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Guide to Nat Geo Channel's GENIUS: PICASSO Q&A w/ Cast, Overview, Episode Guide, Photos

Mike Vicic - April 23, 2018



On Tuesday April 24, 2018 from 9-11pm ET/PT, National Geographic Channel premieres the 10-part series GENIUS: PICASSO, which explores the Spanish expatriate's devotion to his craft, his contribution to modern art and his turbulent personal life. Few painters have been as awe-inspiringly prolific as Pablo Picasso. One of the most influential and celebrated artists of the 20th century, his career spanned more than 80 of his 91 years, during which time he produced an estimated 50,000 works. His passionate nature and relentless creative drive were inextricably linked to his personal life, which included tumultuous marriages, numerous affairs and ever-shifting political and personal alliances. Constantly reinventing himself, Picasso always strove to innovate and push the boundaries of artistic expression, leading to his worldwide renown as a genius.

Starring: Antonio Banderas and Alex Rich (as Old and Young Picasso, respectively), Clémence Poésy, Robert Sheehan, Poppy Delevingne, Aisling Franciosi, Samantha Colley, T.R. Knight, Seth Gabel and a special appearance by Johnny Flynn.



This past January at the Television Critics Association (TCA) Winter Press Tour, National Geographic Channel presented a panel that included these cast members: Antonio Banderas, Alex Rich, Clémence Poésy, Samantha Colley, T.R. Knight and Poppy Delevingne. Here are a few highlights (edited for clarity and readability) from that panel.


At Television Critics Association (TCA), some cast -- (left to right) actors Clemence Poesy and Antonio Banderas,

showrunner/writer/EP Ken Biller, and actors Alex Rich and Samantha Colley -- appearred live via satellite,

because they were still filming. Actors Poppy Delevingne and T.R. Knight (not pictured) were on stage at the Langham Huntington.


Antonio Banderas (Pablo Picasso) with Samantha Colley (Dora Maar) in GEINUS: PICASSO.

Question: Antonio, why was it so important for you to play a character with a connection to Malaga? (Antonio’s hometown)

Antonio Banderas: It’s important for me because Picasso has been a very important figure in my life.  I am talking about a time in Spain in which we didn’t have too many international heroes, we were pretty much isolated by the Franco dictatorship.  Picasso was bigger than Franco and I grew up with this projection of this huge artist who was capable of making the world fall in love with his art, and I could see the house where he was born.  That was very important for me.  I’ve been offered to play Picasso before but this time I felt was the right time.  I said no because it was a big sense of responsibility and for whatever reason I didn’t want to accept it.  But this is the right time.  It came with great scripts, with seriousness, with National Geographic, which is giving the whole entire project all the facts we need to create the complexity of a character like this.  We are very happy, working hard.

Question: What did you learn from Picasso that you didn’t know, and what could viewers learn?

Antonio Banderas: One of the things I know now is that his artistic dimension was totally linked to his personality, his personal dimension. There was no separation between artist and person. He is not only a man who was very capable at painting, drawing, but he put that at the service of the political and social context of his time. He was a visionary who had a long sight for the future and also an introspection of himself. Everything in the life of Picasso is mixed together.

Alex Rich as Young Picasso.

Question: Alex, what was your knowledge of Picasso when you took the role?

Alex Rich: Before I took the job I didn’t know much about Picasso and I’ve since read all kinds of books and done so much research trying to figure out who he was as a person.  What I found most interesting was the volatility and the dynamics of his personal life.  So many stories you couldn’t make up even if you tried.  So much of the way he lived his life informs his art.  Certain things about why he was a genius, like his approach to Cubism and how he had to switch the way that he was looking at the world in order to create a new style of painting, like flattening perspectives and changing lights and making sure that you were dealing with manipulations of time, were really intriguing to dive into.  It’s been really wild.

Behind-the-scenes look at Antonio Banderas preparing to play Picasso.

