Ron Howard on Bringing Notorious Misogynist Picasso to Life in 'Genius' Amid #MeToo Era

Picasso Still - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of the Tribeca FIlm Festival

The executive producer of the NatGeo project spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about casting Antonio Banderas, portraying the paradoxes of a genius, and what's next for the series.

For the second season of Nat Geo's Genius series, the show focused on the life (and many loves) of painter Pablo Picasso, with Antonio Banderas starring as the iconic artist. Executive producer Ron Howard spoke with THR about casting Banderas, what it was like bringing a notorious misogynist to life during the Time's Up era and what's next for the series.

Antonio and Picasso both grew up in Malaga, Spain. When you approached him, did you know that he had such a personal connection?

No. He just seemed like a great idea, but when [Genius writer, director and co-producer] Ken Biller and I met with him for the first time in London, I immediately recognized the passion that he had for the character and also the long-standing interest because of his personal connection. He grew up not ever meeting Picasso but knowing 50 men who were of that generation and, in their own ways, lived and sounded like Pablo Picasso.

Antonio insisted you film on location in Malaga. Did it take a lot to convince Nat Geo to do it?

National Geographic's folks give us a lot of latitude, but it's not like we have an open checkbook. We knew Antonio would help us make a great case for that. Nat Geo has offered so much support — really, their ambitions for the way the series can engage audiences include authenticity, great visuals and the aesthetic to transport the audience in the most cinematic and memorable ways. So they supported that and going to Paris and other things that are important to Picasso's journey.

Picasso was a notorious misogynist. Were you concerned that, during the #MeToo and Time's Up era, audiences wouldn't want to tune in and watch a man treat women so badly?

Well, sure. But at the same time, there's a commitment to the truth. It's all the more important when it's going to live on the Nat Geo channel ­— their heritage inspires a level of thoroughness and attention to detail. So none of the executives ever wanted us to shy away from the truth of it. But we did feel it was incumbent upon us to make sure we depicted those women in honest detail and with a kind of thoroughness so that it would offer a psychological understanding of what made them tick and why they were there, and of course some of it is downright damning. That's one of the paradoxes of genius.

Your next Genius is Frankenstein author Mary Shelley. Why her?

She's a female, so that's interesting, and Mary Shelley basically invented the genre of science fiction and was undeniably brilliant, a genius. To get her struggles as ?a woman to find the resources, the lifestyle, to support her genius is at times a very upsetting story, ?so her life is full of drama. Her brain, and the way it worked, was so far ahead of where the culture was, which is what drew her to an interest in science. She was an absolute thought leader in terms of examining what science could mean to human existence.

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.