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“Genius: MLK/X” Star Kelvin Harrison Jr. Was 'Shocked' to Discover MLK's Real First Name: 'Pretty Cool'

“I thought it was such a pivotal moment in his life that most of us would never have to encounter,” said the actor

<p>Amy Sussman/Getty; Bettmann Archive</p> Kelvin Harrison Jr and Martin Luther King Jr.

Amy Sussman/Getty; Bettmann Archive

Kelvin Harrison Jr and Martin Luther King Jr.

Genius: MLK/X star Kelvin Harrison Jr. shared that he discovered more about the civil rights leader he portrayed that he didn't know before the production.

During a Q&A at the premiere of National Geographic's Genius season four, which was co-sponsored by PEOPLE’s Black Affinity group and the channel, the cast shared new information they learned about their characters. Harrison revealed that he couldn’t believe what name Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born with.

“I couldn't believe his name was Michael. Was anybody else shocked by that? I mean, that was pretty cool,” explained Harrison.

The actor began to explain that in 1934, the civil rights leader’s father, Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. (née Michael Sr.), went on a trip to Germany — the birthplace of Protestantism. Harrison said that Rev. King told his 5-year-old son that he was renaming them both Martin Luther, which is the same name as the German theologian, because King Jr. had “a much bigger purpose.” (King. Jr's birth certificate was officially changed to reflect his new name in 1957.)

<p>Bettmann Archive</p> Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, TN.

Bettmann Archive

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, TN.

As Harrison continued, he shared how he processed the new information. "I'm thinking about a kid hearing that. He doesn't even understand what purpose is. He's like, ‘What is chosen?’ Now he has to figure out this whole thing.”

“I thought it was such a pivotal moment in his life that most of us would never have to encounter,” admitted Harrison.

Related: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X's 'Dueling Philosophies' Spotlighted in NatGeo's Genius: First Look

The actor elaborated that this particular exchange between father and son “sets [King Jr.] up in the perfect way.” 

“Because now he's so much more self-aware at such a young age about what everything means," Harrison said. “What's his relationship to everything? What's his relationship to his identity? What's his relationship to a higher purpose?”

“I thought it was fascinating,” concluded the actor.

<p>Richard DuCree/National Geographic</p> Martin Luther King Jr., played by Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Ralph Abernathy, played by Hubert Point-Du Jour, in 'Genius: MLK/X'

Richard DuCree/National Geographic

Martin Luther King Jr., played by Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Ralph Abernathy, played by Hubert Point-Du Jour, in 'Genius: MLK/X'

The series will provide viewers a look at "the formative years, pioneering accomplishments, dueling philosophies and key personal relationships of both King Jr. (Harrison Jr.) and Malcolm X (Aaron Pierre)."

The eight-part series will also see the two historical figures' wives, Coretta Scott King (Weruche Opia) and Betty Shabazz (Jayme Lawson), come to the forefront as "formidable equals of the Movement."

<p>National Geographic/Richard DuCree</p> Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Aaron Pierre in 'Genius: MLK/X'

National Geographic/Richard DuCree

Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Aaron Pierre in 'Genius: MLK/X'

Related: Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X 'Keep 'em Guessing' in Sweeping First Trailer for Latest Season of Genius

Genius: MLK/X is the fourth installment in National Geographic's anthology docu-drama series. The series began in 2017 and documented the life of German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein (Geoffrey Rush). The show has since followed the lives of Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (Antonio Banderas) in season 2 and legendary "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin (Cynthia Erivo) in season 3.

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Genius: MLK/X premieres Feb. 1, timed to Black History Month, on National Geographic and streams Feb. 2 on Disney+ and Hulu. The pilot episode will simulcast on ABC on Feb. 1 at 9 p.m. ET.

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