Question: What kind of mindset did you put yourself into the be the next GENIUS?

Antonio Banderas: I have to be very careful for the reason that if I don’t portray him properly, I may not be able to go back to my hometown.  So basically I did as much research as I could.  It’s interesting; everybody wants to own Picasso or a little bit of Picasso.  In Barcelona, people think Picasso is from Barcelona.  In Paris, they say, “no, Picasso is French.”  Also what happens is that many people talk about the same event in different ways.  You have to be very careful and continuously read between the lines to actually make a composition of what the reality was.  What we don’t know is why he did that thing or wrote that thing or said that thing.  Besides that, I allow myself to be a little creative.  With all the data and all the information we have, we have to have a certain margin to give our interpretation of what we believe Picasso was.

Question: What gave you the key to where that extreme drive and extreme passion came from?

Antonio Banderas: Only the dimension of the character itself.  This is not an artist that created a personality and explored it for the rest of his life.  He practically did every different style of painting.  We are talking about an extraordinary, capable, skillful guy.  And his personal life is perfect to dramatize because it’s very complex.  It is a mystery and that is the point.  That is the point of extraordinary art.  You do the character with all the human forces around – the fellow actors and the makeup artists and the cinematographers and directors and everybody who is involved.  We are in the same boat trying to get the same objective and do the same thing.

T.R. Knight as Max Jacob.

Question: T.R., what made you want to come back to the show and play such a tragic figure?

T.R. Knight: I was asked to come back so that’s the first hurdle, because if I wasn’t, I don’t think I would be up here.  I had such an amazing experience last year.  When the people responsible for casting think outside the box and challenge what you even think about yourself – it’s been rare.  So I jump at the opportunity.  The nerdy actor in you is just happy to dive into it and explore and read and challenge yourself.  And coming together with everyone on the project – crew especially – and you all create these characters together.  It fills me up and makes me very excited.

Samantha Colley: I agree wholeheartedly with T.R.  Coming together and working with everyone has been a sincere joy in my life.  I had no idea I’d get to come back and play another character, I was rather hysterical when I was told I would be able to.  Getting to collaborate with people who really care about the work is such an amazing experience.

Question: What is the common bond between the two geniuses portrayed by NatGeo?

Samantha Colley: I think the thing that links them both is this relentless drive towards giving the world what they think is a different point of view, something that the world needs to know about.  I think with excellence there’s always a price to pay and I think that doesn’t necessarily make them good life partners or particularly loyal or nurturing people to live with.  I also think they get a bad rap because the payoff to that is that they’re very exciting people to live with.

Clémence Poésy plays Francoise Gilot

Question: Clemence and Poppy, what did you find interesting about your characters?

Clemence Poesy: Everything.  Her incredible intelligence, how acute and aware she was at 20 of everything she was setting herself for with Picasso.  She was such an amazing little girl.  She said, “I was really good at doing the splits, so I decided that I would spend my life in the splits.  I would live my life at the extreme.”  I think she knew about her relationship with Picasso that she was entering a catastrophe, but an interesting one.  She’s like, “I would rather have interesting catastrophes than just mediocre love stories.”  I think she’s a wonderful artist.  I’m falling in love with her a bit.

Poppy Delevingne: I think her dedication to Picasso, the way that she loved him and adored him and stuck by him.  He always promised her marriage and that never happened.  But she was always there for him.  She was very considerate, compassionate, a very strong mother.  It was a joy to play someone who was very strong and humble.

Samantha Colley: That’s one of the amazing things about Nat Geo.  I’m so grateful they give the space and time to tell the story of these women.  They are telling the female stories, that these women are having to give up sides of themselves, and they are having to sacrifice to be with these men.  I don’t think it’s something that’s being ignored.  I think that’s something being given time to.


