We’ve been told to reach for the stars when thinking about our dreams, and for some, their dreams are the stars. In “The Right Stuff,” viewers will get an in depth look at the Mercury Seven, a group of seven astronauts selected to fly a spacecraft for Project Mercury during the space race in the early 1960s. Not only does this show give audiences a look into how NASA and other developments really began, they will also see the hardships these men had to go through both personally and professionally and how they persevered in precarious times. Some might argue the timing for this show, although in the past, could not be more relevant.
Patrick J. Adams who plays John Glenn sat down with Metro to discuss National Geographic’s new series based on Tom Wolf’s book and the incredible true story of the men who paved the way for the space program in America.
What initially intrigued you to want to sign on with this project once you received the script?
It honestly began before all of that in a way because the book had meant so much to me as a young man. It was really one of the first books I had read, I was 14 years old and my father who’s a journalist gave it to me and said you’re really going to love this and he wasn’t wrong—it had a huge effect on me. I remember it being one of the first stories that really grabbed me and inspired my imagination and made me think about what it would be like to go to space and Tom Wolf’s writing, even though I was too young to I think fully appreciate it, it was so funny and solar tongued and I just thought the whole thing was so fascinating. I hadn’t thought about it for a long time and then when I heard they were going to be doing an adaptation of it, I was in. I hadn’t read anything yet, but if it’s as good as it could be and I understood how much story there was to tell that they couldn’t cover in the film just because of how long a film is—I just thought it was such a great idea. Then I read the script and I couldn’t believe how good it was, any idea that this was going to be mediocre was totally out the window. I originally didn’t see any of the parts for me, but when I went in and I read [for John] with them, it suddenly was a great fit.
That sounds like a dream role for you as an actor.
Yeah, as you get older, you start reading everything through the lens of being an actor and you sort of think of oh, I want to play this role or be apart of this—but this was even before then. This was like an innocent just in love with the story, no sense of ever being in it or being apart of telling it, I was just completely enraptured by this world, these people, what they accomplished, the details of it and the ways they interacted. Everything about it was just so interesting to me and that was free of my desires or want to somehow be apart of it. It was just pure, young fascination. So to get to go back to that place and re-ignite that spark that I had as a kid but now get to put into words what I do as an adult was such a gift.
Did you know a lot about John Glenn then?
I would say no, I read the book young, so over time it had kind of faded into the bare bones of the story. Even reading the story, all the astronauts as individuals are not very well documented because the book has to tell a great story, so you get a sense of who they are. I think my thoughts on John Glenn were probably the same as most people with a cursory knowledge of the space program and history. I knew he was a man of faith, I remember him being this sort of straight-edged guy and I remember him being very well-spoken in front of the camera. Then I remember that he had gone on to live a very interesting and exciting life years after the Mercury Program, but beyond that I didn’t remember much about him. I got to start doing a deep dive into the insane life that was John Glenn’s.
So, what did you do to prepare for your role?
I at first was just very overwhelmed because I had never done this before as an actor. I have been very lucky to work quite a bit, but I had never played a historical character before—somebody who people kind of know and you have to get it right if you want to do justice to him, so I didn’t really know where to begin. I just started where you start anything which is on the internet and I looked for as much information as possible, while at the same time trying to get his voice down and working with a voice coach. In the beginning it was almost a process like I’ve got to mimic this person, and then quickly I realized that wasn’t going to be a fruitful path and not what people really want to see when they tune into something. After consuming as much as I could online and on YouTube and whatever is available to the public I was directed towards some archives— the official John Glenn archives through Ohio State University. I made selections from the hundreds and hundreds of boxes they have there and I got to spend two days going through just an enormous and overwhelming amount of stuff—journal entries, letters he wrote, pictures that I had never seen published before, tons of stuff that gave me insight into who the man was when the cameras weren’t on. That stuff became the fuel for the whole thing, and if I ever felt lost I would open up that binder full of info.
What do you think this show helps show about the tenacity of the human spirit, especially now during these precarious times?
There’s so much to say—look, we live in a terrifying time, we are clearly living through a moment of history where we really need intelligent, driven and determined people to come together and do what feels somedays like the impossible and to figure out a path forward, and it can feel pretty hopeless. While this story covers something so similar, it’s pretty granular that it was a single-minded mission, let’s get these people off the planet safely and back down to earth again safely. But it took a remarkable amount of work and maneuvering political clout and interpersonal relationships of people putting down their feelings about each other, people moving through their own sense of what the world is and having to fight for a common purpose. I just don’t think we see enough of that, the world is rife with division and conflict and we seem to prioritize or sensationalize that more and nothing gets done in that environment and nothing great can be accomplished from that point of view. So, if people watch our show and can be reminded of what can be possible if people come together to work on something even if they can be radically different, if you have a common purpose you can do anything. If people can remember then even for that moment that they’re watching our show that would be a gift.
‘The Right Stuff’ premieres on Disney+ Oct. 9th