A couple of months ago, we learned that National Geographic was teaming with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way production company to make NatGeo’s first Disney+ original series: a new adaptation of The Right Stuff, which is based on Tom Wolfe’s bestselling book. We watched the show’s Comic-Con 2020 panel to hear the cast and creative team talk about their new iteration and reveal the first clip from the series. Here’s what you need to know.
The Right Stuff Comic-Con 2020 Panel
The Right Stuff has been adapted for the screen once before, as a movie back in 1983. So what makes this version different? Showrunner and executive producer Mark Lafferty explained that the book and movie were both important to him, and he described the idea of tackling a new version to be “daunting” because of the long shadows they cast.
After he was offered the project, he says, “Immediately I was terrified, because I was like, ‘this is an iconic piece of material.’ But one thing we quickly focused on is, not only is this an evergreen story and a great story to tell, but we wanted to tell it in a different way. Instead of just telling a historical drama that just focuses on the tick tock, tick tock of what actually happened, we really wanted this to be a family drama. That’s not to say the family drama aspects are more important than what was actually happening, but just that the intricacies of these characters really informed this massive effort that they were doing.”
It seems like he’s interested in zooming in even deeper than the movie could with this show. “There were so many competing motives and motivations and desires and conflicts, and yet, within all of that, everybody came together and found a common purpose,” he said. That in particular is an idea they hope is inspiring for today’s audiences, given how far from our current reality it seems to be right now. “It seems as though in our country, we’ve lost our step a little bit in terms of that ability to come together to affect change. I think any story that can remind us that that’s one of our defining characteristics, that’s what other countries look to us for, it’s something that from our Constitution forward, it’s like, we do big stuff here.”
This cast, while talented folks, is – how do I put this – pretty white. So I was pleasantly surprised to hear the moderator – Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black woman selected for the astronaut program by NASA – ask what the creatives would add in future seasons regarding the often untold contributions of diverse NASA employees who were working there at the time.
“I think it’s amazing what’s going on in our country right now,” said executive producer Jennifer Davisson, expressing the entire show’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement. “We chose to focus on these seven guys [of the Mercury program] and their wives for this season, but it was a missed opportunity. Because there are these incredible untold stories within the space program that we can’t wait to kind of peel back and dive into like we did here with these seven guys, in season 2. So whether it’s Katherine Johnson, obviously Hidden Figures, but Ed Dwight, who I don’t think a lot of people know about, who was meant to be one of the first astronauts who was an African-American man, and really get into some of the complex things that were going on in our country as it pertained to race, and how that really affected what happened in the program.”
You can check out the first clip from the series at the 30:54 mark in the video above.
Here’s the show’s official synopsis:
At the height of the Cold War in 1959, the Soviet Union dominates the space race. To combat a national sentiment of fear and decline, the U.S. government conceives of NASA’s Project Mercury, igniting a space race with the Soviets and making instant celebrities of a handful of the military’s most accomplished test pilots. These individuals, who come to be known as the Mercury Seven, are forged into heroes long before they have achieved a single heroic act. The nation’s best engineers estimate they need several decades to make it into outer space. They are given two years.
The astronauts’ strengths are equaled only by their flaws. As the men succumb to the temptations that surround them, Project Mercury threatens to come apart. At the heart of the historic drama populated by deeply human characters are two men who become icons — Glenn and Shepard — as they jockey to be the first man in space. The entire program is nearly brought to its knees by their intense rivalry.
The series also follows NASA’s engineers, who work against the clock as pressures mount from Washington and a transfixed public. And we witness the underbelly of a myth-making propaganda machine headed by NASA’s PR department and aided by the writers and editors at LIFE Magazine.
The Right Stuff arrives on Disney+ in Fall 2020.
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