Meet Einstein, the ladies' man

Geoffrey Rush stars as Albert Einstein in Genius.
Geoffrey Rush stars as Albert Einstein in Genius.PHOTO: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNEL

New series reveals little-known details about the genius physicist

There is much more to physicist Albert Einstein than most people know - including the fact that he was something of a bohemian and a ladies' man.

These and other little-known details are explored in the mini-series Genius, National Geographic's first scripted drama, which debuts in Singapore on Sunday.

Produced by Oscar-winning filmmaker Ron Howard, who directs the first episode, it stars another Oscar winner, Australian actor Geoffrey Rush (Shine, 1996), as the iconic scientist, with British performer Emily Watson as his second wife and first cousin Elsa.

The 10-episode show, based on a 2007 New York Times best-selling biography by Walter Isaacson, will differ from other accounts of Einstein's life because of its depth and scope, Howard tells The Straits Times and other press in Los Angeles recently.

"It's more comprehensive," says the 63-year-old, who has taken on biographical stories before, with Apollo 13 (1995), about the doomed 1970 lunar mission, and A Beautiful Mind (2001), depicting mathematician John Nash that won Howard the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars.

"I've read scripts over the years that looked at his whole life and it's always too rambling and too much like a Reader's Digest article or Wikipedia page. And then I read other stories that focused just on a period and it's always interesting, but not quite compelling and powerful enough."

He believes Einstein's extraordinary professional and personal life merits a more thorough approach.

"His life is incredible because it's about achievements in so many different areas and there are so many fascinating human interest elements that people don't know about," says Howard, whose daughter is actress Bryce Dallas Howard.

Gigi Pritzker, who co-produced the drama with him and Brian Grazer, says it will illuminate more obscure details about the Germanborn physicist, whose theories of special and general relativity defined modern science.

For one thing, Einstein (18791955) was already recognised as a genius in his 20s and "the actual papers and discoveries" that would win him the Nobel Prize for Physics "all came in really quick succession in a short period of time" in 1905, when he was 26.

Many people know the scientist was a Jew who fled Nazi persecution by moving to the United States in 1932, but far fewer realise he was also "a womaniser and had an incredible sense of humour".

In addition, the drama will look at "his life in the context of the history and period when he lived", when "so many pieces of history that were happening around him collided", says Pritzker, 54.

"He also transformed," Howard adds. "He was at first this bohemian, almost a poet, in the way he approached science and the possibilities for physics.

"And then as he rose to prominence, he became a symbol, and this was often challenging for him and threatening. It was also exciting and made him a global celebrity to the point where he was thrust into the world of politics and philosophy at the time - and I don't think he wanted to be.

"But I think his sense of logic was such that every problem he faced, he almost dealt with it like it was physics and like there was an appropriate path."

The director believes the story is timely because it shows how critical it is to fight for one's ideas and beliefs, and that society often throws obstacles in the way of ground- breaking thinkers.

"There's always that struggle for new ideas to find their place in society and often it stirs controversy, and sometimes that controversy creates outrage and danger to those who are willing to make the challenge," he says.

When there was "a need for Einstein to speak out, no matter what the dangers, he felt that logically, he had to do it", he explains, referring to the fact that the scientist often spoke up against racism, nationalism and war.

When it came to his scientific work, he "came so close, from time to time, to being defeated and thwarted, and I think it's a cautionary tale for us to remember at all times", says Howard.

Grazer, 65, hopes showing how Einstein succeeded despite this inspires "kids who are disenfranchised and lost".

"This is a tremendous tool to show that there's a little bit of genius in all of us," he says.

"We're not going to all be Albert Einstein, but he had so much to cope with and there were so many obstacles. This is like a full autopsy on what that trial-and-error part of our life, and failure and risk, look like."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2017, with the headline 'Meet Einstein, the ladies' man'. Print Edition | Subscribe