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story.lead_photo.caption Antonio Banderas stars as Pablo Picasso in Season 2 of National Geographic’s Genius anthology. The series returns at 8 p.m. today.

What comes to mind when you think of the National Geographic Channel? Nature specials? Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about space? Maybe Running Wild With Bear Grylls?

Unless you were paying attention, you may have missed last season's surprise hit biography, Genius: Einstein, starring Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush (Shine) as the renowned patent clerk turned theoretical physicist.

It was on National Geographic Channel. Granted, that's not the first place one would think to look for a masterful, lushly produced biographical anthology, but there it is.

Season 2 of the series takes us in a more artistic direction. I've previewed the first two episodes and it's just as fascinating as the Einstein production, maybe more so.

Genius: Picasso debuts at 8 p.m. today with a special two-part premiere to kick off the 10-episode season. It stars Antonio Banderas (The Mask of Zorro, Shrek) as the older Pablo Picasso, and Alex Rich (Glow, True Detective) as the younger.

The painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet and playwright was born in the southern coastal town of Malaga, Spain, in 1881, but after 1904 lived in Paris and the south of France. Picasso died in 1973 after a long and passionate life that the series thoroughly examines.

Aside: Banderas, was also born in Malaga and production locations included the same house in which Picasso was born, the church where he was baptized and the bullring where he found much inspiration in his youth.

Picasso was baptized Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santisima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. Ruiz was his father's family name; Picasso was his mother's.

Picasso was married twice, first to Olga Khokhlova (1918-1955), the mother of his first child in 1921, and then to Jacqueline Roque (1961-1973), with whom he had no children.

In total, Picasso had four children by three women. He also had multiple mistresses, sometimes several at the same time.

Here's the roster of Genius: Picasso co-stars. Keep it handy -- the characters and their relationships can get confusing.

Clemence Poesy portrays Francoise Gilot, a French painter and author who was Picasso's lover for a decade and the mother of his two youngest children in 1947 and 1949. She later married polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk.

Robert Sheehan is Carles Casagemas, a Spanish art student and poet who was one of Picasso's closest friends.

Poppy Delevingne plays Marie-Therese Walter, another lover who mothered his second child in 1935.

Aisling Franciosi portrays Fernande Olivier, a French artist and model. Picasso painted more than 60 portraits of her.

Samantha Colley portrays Dora Maar, a French photographer and painter who was another mistress and muse.

T.R. Knight plays Max Jacob, one of Picasso's first friends in Paris.

Seth Gabel plays Guillaume Apollinaire, a renowned poet and frequent collaborator.

The producers picked Picasso for the second season of Genius because, as National Geographic publicity explains, "He was one of the most influential and celebrated artists of the 20th century. A child prodigy, 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 who had a significant impact on the advancement of modern art and influenced generations of artists."

All of which makes for gripping drama, especially during the Nazi occupation, when Picasso chose to remain in France rather than leave as did so many of his contemporaries.

Banderas has been asked to play Picasso before, but turned the role down as being too big for a relatively short film. A limited series, however, is another matter.

In addition, he says in series publicity, "It came with guarantees that we were going to tell the story as accurately to what his life was -- his relationship with art and the world in which he was living. I decided to say yes."

Viewers will be glad he did. Look for Banderas' name to be high on the Emmy list when nominations come out July 12.

The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Email:

Style on 04/24/2018

Print Headline: Genius casting: Antonio Banderas does Picasso

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