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‘Genius’: Hear the Song That Foreshadowed Johnny Flynn’s Breakout Role as Young Einstein

How an old song and playing the violin helped to unlock the secrets of the universe.

Johnny Flynn, "Genius"

Johnny Flynn, “Genius”

National Geographic/Robert Viglasky


Actor and musician Johnny Flynn was in tune with Albert Einstein long before he played the famed physicist in National Geographic’s anthology series “Genius.”

Not only do they both share the same birthday: March 14, but Flynn had previously written a song titled ‘Einstein’s Idea,” which he performed with his band. Talk about synchronicity – a word that Flynn actually uses to describe the cosmic connection and harmony he felt with his subject.

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“Despite not knowing anything about him, I’ve had this mystical impression of Einstein,” Flynn said. We know him as a scientist, but somehow I caught this idea that he was like a wise man in the tradition of mystical cosmic sages.

“The thing that marks him out in terms of his theories, is that they are sort of consciousness-expanding, in terms of our understanding of the universe and time and space and these things that we hold up as tenets to our existence and our place in the universe. He changed the way we can perceive ourselves and these fundamental concepts of time and space.”

Listen to the song that Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit released in 2013 below:

Flynn’s romanticized perception of Einstein isn’t too far off. The German-born theoretical physicist was also known for his influence on the philosophy of science and as a man of ideals who sought knowledge. It’s this instinct for the character that helped Flynn land the part.

“I reluctantly put myself on tape for it and sent it off, thinking I wouldn’t hear back. The next thing I knew I was Skyping with [executive producer] Ron Howard,” said Flynn. “Really, it was when I was talking to him that I was very excited to see he had a similar sense of him and also saw him as a sort of master, like somebody with an inherent wisdom who went through life being his true self and looking for the truth.”

READ MORE: ’Genius’: Inside Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Flynn’s Collaboration to Play Albert Einstein

Flynn portrays Einstein in his youth, from approximately age 16 through 38. Beyond putting on the physical aspects of the scientist, Flynn wanted to get inside that mind. Fortunately, Flynn already had skills with a tool that Einstein used in his work: the violin. Watch a clip from “Genius” of Flynn playing some Mozart:

“I grew up playing classical violin and a lot of Bach and Mozart and the things that Einstein loved. For me that was one of the greatest joys of the series,” said Flynn. “I became obsessed with the idea of making that part of my character work. Every morning I would get up very early and I’d play through the Bach Motets. I learned that [Einstein] would do that when he got stuck on an equation or he was lost in his work, he would often find his violin and drift off and play through a piece.

“It’s something I kind of related to, his use of music to sort of divine, to intuit information from the subconscious,” Flynn continued. “That type of music is non-linguistic, and it engages an abstract part of our subconsciousness that maybe can intuitively understand the universe the way that like our cerebral cortex might engage with the world. That played an important part in him gaining certain sort of understandings and going into a sort of trance-like state try and approach things from a different angle. For me music is the same thing. It’s a meditative, cathartic journey that I like to go on, and it’s a daily interaction that’s necessary to me as breathing.”

Johnny Flynn & the Sussex Wit

Johnny Flynn & the Sussex Wit

Tom Watkins/REX/Shutterstock

With his most recent album “Sillion,” which was released in March, Flynn may not have achieved Einstein-level revelations – but reached his own truths through music.

“In some ways my new music has very traditional elements, but I like to twist them and play off the traditionalism and use that as a form of innovation,” he said. “Today, I think mostly I’m a bit more relaxed in this new effort. I just wasn’t as afraid to go the places that I like going and brought a range of references. When I hear it, it feels authentically me and where I’m at in trying to be honest in my expression of myself.”

As Flynn moves on from playing one of the greatest minds of the 20th century to his next gig, reprising the role of hopeless romantic Dylan on Netflix’s “Lovesick” for its third season, he again sees the connections at play in his life.

“There was definitely similarly sort of puppyish openheartedness that [Dylan and Einstein] share,” he said. “And maybe a willingness to please people, which in Dylan’s case, is just a comedic flaw, and in Einstein’s case is just kind of disastrous at times, and has even more tragic consequences in trying to please too many people.”



Neil Davidson/Netflix

Flynn knows a thing of two about trying to please people. As the son of actor Eric Flynn and half-brother of actor Jerome Flynn (“Game of Thrones,” “Ripper Street”), he’s observed from a young age what it’s like to be a storyteller that relies on how an audience receives a performance. Becoming a father, however, has altered how he perceives this pressure, and that has changed up his art.

“That has affected me in the last six years since my son was born,” he said. “It’s such a profound shift in your own sense of identity. Right now, just everything I do now is for my family, I’m not really even thinking about myself. It frees up a massive sense of time that makes you feel like you’re just a cog in a big machine. That’s quite humbling and sort of a wonderful thing to acknowledge.”

Flynn can next be seen in the upcoming third season of the Netflix rom-com “Lovesick” or on tour with his band through the fall.

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