“Genius” Red Carpet at Tribeca Film Festival

Tonight marks the premiere of the National Geographic Channel’s first ever scripted series, Genius. From director Ron Howard, Genius follows the life of Albert Einstein as portrayed in his youth by English actor Johnny Flynn and later in life by Geoffrey Rush. The first episode screened this week at the Tribeca Film Festival as part of their Tribeca TV series. The pilot seamlessly time jumped between Flynn energetically fighting to become a physicist in his own right without the rigidity of his early school and the elder Einstein beginning to encounter the rise of Nazis later in life.

I got the chance to speak with some of the actors from the series at this red carpet New York screening about their characters and how working on the series changed how they see Albert Einstein.

English actress Samantha Colley portrays Mileva Maric, a physicist and Einstein’s first wife.

Lauren Damon: How much research did you put into playing Mileva?

Samantha Colley: Quite a lot. What I focused on was their personal letters–so the personal letters between Mileva Maric and Albert Einstein but also Mileva Maric and her best friend Helene Savic. When you google Mileva Maric you see these kind of black and white pictures of someone very [Colley stiffens her back] sitting erect on a chair. It’s kind of impenetrable and she seems very severe and harsh. But actually her letters reveal her to be very vulnerable, and loving and soft and riddled with self-doubt but deeply loyal. But it was the letters I focused on.

LD: How important do you think it is that you portray a female scientist, considering the general need for more women in STEM fields?

Colley: It’s enormously important! I mean Mileva Maric is an example of one of many many many women who have been snubbed by the scientific world and their works not being properly credited. There’s a school of thought that Mileva Maric was instrumental in some of Albert Einstein’s fundamental works and never cited. So using her as an example and shedding light on her is enormously important. And I hope it does inspire girls today to go ‘yeah that’s not going to happen to me, I’m not going to let that happen.’

LD: You share your scenes primarily with Johnny Flynn, how was he to work with?

Colley: Amazing. He was one of the most generous actors I’ve ever worked with and we had a real sense of play and trust early on and it was wonderful.

Richard Topol plays fellow scientist Fritz Haber, a man instrumental in the weaponization of poisonous gas in World War I.

LD: So you play Fritz Haber–dubbed the “Father of Chemical warfare”, a pretty daunting title, how much research did you do?

Richard Topol: I did as much as I could about what we know about him and I mean I had a lot of conversations with the writers and the directors and the producers about why would somebody do that? Right? …Like if you imagined living in a country that was at war with the countries all around it and you’re running out of ammunition. And if you ran out of ammunition, your country would be taken over, what would you do?

So to me, it was like he came up with an idea and his pitch was the same pitch that Einstein, you know that the Manhattan project and everybody who invented the atomic bomb came up with which is like ‘Look, we invent this thing, we show people how scary it is, use it once, it’ll never have to be used again.’ So that’s the way I thought about it that made it less daunting to me.

LD: Did you have any misconceptions about Einstein that working on this dispelled?

Topol: I didn’t really have any strong conceptions about him so they weren’t really dispelled. But I was like oh, I was excited to know that this guy was like a kid who never wanted to grow up. So I learned some fun things about him…Also I learned he had a really complicated personal life that I had no idea. And I think that’s one of the interesting things about the show: We know about his genius, we don’t know a lot about the personal and political problems that he had to face.

Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser appears in the premiere as an officious member of the US State Department 

LD: How much more did you learn about Einstein in working on this series?

Vincent Kartheiser: I mean I think you’ll hear from a lot of these people, he was a lot more of a scoundrel than anyone ever really–at least that I know–knew. And he was just kind of…he had this ability to lock out all things around him and just focus on the work. So you know, his kid could be slapping him on the leg and his wife could be hollering at him, and the dinner could be burning and he would just focus on the equation. And I think that’s really interesting in today’s world where there’s millions of distractions for all of us and we’re all constantly trying to figure out how to deal with it. He never had to battle with that. He was just always able to focus.

LD: How was working opposite Geoffrey Rush?

Kartheiser: It was wonderful. He’s such a giving actor, and he’s phenomenal. I mean, you’d be having a conversation and he’d be like [calmly] talking about the role, talking about the scene and then they’d go ACTION! And he’d just snap right into it. Just always exploring, always finding new things during the scene, and lots of fun.

LD: Were you also playing a scientist?