GENIUS: PICASSO began production last fall in France, Spain and Hungary, including many locations where Picasso himself once lived and worked. Intercutting between Pablo as a young man determined to express his own point of view with his art and the technical master and visionary creator known as Picasso. The series opens in the Spanish coastal town of Málaga. The child Pablo learns to draw under the tutelage of his father, José Ruiz Blasco, who is an art instructor at a provincial school.

Rejecting his education, paid for by his wealthy uncle, Dr. Salvador Ruiz, Pablo meets Carles Casagemas at a tavern in Barcelona where free-thinkers gather. Kindred spirits, the two travel to Paris in search of fame and fortune but are just two of many aspiring Spanish artists drawn to the French capital. Inspired by the Parisian nightlife but dismayed by having to imitate classic styles favored by art sellers, Pablo sets about creating artwork that will sell, including his depiction of the dance hall "Le Moulin de la Galette." But when tragedy strikes, Pablo's work takes a dramatic turn and he adopts a palette devoted almost exclusively to shades of blue.


Behind the scenes of GENIUS: PICASSO.


Living in a tumbledown residence in Montmartre, Pablo frequents the local cabaret, Au Lapin Agile, where his circle of friends, including French poet, painter, writer and critic Max Jacob gathers. It is here he meets his mistress Fernande Olivier and paints her with intimacy, affection and tender eroticism. Abandoning the palette and subject matter of his Blue Period, Pablo turns to images of fairgrounds and circus performers, whom he depicts in a range of chalky pink hues, reminiscent of the poems of Guillaume Apollinaire,,one of several poets among his closest friends. His cheerful style attracts the attention of new collectors and patrons.

Picasso, now in his mid-40s, married and with a young son from his first marriage, begins a clandestine affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter, a much younger woman. Picasso and Walter share informal living arrangements for a time after their daughter, Maya, is born. Though Walter’s unassuming and yielding personality provides a haven to Picasso during his tempestuous marriage, her lack of intellectual curiosity and spirit become problematic for him. Picasso soon begins a new affair with the accomplished and beautiful photographer Dora Maar, who is his equal in drive, intellect and passion.  While out to dinner with the soon-to-be-discarded Maar, Picasso flirts with Françoise Gilot. Although she is 21 and Picasso is 61, the two soon embark upon a partnership that is both romantic and professional, during which time Maar struggles with depression. Picasso has two children with Gilot — son Claude and daughter Paloma — eventually parting ways after more than a decade. Filmed throughout Europe — including Paris, Málaga, Barcelona, Budapest and Malta — the series features a number of well-known personalities who crossed paths with Picasso, including Coco Chanel, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque and Jean Cocteau.


PABLO PICASSO (Played by Antonio Banderas and Alex Rich)

Pablo Picasso is regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Born in Málaga, Spain, painting and drawing were his fortes from a very early age. He lived the majority of his life in France, where he was constantly reinventing himself through different periods of his art, experimenting with new techniques and ideas. He is credited with co-creating the cubist movement, among many other styles. He significantly impacted the advancement of modern art and influenced generations of artists. He had a long line of fascinating muses, many of whom were important artists in their own right. But even his great love for women could not be eclipsed by his passion for making art. Even up until the last years of his life, Picasso produced vast amounts of work, accumulating enormous financial wealth and a legacy of nearly 50,000 creations. He died in 1973 at the age of 91, leaving behind a vast body of groundbreaking work and the echoes of his legendary free spirit that continues to resonate and influence artists around the world.

FRANÇOISE GILOT (Played by Clémence Poésy)

Françoise Gilot is a French painter and best-selling author. An only child, she was raised with her father’s strict expectations that she would devote herself to becoming a lawyer; however, her love of painting challenged his intentions. Strong-willed and driven, she found the courage to stand up to her father. At the age of 21, the fate of her career was sealed when she met Pablo Picasso and became his lover and muse, dedicating herself to helping him remain at the forefront of the artistic community, while still pursuing her own creativity. At 96 years old, Gilot is still a successful working artist today.

