Ron Howard, National Geographic announce Picasso as Season 2 Genius

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Jun 21, 2017

The work of Genius is never done. Following last night’s Season 1 finale of National Geographic Channel’s series about the life of Albert Einstein, Executive Producer Ron Howard and returning showrunner Ken Biller announced on a press call today that 2018's Season 2 will focus on artist Pablo Picasso.

Starring Geoffrey Rush as Einstein, Genius Season 1 was the network's first in an anthology series revolving around great minds. Produced by Howard and partner Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment, it was watched by more than 45 million people around the world, and is NatGeo's best performing new series launch ever. Now, Howard, Grazer, and showrunner, executive producer, and writer Ken Biller hope to inject new color into Season 2 by shifting from a scientific genius to the Spanish painter born with the name Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso.

"This season working on Genius has been one of those really rich creative periods," said Howard in Wednesday morning conference call with press. "It also is a great proof of concept that lives like Albert Einstein’s, told in this kind of detail, can provide great creative opportunities ... [and] after hours and hours of discussion and debate, the important question was, 'who do we follow Albert Einstein with?'"

"There are physical geniuses, there are strategic geniuses," said Howard, and that they also explored names from politics and other arts.

But, according to Biller, Picasso was the first to be discussed. The choice wasn't based on "any one anecdote," he said, but that producers were looking for someone who saw the world "in a completely different way," similar to Einstein. 

"These two figures have that in common," he said. "It was important to us to make a declarative statement that said Genius is not only about scientists, and when you think of who are the iconic figures in history who have really changed the world, who were striving for goals that other people hadn't even thought to set, Pablo Picasso immediately came to mind."

According to a NatGeo press release, "the prolific artist generated more than 50,000 works" and "his passionate nature and relentless creative drive were inextricably linked to his personal life, which included tumultuous marriages, numerous affairs and constantly shifting political and personal alliances ... and crossed paths with writers and artists including Ernest Hemingway, Coco Chanel, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Gertrude Stein, Georges Braque, and Jean Cocteau."

Adding to the description, Biller said Picasso's story is "rich, emotional, and passionate, and controversial" and will allow the show to expand the kind of narrative that can be told.

Howard said the selection was based on the goal to live up to the Season 1 achievement.

"We needed to know the drama was there," he said. "His name stimulates curiosity in people; he was an enigmatic figure -- famous, and a household name -- and yet you don't really know the story of his life."

As for other names mentioned for Season 2, Biller didn't want to divulge other names, but said producers discussed a number of women as the focus.

"We think it's important to try to explore those stories," said Biller. "We're hoping to do a woman for Season 3, and future seasons; unfortunately the way history works, when you Google 'geniuses' online, there are many brilliant genius women who have lived throughout history but history hasn't remembered a lot of them, so the pool from which to choose is smaller -- although we think we have some really compelling ideas to tell stories of women."

While still very early in production for the 10-episode season, with plans to begin shooting by the end of 2017, Biller added that the women characters in the show will be front and center, as was the character of scientist Mileva Maric in Season 1. 

"We did a lot of hard work to tell that story, and give that story its due, and not just make it a show about a man," said Biller. "What you will also see in the Picasso story is that there are many really fascinating women in his life who both inspired him, who were artists in their own right, and we'll be endeavoring to give them their due, explore them, and explore what life was like to be a woman in that time, and in Picasso's life."

At the moment, Genius Season 2 has not cast for the show, but the artist -- who lived to be 91 years old before his death in 1973 -- will be portrayed by both a younger and older performer, similar to Einstein. 

However, Howard teased the shift to an artistic figure such as Picasso will afford producers the chance to play with a different aesthetic.

"His view of the world, and also his creative restlessness, and the bold choices he made will lead to some very interesting cinematic opportunities for us in telling the story, and yet, another reason why he was ultimately an exciting choice."