Kartheiser: No no, I was playing a person who works for the state department trying to clear his Visa so he could get into the United States…His visa wasn’t something that was just rushed through. I mean relative to today. These special visas…that have been in the news, you know that is these kind of people. Albert Einstein was someone who came in on a visa because of his talent, and his ability to teach, and his ability to give back to our community here in the states. So it’s a good example of how these kind of programs and the visa system works.

Genius begins tonight at 9 on the National Geographic Channel

Win Complimentary Passes to Kansas City Screenings of “Grease,” “Animal House” and “Real Genius” at the Alamo Drafthouse [ENDED]

Media Mikes has teamed up with the Alamo Drafthouse to give our readers a chance to win passes to themed screenings of the following films in Kansas City:

On Tuesday, September 17, join the T-Birds and Pink Ladies in a specially themed presentation of the classic 1978 musical “Grease.” This is a special sing-a-long screening, with the lyrics projected on screen during the film (like you’ll need them)

Text PINK LADIES and your ZIP CODE to 43549 to enter for a chance to win a pair of tickets to see the GREASE SING-ALONG. (1) winner will be drawn on Monday, September 16.

On Wednesday, September 18, it’s time to join the members of Delta Tau Chi as they throw a Toga Party to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”
Text TOGA and your ZIP CODE to 43549 to enter for a chance to win a pair of tickets to see the ANIMAL HOUSE TOGA PARTY. (1) winner will be drawn on Tuesday, September 17.

Finally, go back to the 80s and celebrate with Val Kilmer and the fellow braniacs of “Real Genius.”

Text IQ and your ZIP CODE to 43549 to enter for a chance to win a pair of tickets to see REAL GENIUS. (1) winner will be drawn on Wednesday, September 18.

Product Review “Genius SlimStar T8020 Wireless Multi-TouchPad Keyboard”

When it comes to keyboards, I have to admit, I am a bit of a snob. Since I am at the computer 8-10 hours a day, I need something that is going to be easy to use and kind to my wrists. It also has to be wireless since I don’t always like to be crunched over a desk. When I saw that Genius was a new slim wireless multi-touchpad keyboard, I was certainly interested. The main selling feature of this keyboard is the fact that it supports Windows 8 gestures and is optimized for use with the new Windows operating system. I think that is a really cool feature to add to this device.

I think for anyone that has Windows 8 (and struggling with its new features), this keyboard would be a nice answer. The SlimStar T8020 allows you to switch between three different modes on the touchpad – mouse cursor, Windows 8 gestures, and numeric keypad. I like the option here since it adds a lot of feature to the keyboard itself. I was able to play around with this with my father’s new Windows 8 laptop and the new gestures do come in VERY handy being able to slide, swipe, swipe from four edges, zoom in/out, and page up/down. But what is even cooler is that these gestures just aren’t specific to Windows 8 since they also work in Windows 7, Vista (shame on you if you still use this) and even XP. So there is fun to be had for every PC user.

The keyboard is very sharp looking and if you didn’t get it from the name, it is extremely slim and compact. It is less one inch thick and weighs less than a pound. There are 11 function keys for media control, Internet access and computer power off. It uses 2.4 GHz wireless technology giving you the ability to work over a distance of up to roughly 50 feet (if you can even seen the screen that far). Genius’ SlimStar T8020 is now available in North America for the suggested retail price of $44.90. I would say it is must for any new Windows 8 users definitely.

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Product Review: Genius Gaming Arcade Stick for PC & PS3 (Arcade F-1000)

I grew up when arcades used to be very popular and there was nothing like coming home from school and spending the afternoon at the arcade. Unfortunately those days are passed use with today’s high-def video game systems and vanishing arcades. Well, Genius has an answer to your prayers for all us hardcore gamers by bringing the arcade-quality control home for use with your PC or PS3. The new gaming arcade stick, Arcade F-1000 is a great way for us hardcore gamers to get that arcade feel while being in the comfort of our own homes.

This great item can be used on today’s games like “Street Fighter”, “Tekken” and even the “Call of Duty” series. Like I said it works with both PS3 and PC systems, even with Windows 8 operating system (Sorry XBOX you miss out here). I have to admit playing with this brought me back to the old days. It delivers the classic arcade feel yet it is so integrated with today’s games that it works so well.

Now let’s get to the details of the actual device. This comes with a standard 4-axis 13-button joypad and supports turbo function, so you have more precise control that an arcade layout provides and helps you get to the next level while playing action and shooting games. I have to admit, I have always been playing games on the PC but this really gives a great transition to crossing over to the PS3 with this arcade stick. What I like most is that it is not a cheap piece of plastic, it has a quite durable and sturdy metal base. It is not too heavy though weighing in at 1.866 kilograms.

