Johnny Flynn Talks About Playing Young Einstein | Genius
How Johnny Flynn Got Inside Albert Einstein's Head for Genius
I was introduced to Johnny Flynn's music nearly seven years ago, when a YouTube black hole led me to this moving duet between Flynn and fellow British folk singer-songwriter Laura Marling. Since then, I've followed the musician-cum-actor's eclectic, mostly under-the-radar career closely—two more albums, several movie and TV scores, a Netflix series (Lovesick), a film opposite Anne Hathaway (Song One) and a starring turn alongside Mark Rylance inTwelfth NightandRichard IIIat Shakespeare's Globe in London. Now, Flynn is poised for international acclaim with his starring role inGenius, National Geographic's first-ever scripted series, which chronicles the life of Albert Einstein. Flynn plays the future world-famous physicist as a young man, while Geoffrey Rush portrays an older, more recognizable Einstein at the peak of his fame. Below, Flynn opens up about the pressures of portraying an icon, his new albumSillionand how his music and acting influence each other.
Flynn didn't think he could play Einstein and almost missed his chance at the role, but a friend convinced him to pursue it.
"I just said, casually, 'You know, I passed up on auditioning for Einstein.' And my friend was like, 'You idiot, you have to do it!' She made me do it. I sent the tapes off assuming that somebody would say, 'Ha ha, very funny.' The next thing I knew, I was talking to Ron [Howard, who's executive producing the series] on Skype. I really got excited when I heard him talk about the project because he had a very curious approach: he wanted to uncover the myth of Einstein and get beyond that two-dimensional image of him. It provoked me to do some research and I realized that he was this really extraordinary, kind of reactionary, kind of sexy, rakish young guy, very dynamic and resistant to all the inherited knowledge that [was] passed on and he grew up with. [He] challenged everything. And I just thought that was a cool story to be telling right now."
He was surprised by just how rebellious Einstein was as a young man.
"For me, [I was surprised by] all the times he resisted being pigeonholed [into] a certain group in society. When he was a very young man, he renounced his German citizenship because he was reluctant to be identified with their militaristic and empirical attitude, and he became a Swiss citizen because they were neutral and didn't have the same ambitions in terms of conquering other countries and things like that. From a very early age, he was reactionary like that. When it suited him, he denied that he was Jewish, and then later on, when the Jews were being persecuted, he very proudly stood up for them and said, 'Yes, I am Jewish and I'm going to stand alongside my fellow Jews who are being persecuted.' He was a free-thinking radical who challenged anyone who dictated who they thought he was."
Flynn tried to not let the pressure of playing one of the 20th century's most iconic figures get to him.
"I was free to do a certain amount of imagining who this guy was as a young man, but I also felt the pressure of the duty to his legacy, to get that right, and to keep in mind who he became, so that, in playing him as a young person, you believe that this was the person who was motivated to get to that stage in his life that we know him from. It was a huge test of duty to capture this person who's so well loved. He really changed the way we perceive the universe."
Geniusfinds a new way to tell Einstein's story, specifically highlighting the women who contributed to his success.
"We get to show that there were complicated aspects to his character. There were complications in his marriages and his relationships, especially in his first marriage, to Mileva Marić, which broke down. Quite a lot of this story is about that relationship. You see how she initially helped him with his work and was arguably an invaluable person in proofing his work and stimulating him. They met at university and she was this brilliant young physicist. We've been re-appropriating her history as well, in telling this story, and making sure that she's in the spotlight."
"Wouldn't it be great to tell the story of this true rebel, who actually did so much to reinterpret our universe and challenge our perceived notions of how things work?"
Flynn worked closely with GeoffreyRush to make sure their performances aligned.
"We were really lucky. Ron put us in touch with each other as soon as we were both on board and we had Skype meetings where we shared the various bits of research we'd done. We had the same dialect coach, who was helping us find similarities in rhythm and pace and stuff vocally, which got extended to physical stuff. We did some physical workshops; I organized one with an old drama teacher of mine where we walked around in circles and tried to match each others' gait. We interviewed each other, like older selves to younger selves. We gathered a lot of material that we could share together. We were both in London at the same time and we spent a lot of time together; he took me and my wife out to a comedy night. I think we started observing each other, really—trying to pick up on each other's physical characteristics and rhythms. You know, trying to both play Einstein is one thing, but we had to kind of merge into each other. So we were just watching each other; I would watch him do his scenes on set and I kept thinking about him while I was playing Einstein."
He actually wrote a song about Einstein several years ago.
"That's pure coincidence, really. He's been in my consciousness [and] I've thought about him for years. I was very attracted to the idea of him as a role model in society, in the way the storytellers behind the series probably were as well. Just like, wouldn't it be great to tell the story of this true rebel, who actually did so much to reinterpret our universe and challenge our perceived notions of how things work? But I never dreamt that I could have played him. He's always been a hero to me and that's why I thought to write the song about him. The song is kind of a joke. It's me trying to explain the theory of relativity to my son, who was a baby at the time, in the form of a lullaby. That was just an example of me being interested in him, but it was amazing coincidence that I got the role and got to live it out."
Don't make him choose between acting and making music.
"They are kind of on equal footing. I get very absorbed by what I'm doing at the time and afterGenius, I've gone straight into promoting and touring and working on my new album, which I was finishing while I was [filming] in Prague. Now I'm going straight back on the road with that and my head is really into the music. I'm super excited. I think maybe I get bored easily and I want to be doing something I haven't been doing. I get excited about the next thing all the time. I'm shootingLovesick, a Netflix comedy we've been doing, at the end of April for a couple months. Then I'll be doing festivals and, hopefully be back in the States for more music in September."
In fact, they influence each other:
"I did a lot of theater as a young actor in my early twenties, and my first few records really came from writing songs through the rehearsal processes. While doing these plays, I did quite a lot of Shakespeare. Dealing with his language and living inside the mouth of a poet like that was very inspiring. I find it hugely exciting to be dealing with another writer's language. While writing this new record, I was doing another play by Martin McDonagh, who's a contemporary writer and one of the best living writers. I think the two are kind of synonymous for me; songwriting is like my form of diary making. It's how I process the world. Without doing that, I feel kind of lost. The characters that I play often come out in the songs and the challenges that they face, albeit in an abstract way."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Video: The Two Einsteins: Behind the Scenes | Genius
Upside to Diabetes Really Isnt
Andrea McLean admits she’s been suffering from memory loss during the menopause
Cute DIY Polka Dot Floppy Hat For Beach
10 Tech Fixes You Can Make Yourself (and 2 That Are Better Left to Pros)
The Best Madras Shirts You Can Buy In 2019
Trendy Outfit Ideas wtih Dungarees
How to Use Google Drive
Acne Diet Dos and Donts
How to Study Hypoglycemia
6 Things You Should Never Do Before Bed
How to Raise Horses