'The Right Stuff' looks back and up with first US astronauts

NEW YORK (AP) - When Hollywood does biographies of musicians, we're used to lots of naughty stories about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Not so much when it comes to astronauts.
That changes with "The Real Stuff", an eight-part script series from National Geographic that shows the often ugly birth of American space exploration.
"Astronauts are treated like gods in our culture and are unique that way," said writer, showrunner and producer Mark Lafferty. "It's kind of a third track."
He and the show's creators decided to grab the third rail and peek behind the heroic veneer of the nation's first astronaut clutch to reveal their weaknesses and fears.
Alan Shepard emerges as a cocky, serial womanizing cad, while John Glenn is a little too preoccupied with his place in history and Gordon Cooper's seemingly happy marriage is a sham.
"They're not statues. They are real flesh and blood men who did these incredible, unimaginable things. But at heart, they're just flesh and blood," said executive producer Jennifer Davisson.
The series, which premieres on Disney + Friday, opens on May 5, 1961, the day Shepard became the second person - and the first American - to fly in space. It then jumps back three years to the birth of NASA and America's entry into the space race against the Soviets, leading viewers to that pivotal start of '61.
"The Right Stuff" is a fictional dramatization based on actual events and based on Tom Wolfe's bestseller of the same name.
Wolfe used literary techniques to draw his characters and sketch attitudes, and found in the astronauts an indescribable mixture of self-confidence, dexterity and machismo - "the right stuff". At one point Shepard says, “Pilots are not humble. At least not the good guys. "
Patrick J. Adams as Glenn, Jake McDorman as Shepard, Colin O'Donoghue as Gordon and Aaron Staton as Wally Schiarra star in the series. Parts of it were filmed at real NASA locations.
Fans of "Mad Men" will find familiar territory in classic cars, smoking, knitted shirts, Frank Sinatra songs and the strong touch of white men. Each of the seven got new Corvettes for just $ 1 because the dealership knew what good advertising it would be if they drove their cars.
“It was a great moment becoming an astronaut, wasn't it? You are a celebrity You got money. You got girls. They got cars for a dollar. You got all of this, all of these wonderful things. But it's never enough, ”said Davisson.
Davisson and Leonardo DiCaprio, their production partner at their production company Appian Way, originally explored the idea of ​​running a project around a single American hot dog pilot - Chuck Yeager.
When that failed, they grabbed seven instead - the Mercury Seven, who were giving up military jobs to create the new category of astronauts. The producers reread Wolfe's book and re-examined the 1983 film adaptation, starring Ed Harris and Sam Shepard, which feels like the Cold War.
"We went back and looked at the book and found that as wonderful as the original film was, there was so much story that wasn't told. So we decided to roll up our sleeves and see if we could make something of it "Said Davisson.
Lafferty was the perfect man to run the series in many ways as he's been bringing history to life for years. Previously, he investigated the computer revolution of the 1980s with Halt and Catch Fire and worked on Manhattan, which told the story of the scientists who made the first atomic bombs. He even wrote about Wolfe in his master's thesis.
"What we've tried from the pilot is to take Wolfe's book, take the film, take all the research we've done and triangulate everything and try to find the essence of truth in the middle" , he said.
The series airs at a time when space exploration is back in popular culture. In May, Elon Musk's SpaceX launched astronauts off home soil for the first time in nearly a decade. Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic are also planning trips into space.
"I think we're in a moment where we're going to look around and leave." Are we happy with where we are and who we are and what we have achieved? And: "Can we do more and can we do better?" People are starting to look up, "said Davisson.
She added, "I hope we are spot on."
There are many more stories out there when "The Right Stuff" develops an audience. The book and season one ends with Shepard's start, but there are a handful of other Mercury missions, then many in Gemini and Apollo that end with a man on the moon.
“The plan was always to go to the end of Wolfe's book and then go way beyond that and say, 'This can be the launch pad' - no pun intended - 'for a story about NASA, and we can go into Gemini and Apollo and so on into the future, ”Lafferty said.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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