The Arcade F-1000 lastly comes with 3 meter cable and 1 meter extension cable if you need the extra room and this really benefited my setup quite well. I remember my old NES controller with its 12 inch wire and we used to have to sit right in front of the screen before the days of wireless. This great item is now available in the US and Canada for the suggested retail price of US$59.99. I think it is worth every penny and will deliver a new or retro video game experience for sure.

Interview with Jon Donahue & Keith Coogan

“Crafty” is a new web series created by Mark Thomas Haapla and Morgan Mead. Morgan also co-stars in the show along with Jon Donahue (“Heroes” and Disney’s “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2”) and Keith Coogan (“Adventures in Babysitting” and “Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead”). In addition to his acting duties, Jon is also one of the writers, directors and producers on the show. “Crafty” is an ensemable comedy that takes place behind the scenes (at the craft service table, duh!) on the set of a hit television show called “The Telepathist”. The show is filled with kooky characters and a slew of celebrity cameos like Diane Delano (“Popular”, “The Ladykillers”), Daniel Roebuck (“The Fugitive” and “Lost”), Wyatt Knight (“Porky’s”), Ian Petrella (“A Christmas Story”), and a few of the guys from HBO’s “Entourage”. Movie Mikes had the chance to talk with Keith and Jon about how it was working on the show and what we can expect.

Click here to purchase Keith Coogan’s movies

Mike Gencarelli: Keith, how did you come on board for the show, “Crafty”?
Keith Coogan: This guy Jon Donahue, I met him at a screening for “Jaws”. He was there with some friends that made the documentary “The Shark is Still Working” which is a great behind the scenes making of “Jaws”. Great film. Not too long after, he contacted me and said they were doing this project. He had a sizzle reel and it looked great. I jumped on board!

Mike Gencarelli: Keith, tell us what we can expect from your role in “Crafty?
Keith Coogan: I play Keith Coogan, who is the second actor to take on the role of “The Telepathist”, the star of a popular network television show. I immediately jumped into…the insanity that takes place. I got the tone of the show right away and everyone involved with the show was having a lot of fun. I was able to step back and make a lot of fun of myself. I got a lot of great bits with Jon, where he thinks I am an insane actor. We were doing one episode that Jon wrote and directed and he also starred in the scene with me! It was great, a lot of fun.

Mike Gencarelli: Keith, tell us what is was like working on a web series?
Keith Coogan: It was pre-pro because they were renting a sound stage, they had nice cameras and equipment and had it all planned out. They even had shot lists, some storyboards and were ready to go. It didn’t defer from a regular TV or film shoot in that way at all. We were just trying to get the work done, bang out the pages and make something that we would enjoy. You realize there are no studios or producers involved, they are running the show, that is where it is new ground. You find yourself in the captain seat and it is a big responsibility. It is really easy working on a shoot with a hundred people and everyone only has a little piece of it, though in this, everyone becomes a lot more important. All of their input gets listened to and everyone gets a chance to shine on these shoots. Everyone has many roles to make it happen. It is funny but not all laughs and giggles, there can be clashes and stressful moments. This is art and these are creative people. It just shows the passions of everyone wanting it to be great.

Mike: Keith, can you tell us about some funny moments on the set?
Keith: Oh gosh, we got one of the creators into a chicken outfit and that was fun. I got a text message, it was probably a rum influenced text message, saying “Mark Thomas Haapala in a chicken suit or not?”. I said “Of course!” When you are browsing the web and you see a guy in the chicken outfit, that is comedy.
Jon Donahue: I gotta say I was against the chicken outfit but after we shot it I am all for it. You were absolutely right Keith.
Keith: You mean the chicken outfit seemed a little crazy during the “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Baked” episode…when me and the kid are smoking weed?!. You mean THAT sounded outrageous [laughs], I understand.
Jon Donahue: My favorite part of that day was when the glass coffee table you were under collapsed on top of you.
Keith: That almost killed me [laughs].
Jon Donahue: The coffee table scene is in the trailer.

