“Love will play a great role in your art,” Max Jacob (T.R. Knight) prophesizes to a young Pablo Picasso in this exclusive trailer for National Geographic’s Genius: Picasso, premiering in April.
His words end up being both a blessing and a warning for the artist.
The trailer shows Picasso at different stages of his life, including when he’s much older and bald (played by Antonio Banderas) and when he’s young, just starting out, with a full head of hair (played by Alex Rich). One thing that doesn’t change is the presence of women in his life.
“It was a lot of women,” Banderas tells Yahoo Entertainment. “All of those women became muses for him. They were all the time in all his life, in different stages, in different ways. It was a back-and-forth relationship for some of them.”
As Banderas explains, Picasso’s genius lay in drawing upon all the facets in his life — those relationships, his political exile, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, his time in Paris during the Nazi occupation.
“I think art, women, politics everything that happens in the life of Picasso is one unit. Everything is part of the same thing,” he says. “We wouldn’t have had the paintings that we have without the women and without the time in which Picasso was living.”
Playing Picasso means looking the part, and in the trailer, Banderas sports a few hairstyles, from the artist’s more famous slicked-back hair to nearly bald.
“It’s a wig. I am totally bald right now as I talk to you,” he says. “You know, with different eyebrows, different pieces, there’s a number of things that I have to learn how to use because otherwise it becomes like a mask, and I don’t want that to be a mask.”
Aside from the hair and makeup, Banderas and the crew had to figure out a way to make him appear smaller, as he’s built with a larger frame than the diminutive Picasso.
“When all of those things are well done, I can feel that it starts feeding my inside and there is a certain mannerism that starts happening in my body language and actually goes to my voice,” he says. “So it’s a very weird process to explain, but I suppose it’s called acting and that’s what you do.”
He also worked closely with Rich, to better align their versions of the painter.
“I think I actually have an advantage over him, to tell you the truth, because I’m Spanish and so I don’t have to fake my accent. It is what it is,” he says, laughing. “So, he’s actually trying to follow my accent more than me following his, which is natural because he’s from Los Angeles. But we talk about how we will touch our hair, how we will do this, how do you want to walk, things like that.”
That was important since Genius: Picasso doesn’t start off with Rich’s young Picasso and then segue into Banderas’s version. Instead, it toggles back and forth between the two.
“We are going back and forth all the time during the 10 episodes. So you are not going to have a moment in which you abandon an actor and you go with another actor playing the same character, which sometimes it distracts you,” Banderas says. “We are all the time, both of us, driving this character, going back and forth from the ’50s and ’60s back to the ’20s and ’30s.”
For Banderas, playing Picasso was the culmination of a lifelong dream. He twice thought about taking on Picasso projects, but hadn’t yet done it when Genius producers Ron Howard and Ken Biller came calling.
“I thought, well, it’s now or never,” the actor says. “Picasso was born in the same town I was born. He’s been a huge shadow for me always. He left Malaga practically the same age that I left, trying to go and conquer the world. Of course, if I just compare myself with him, I will lose always. But to lose against Picasso isn’t such a bad thing.”
Genius: Picasso premieres April 24 on National Geographic.