstein’s stepdaughter Margot introduced him to Margarita Konenkova, and they became lovers. In 1998, Sotheby’s auctioned nine love letters written between 1945 and 1946 from Einstein to Konenkova. According to a book written by a Russian spy master, Konenkova was a Russian agent, though historians have not confirmed this claim.

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