DORA MAAR (Played by Samantha Colley)

Dora Maar was a French photographer and painter best known for her groundbreaking surrealist photos. She attended art school in Paris, where she set up a studio and became a successful commercial photographer. After the rise of fascism in the 1930s, she joined several leftist groups. She also associated with the surrealists, signing their manifestos and participating in their meetings. She met Picasso in 1936 and, united by their mutual love of artistic expression, they became romantically involved. Maar is credited with photographing the production of Picasso’s “Guernica,” the first time a modern painting was documented from inception to finish.

MARIE-THÉRÈSE WALTER (Played by Poppy Delevingne)

Marie-Thérèse Walter was Picasso’s French mistress and muse, starting in 1927. They famously met when Picasso approached her as she was walking out of a Paris department store and, enamored of her striking looks, asked to paint her. Still unhappily married to his first wife, Olga Khokhlova, Picasso kept Walter a secret from almost everyone else in his life. Supportive and sweet, she was his model and inspiration for a multitude of paintings and sculptures.

CARLES CASAGEMAS (Played by Robert Sheehan)

Spanish artist Carles Casagemas became a close friend of Picasso’s during the beginning of his career in Barcelona when they spent time at the well-known artist cafe, Els Quatre Gats. They traveled to Paris together to advance their careers, but Casagemas struggled and fell into a cycle of heavy drinking and drug use. Picasso’s Blue Period paintings are, to some degree, a result of his troubled friendship with Casagemas.

FERNANDE OLIVIER (Played by Aisling Franciosi)

Fernande Olivier was a French artist and model, and Picasso's first real love before he achieved fame and fortune. They met in Paris in 1904. Cautious after a series of relationships with abusive men, Olivier couldn’t help but be taken by Picasso’s passionate genius. She wrote a detailed and passionate memoir of her time with Picasso. Picasso felt she was the writer who portrayed the events of that period in his life most accurately.

MAX JACOB (Played by T.R. Knight)

French poet Max Jacob was one of Picasso’s closest friends from his early days in Paris. They remained good friends for years, immersed in the bohemian artist community in Montmartre, supporting and inspiring each other’s work. Jacob was a prominent author of prose poetry, an inventive poet whose work continues to be widely read. He incorporated many of the emerging styles of the time into his work — cubism, symbolism, surrealism, among others — never exclusively belonging to any one specific group.


Guillaume Apollinaire was a French avant-garde writer, poet, art critic and close friend of Picasso’s. Known for his love of the mystical, he passed along his fascination with harlequins and circus figures to Picasso, which contributed to a number of the paintings in Picasso’s Rose Period. Apollinaire was at the forefront of the new artistic and literary movements in France in the early 20th century. His 1913 book, “The Cubist Painters,” was the first serious examination of the cubist movement started by Picasso and Braque. He invented the calligram, in which the lines of the poem are arranged to resemble the object it describes. He remains one of France’s most beloved and influential 20th century poets.

ALAIN CUNY (Played by Johnny Flynn)

Alain Cuny was a French theater and cinema actor. As a teenager, he became acquainted with Picasso, Braque and other surrealists and decided he too wanted to be a painter. After attending art school, he worked as a film costume and set designer. Cuny got into acting by accident when a Danish girl he’d met at a cafe persuaded him to audition for her drama teacher Charles Dullin. He was accepted as Dullin’s pupil and went on to have a long and successful career. He is credited with introducing Picasso and Françoise Gilot in a Left Bank restaurant.

EMILE GILOT (Played by Sebastian Roche)

Emile Gilot was Francoise’s authoritarian father who pushed his daughter to be the son he always wanted, using harsh methods to teach her life lessons. He never approved of her interest in painting, wanting her to be an international lawyer instead.

