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Patrick J. Adams of 'The Right Stuff' reveals what it was like to play famous astronaut Major John Glenn

Patrick J. Adams (center) stars as Maj. John Glenn in The Right Stuff.
Patrick J. Adams (center) stars as Maj. John Glenn in The Right Stuff. (Image credit: Disney+)

Tom Wolfe's bestselling book "The Right Stuff" tells the story of the Mercury 7 — an elite group of test pilots including U.S. Air Force Maj. John Glenn — who were chosen to be America's first ever astronauts in the late 1950s.

This new eight-part TV adaptation of The Right Stuff on Disney+  follows the astronauts of Project Mercury while the Cold War raged. The aim is to beat the Soviets in the race to become the first nation to put a man into space. With the hopes and dreams of the entire country resting on their shoulders, seven astronauts became overnight celebrities. Yet while some relished life in the spotlight others struggled to adapt to their new found fame. 

Their new roles also had a big effect on their families and John Glenn's wife Annie found it particularly difficult to adjust, as she had a severe stammer that made her nervous about speaking to reporters and appearing on TV. 

We caught up with Patrick J. Adams, best known for U.S. legal drama Suits, who tells us much more about The Right Stuff and how he prepared to play such a distinguished historical figure.

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The Right Stuff on Disney+: Patrick J Adams talks about playing such a famous American hero

"It was difficult, as this is the first time I’ve ever played a historic figure like John Glenn and that is intimidating," says Patrick. "I felt a deep desire to get him right, not necessarily in mimicry or in trying to do an impression of him, but I did want to capture his spirit as I understood it through my research."

"Every day I went to work with the sense of real responsibility and I felt John Glenn standing somewhere next to me, behind me, above me, tapping me on the back and trying to remind me to continue to work harder and harder to get this as correct and honest as possible!"

The Right Stuff on Disney+: Patrick on how he prepared to play Maj. John Glenn

Patrick did weeks of research for The Right Stuff and watched everything online he could, before traveling to his character's home state and visiting The John Glenn Archives at Ohio State University.

"I spent a couple of days there sifting through dozens of boxes filled with photos and documents and diary entries and poems and letters between him in and Annie Glenn," explains Patrick. 

"I filled up the well so-to-speak with everything John Glenn. I have the recording of his flight on my phone and I have many other audio recordings, as he did almost 20 hours of an oral history of his life and I have that on my phone. I would just listen, sometimes looking for a particular thing or opinion, but a lot of times I would just have it on in the background. I'd go for a walk and listen to him talk!" 

Maj. John Glenn (played by Patrick J. Adams

Maj. John Glenn (played by Patrick J. Adams in the Disney+ reinterpretation) became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, a momentous feat that's covered in every version of "The Right Stuff." (Image credit: Disney+)

The Right Stuff on Disney+: Patrick on John Glenn's relationship with his wife Annie Glenn

John married Annie in 1943, and the pair were inseparable until John passed away in 2016. He found her support invaluable and she counted on his help as she battled to overcome a severe stutter that made her nervous when speaking in public. 

"John’s relationship with Annie was profound. They had a deep connection," says Patrick. "She'd been the wife of a test pilot for some time and that comes with a whole load of fears and insecurities, but his new role as an astronaut brought with it an extraordinary amount of attention and for his wife in particular that was difficult because she suffered from an extremely intense speech impediment."

"She had a 90% stutter and it had a profound effect on her, but she was a brilliant woman in her own right so Annie really worked hard to overcome that and to rise to the occasion."

The Right Stuff

The "Mercury 7" were presented as America's first astronauts in 1959 in "The Right Stuff." (Image credit: Disney+)

The Right Stuff on Disney+: Patrick J. Adams on bringing this tale to a new generation

The Soviets were the first nation to send a spacecraft into orbit when they launched Sputnik in 1957. The American government formed NASA the following year. 

"The thing that excites me most about being part of the show is that these people who built NASA from the beginning and first made it to space are forgotten," explains Patrick.

"The moon landing became the thing we talk about most, sort of the pinnacle of the accomplishments of NASA and the space program but the story of these seven men and all the people and their families and the teams responsible for getting these rockets off the ground is fascinating. I can only hope that this show teaches about these heroes, these men and women responsible for doing these incredible things."