Seth Gabel can now say he has had the privilege of conversing with Albert Einstein about theoretical physics. Sort of. What is only a dinner party pipe dream for many was standard for Gabel as he portrayed Michele Besso, Einstein’s best friend, in National Geographic’s newest series. Genius, the network’s first foray into original scripted television, premiered on April 25, and explores the life and influences of Albert Einstein. Based on Walter Issacson’s biography Einstein: His Life and the Universe, the series aims to reveal that there was more to Einstein than his groundbreaking Theory of Relativity and wild hair.
One of these under-explored aspects of Einstein’s life is Michele Besso. “There are an infinite number of people who contributed to his becoming who he became and discovering what he did,” Gabel says. “I felt like every character had a certain kind of genius, and I feel like Michele Besso’s genius was recognizing Albert Einstein’s genius in all he wanted to do, and helping facilitate that.” Examples of such facilitation are Besso covering Einstein’s work in a patent office so he could continue his studies, and even mending his inspired friend’s broken home.
Einstein’s womanizing ways may come as a surprise to those whose understanding of the physicist is of the “e=mc²” variety. Gabel supposes this may be one of the more revelatory aspects of the series.
“He was a sexual creature,” Gabel explains. “He was a man that had testosterone. In the same way he wanted to be free with his citizenship of the world, he wanted to be free to philander as much as he wanted. It will be really surprising for audiences to see this man who we thought of as the ultimate brain, also having very primal desires just like everyone else.”
While Einstein fell short in family commitments, Besso was devoted to the traditions of marriage. A role of such strong moral character is quite a departure from Gabel’s most recent parts. He recently completed his tenure as Cotton Mather, a witch-hunting puritan with internal demons, on WGN’s Salem and a two episode arc as serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer on American Horror Story. Despite this shift in tone, Gabel is not at all concerned by the emotional dichotomy of the roles he has been pursuing.
“I love the dark stuff,” Gabel says. “I’m a parent of two kids and a loyal, devoted husband, so to get to play these characters who wrestle with the darkness within themselves is really cathartic for me. But getting to play Besso was a dream come true for me, because I’ve always been obsessed with physics and theoretical physics – from a hobbyist’s perspective, I’m not brilliant in that regard – but I’ve always been fascinated by all that stuff.”
Yes, the darker roles let him explore an alternative headspace, but Besso allows Gabel to geek-out on physics. While the part was wish-fulfilling in a personal sense, Gabel finds the series provides deeper insight into how we are fostering genius in our education system today.
“I think we are discovering that all the ways we wouldn’t normally perceive genius are being realigned,” Gabel says. “We are discovering new ways that the human mind works, and that being normal isn’t always the best way to be. There are all different forms of genius and intellect that we previously weren’t aware of.”
Gabel emphasizes the importance of digestible content like Genius, or Carl Sagan’s Cosmos (a “life changing” read for the actor), in conveying transformative ideas of genius to the masses. “You can’t have breakthroughs in scientific discovery without someone who is a great writer to talk about it and share with people why it is relevant,” Gabel says. “I feel like that is what shows like Genius do as well, is distill these big ideas that perhaps aren’t always acceptable, into something that we can all understand and feel.”
Given his artistic portfolio, it is no surprise that Gabel’s favorite city is one of darkness and light, a city that has seen struggle and frivolity in extremes.
“New Orleans is the most unique American city that I have been to,” Gabel says. “Whenever I am there, there is just sort of a charge to it, there is an electricity in the air, there is a feeling of creativity and darkness. It is just kind of a reminder that life is ephemeral, and you have to make the most of it. There are a lot of people who are just open and accepting. It is a city that has woken me up in a lot of ways.”
For an equally eye-opening trip to New Orleans, read below for his favorite stops in the Big Easy.
Cup of Joe: Can’t beat the taste and feeling of 2am beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde. The next morning, however might not feel so good.
Power Lunch: The Joint in Bywater. Best ribs and BBQ overall!
Cocktail Hour: R Bar in Marigny. Great dive bar full of amazing characters. For a real cocktail, head to the upstairs at Square Root. You can completely trust the bartender to set you up with something amazing. The beef tartar there has incredible flavor and texture, best I’ve had.
Retail Therapy: Papier Plume in the French Quarter has beautiful pens, stationary and wax seals. If you’re into that sort of thing.
Field Trip: I love the Nola aquarium but the WW2 museum is a must-see.
Date Night: The downstairs at Square Root. Chef Phillip Lopez is a genius and playing with some really interesting concepts.
Don’t Miss: My favorite thing to do is head to Frenchmen Street at night and just listen. Pass a few jazz clubs and pick the one you like best. You’ll always find something interesting.
Hidden Gem: Verti Mart on Royal St is a hole-in-the-wall convenience store that serves the most incredible sandwiches. Get the ‘All that Jazz’. Trust me!