DR. SALVADOR RUIZ (Played by Jordi Mollà)

Salvador Ruiz — Picasso’s uncle and the doctor who delivered him into the world — was an important figure in the early years of Picasso’s life. A generous man, Ruiz was Picasso’s first patron, putting him through art school when his parents couldn’t afford the tuition.


If you want to know nothing about the episodes at all, skip this section. Provided by National Geographic Channel, this episode guide includes general episode descriptions and specific plot details.

Chapter 1
Tuesday, April 24, 2018 at 9pm ET/PT
Pablo Picasso (Antonio Banderas) struggles to bring attention to the rising threat of fascism in Spain. Meanwhile, Young Pablo (Alex Rich) dreams of becoming a great painter. But first he must find his own voice.

Chapter 2
Tuesday, April 24, 2018 at 10pm ET/PT
WWII rages, but older Picasso (Antonio Banderas) refuses to leave Paris, straining his relationship with photographer Dora Maar (Samantha Colley). Meanwhile, Young Pablo (Alex Rich) finds quick success on his first trip to Paris by imitating the masters, but he struggles to make something truly original.

Chapter 3
Tuesday, May 1, 2018 at 9pm ET/PT
Pablo (Alex Rich) begins his Blue Period after the suicide of his best friend, and meets his first great love, Fernande Olivier (Aisling Franciosi). Meanwhile, older Picasso (Antonio Banderas) starts an affair with another great love, the young artist Françoise Gilot (Clémence Poésy).

Chapter 4
Tuesday, May 8, 2018 at 9pm ET/PT
As older Picasso (Antonio Banderas) juggles two love affairs, Young Pablo (Alex Rich) finds inspiration from the legendary poets Apollinaire (Seth Gabel) and Max Jacob (T.R. Knight). He strives to use their ideas to create a masterpiece that will signal his arrival as a great artist.

Chapter 5
Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at 9pm ET/PT
Picasso (Antonio Banderas) goes to great lengths to convince Françoise Gilot (Clémence Poésy) to move in with him. Meanwhile, Young Pablo (Alex Rich) struggles to match the genius of Matisse. He finds dark inspiration from his souring relationship with Fernande Olivier (Aisling Franciosi).

Chapter 6
Tuesday, May 22, 2018 at 9pm ET/PT
As older Picasso (Antonio Banderas) takes Françoise Gilot (Clémence Poésy) to the South of France for vacation, Younger Pablo (Alex Rich) gives up his partying ways and invents cubism with Georges Braque (Kerr Logan). But his career is threatened when he is accused of stealing the Mona Lisa.

Chapter 7
Tuesday, May 29, 2018 at 9pm ET/PT
In the wake of WWII, older Picasso (Antonio Banderas) joins the Communist Party and struggles to reconcile his art with his political ideals. Haunted by a doomed love affair from his past, he falters in his responsibilities to Françoise Gilot (Clémence Poésy).

Chapter 8
Tuesday, June 5, 2018 at 9pm ET/PT
Yearning for something new, Pablo (Alex Rich) throws himself into designing a ballet. He meets his first wife, the ballerina Olga Khoklova (Sofia Doniants). Meanwhile, older Picasso (Antonio Banderas) struggles to balance the needs of his family with his desire to remain artistically relevant.

Chapter 9
Tuesday, June 12, 2018 at 9pm ET/PT
Françoise Gilot (Clémence Poésy) defies Picasso (Antonio Banderas) and pursues her artistic goals, as Younger Picasso finds respite from his strained marriage to Olga (Sofia Doniants) with a new amour fou (mad love). Meanwhile, a young Dora Maar (Samantha Colley) strives to meet Picasso, but he’s not at all what she expects.

The Last Chapter
Tuesday, June 19, 2018 at 9pm ET/PT
After leaving Picasso, Françoise Gilot (Clémence Poésy) struggles to escape his shadow and make it on her own. Picasso (Antonio Banderas) finds companionship with Jacqueline Roque (Valentina Bellè), but secludes himself from the world, determined to paint the perfect painting.