Mike: Jon, what was your inspiration for the show?
Jon: As far as my portion of the writing, the show is created by Mark Haapala and Morgan Mead. They had these characters in mind. So we had shot three or four episodes and they were originally 10 minutes a piece, now they are around five minutes. On the first day when Mark called action, we just started acting. We didn’t know our characters or anything. When I wrote “Adventures in Telepathy”, which was Keith’s first episode, we understood who our characters were. So after that I went back and rewrote the pilot with Haapala to match what was written for Keith’s episode. By the way, Keith gave some great notes where his character should go. Remember that Keith?
Keith: Yes. You totally picked those up and put in hints of it in too…it was a big leap to go there right away.
Jon: I really had so much fun writing for these characters. I built on what they created and we went from there.

Mike: Jon, how did you feel shuffling between acting, writing and directing?
Jon: Funny enough, I found out I love writing. I used to be a news reporter and I only wrote news stories. This was different writing comedy. It was a lot of fun being able to write a joke every few minutes. What we realized in the editing process, before I started writing, was that everything has to be faster. Our episodes are five maybe six minutes and we have to get everything in, like story lines and make sure everyone has a piece in every episode. I find writing really fun. What I also enjoy is the improv on set. I love acting also and doing comedy, experimenting and being in the moment. I love the timing in the show, everyone is wonderful and so perfect. The day I directed Keith’s episode, I hadn’t directed anything before. I was having so much fun directing, I didn’t want to jump in front of the camera, which for me is unbelievable! I just had so much fun. The whole process was very long but very rewarding. We finally have a cut of the episode I directed in the can. It is going to be great and Keith is very funny in it.

Mike: Jon, tell us about the show and your role, Larry that you play?
Jon: The show basically is a craft service table on a television show, like Keith mentioned, “The Telepathist”. Obviously a take on “The Mentalist”. It is about a group of wacky people and everyone has their story. I play the first assistant director and I kind of compare my character to Jason Batemen’s on “Arrested Development”. He is the straight guy that has to deal with a bunch of imbeciles. Having worked on sets before, I have worked with a lot of assistant directors. I have been able to observe and understand where they are coming from. My character is the ring leader, since the director (Roebuck) is not even on set. He is agoraphobic, he can’t leave his house and directs from a laptop. I run the whole stage while he is in a bathrobe sitting in his house.

Mike: If you need to sum up the show in one word, what would that be?
Keith: Juicy.
Jon: I get it! Like a fruit!
Jon: I am going to use two words, F**king funny.

Mike: Tell us why should people check out the show?
Keith: It is funny. Everyone has a fascination of what is it like to be on a set. We do not pay that off with any reality. It is total divas and complete egotistical maniacs. It is funny in the way like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”. These people are really crazy. You are not going to learn exactly what goes on behind the scenes but it is real stuff…wrangling different actors and working with creative types that don’t want to come out of their house. What is universal, is if you work in a office, bank or you are teacher there is always conflict, comedy and tragedy. These people would probably kill each other.
Jon: [laughs] and they have.
Keith: It is possible that the show “The Telepathist” takes itself a little too serious, just saying [laughs].
Jon: I just want to throw in that these characters are based on real people. We take them to the extremes but they are ultimately based on real people and will obviously remain nameless. Even though Kevin Connolly is playing himself, he is actually playing another actor in the industry.
Keith: It is a very creative show and I know everyone is going to grab onto it when they see it.

Mike: Keith, aside for “Crafty”, tell us about your “Monologue a Day”? What made you start that?
Keith: Sure, this past New Years I got an idea to combine the concept of “Julie & Julia” mixed with my love for acting and technology. I love putting stuff on YouTube. I wanted to keep it simple since the ambition is trying to do it and complete all of these pieces. I learn something, shoot it and put it up. It is 1 minute long, don’t want to try anyone’s patience. I alternate between comedy, tragedy, drama, Shakespeare, stuff from movies or books. I learned about the craft and it is really like a daily workshop. It has been great and has become a great casting tool for me as well.
Jon: Are you ever going to do the monologue from “Glitter”, I suggested?
Keith: [laughs] Yeah right!

Mike: Jon, you are also currently working with Tom Hanks on his latest film “Larry Crowne”, can you tell us about that?

Jon: I am not sure how much I can tell you. Basically he twitters everything, so I really don’t have to say much. It is about a guy who loses his job and has to start his life over. It is very funny. From script to what we are shooting now it is hilarious. The whole cast is great, Wilmer Valderrama and Nia Vardalos and everyone is so wonderful. Julia (Roberts) of course is always great. It is a blast. Tom is writing, directing, starring and producing. I am blessed to be there everyday. So I am very excited and “Larry Crowne” will be out next year.

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