Scene Stealer: ‘Genius’ Star Alex Rich Talks Taking on Young Picasso and More

Genius - Alex Rich
DUSAN MARTINCEK/National Geographic

National Geographic’s anthology series Genius may recruit heavy hitting actors for biographical portrayals of intellectuals like Einstein and Picasso — repectively played by Geoffrey Rush and Antonio Banderas — but it’s the young ones viewers have to watch out for. We’re talking about scene stealer and young Picasso actor, Alex Rich who continues to transfix viewers each time he takes over the screen. Learn more about the actor behind Picasso’s early days below.

He Plays

Cocky, obsessed artist Pablo Picasso from age 17 to 40. (Antonio Banderas takes over from there.) His arc follows Picasso from student in Spain, rebelling against his conservative teachers, to rising star in turn-of-the-century Paris. It’s in the City of Lights that the legend in the making begins to embody the Radical Modernist art movement and start collecting muses. Says Rich, who won the role with a homemade audition tape: “There’s so much passion and volatility and emotional depth in his experiences.”

Where You’ve Seen Him

In 2015’s True Detective. “I played a long-haired hooker who approached Taylor Kitsch’s [closeted cop],” the Florida native says fondly of his first TV role. “When I found out, I chased my tail around my apartment like an excited puppy.” He also recurred on Netflix’s ’80s female wrestlers series GLOW as the “sort of butler” Florian: “That guy in his cutoff-jean shorts is near and dear to my heart.”

Why We Love Him

Rich beautifully conveys an openness and tenderness with Picasso’s first profound amour, the artist’s model Fernande Olivier (Aisling Franciosi) — qualities we see fade from the painter’s palette as his fame grows. The actor is equally moving in emotional scenes with the icon’s suicidal friend, Carlos Casagemas (Robert Sheehan), and Max Jacob (T.R. Knight), a French poet with unrequited love for him.

Lows And Highs

In the May 15 episode, an unhappy Pablo and Fernande begin their “stark journey” to an eventual split, Rich says, just as the artist gains notice for his controversial 1907 Cubist masterwork Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Genius: Picasso, Tuesdays, 10/9c, National Geographic