Founded by Emmy winning journalist Maria Menounos and Producer Keven Undergaro, AfterBuzz TV is the artist-friendly entertainment news platform that celebrates, discusses, interviews, promotes and reports on the widest range of stars, creators and content through video, audio and article publications.
“It’s fun to do scary things sometimes.”
That could easily be the logline for Disney+’s new original series, The Right Stuff. It’s also one of many poignant lines delivered movingly by Eloise Mumford in the show. Mumford portrays Trudy Cooper, a pilot, mother, and the wife of Gordon Cooper, one of the United States’ first astronauts.
“Trudy was fierce. She was persistent. She was brave. She was grounded. She was an incredible mother and she was a spectacular pilot,” Mumford described her character to AfterBuzz TV. “She made a lot of really hard decisions in the same way that many women have been asked to make really tough decisions choosing between career and family, and passion and obligation. And she juggled it all with an incredible amount of grace.”
Trudy Cooper isn’t just a two-dimensional character who Mumford pulled off the page and brought to life. Not only is she a complex and nuanced character, but she was a real person that walked–and flew–the earth. Cooper’s storyline is one of many that are followed throughout The Right Stuff, which tells the true story of the first human spaceflight program and the original astronauts, the Mercury Seven.
While this story is an American favorite (the show is based on Tom Wolfe’s novel-turned-movie of the same name), in many ways Mumford is telling a story that’s never been told: the story of Trudy Cooper.
Telling her story
“I didn’t know anything about Trudy before starting this project,” Mumford said. “She was a really phenomenal woman who deserves a much greater story than what she’s ended up with in history.”
When Mumford was preparing to take on this role, her research turned up little information about Cooper. Though her husband Gordon wrote a book about his time in the space program, Mumford says he barely mentioned his wife.
So Mumford took a different direction in her preparation, opting to research early female pilots such as Amelia Earhart and Ruth Elder who would have inspired Cooper.
“I figured that if I could learn about her heroes and learn about the women who made her want to be a pilot that I would understand her soul on a deeper level,” Mumford explained. “I was incredibly inspired by them in the same way I’m sure that Trudy was, and that made me feel connected to her in a way that I can’t quite put words to, but it sort of went on a cellular level. That was a really pivotal part of my preparation for finding a way into her.”
What drew Mumford to playing Cooper was that, in typical pilot fashion, she couldn’t be pinned down.
“One of the things that I really love the most about Trudy as a character and the way that they wrote her is that it’s so real that you have someone who’s not just driven and who doesn’t just have a dream, but also has a family who she loves very much,” Mumford said. “She is juggling those two things and is equally drawn in those directions.”
A love of family and flying
Throughout The Right Stuff, we find Cooper hanging in the balance of her family and her dreams, a thin line that Mumford walks with grace and nuance. Though the real-life Coopers were known to be notoriously private, it is known that Gordon had an affair, but asked Trudy to take him back to protect his public image so that he would be accepted into the space program.
That’s where the first episode of The Right Stuff picks up. Beyond that, Mumford says that through reading between the lines of the Coopers’ publicly known story, she was able to fill in the blanks of their relationship.
“Everything else is based on what I think it is to be human given the unhappiness of the marriage and also trying to make a marriage work,” Mumford said, adding that the couple’s shared love of flying added another layer to their relationship. “We found a lot of inspiration in those two things: that they had an unhappy marriage and yet they had this really common, very bonding love of both of their greatest passions.”
Playing opposite Mumford as Gordon Cooper is actor Colin O’Donoghue, whom she credits with bringing their relationship to life.
“We trusted each other so much that we had all these very emotional scenes to do, and we would get in the room and just look at each other and we would just be like, ‘Okay, let’s play,’” Mumford recalled. “That’s the best thing you can hope for as an actor; when your scene partner and you are just dancing with each other, trusting that no matter what happens, they’re going to catch you. That makes it feel very alive.”
Mumford spent a considerable amount of time considering why Trudy said yes to getting back together with Gordon, considering her potential motivations: obligation, societal expectations, or even possibly love she still held onto for her husband. Perhaps most heartbreaking of all the possibilities is Trudy’s hope that she could watch her own dreams come true, if only through his eyes.
“I think she also recognized that it was in some way the closest that she would be able to get to space because of the sexism at the time,” Mumford said. “Because she couldn’t be an astronaut, she could at least be that much closer to watching it all happen.”
While watching her husband chase her dream, Cooper also had to navigate the onslaught of media attention as the Mercury Seven became overnight celebrities. The world wanted to know everything about these first astronauts, including their family life.
Mumford, who describes Cooper as the atypical sixties housewife who would push against the envelope by wearing pants and flats instead of dresses and heels, recalls filming a scene in the third episode where they recreated a real photo of the wives standing around the Mercury capsule.
“I was in this dress and heels and I really felt I think what she must have felt, which is sort of uncomfortable and deeply sad that she had been relegated to that position; watching the astronauts do things that she knew that she could have done,” Mumford said. “It was really important to me to carry that pain, which I think is a pain that is very recognizable in her, as well as all the other parts of her.”
Sexism and the struggle for equal rights is one of many themes in the show which, despite telling a 60-year-old story, draws clear parallels to today. Mumford says she sees the Coopers’ daughter Cam as the hope Trudy carries for the future, and hopes to explore their relationship in future seasons.
“She is her parents’ daughter, and I think one of the things that bonds Trudy and Gordo together is that they both have a fearless streak,” Mumford said. “It was really interesting for me as Trudy to see that within her daughter and to recognize that that was something that she needed to fight for and she needed to protect.”
Hope for the future
Though The Right Stuff might conjure nostalgia in viewers for a time pre-coronavirus, Mumford says the show’s political and social themes ring even more true now.
“It’s sort of eerie actually how relevant it is,” she said. “The idea of a group of people, ordinary, brave but flawed people coming together to accomplish something that is extraordinary and that we always thought was impossible, I think is a deeply, deeply relevant concept right now.”
“We all want so badly for there to be some spectacular scientific breakthrough, or some way that we all are able to come together and move forward. I think seeing the way that that was accomplished in the Space Race is deeply inspiring.”
During hard times, Mumford says people often turn to stories of space for a source of hope.
“There’s something really comforting and something really beautiful about the idea of how expansive the universe is,” she said. “You know that feeling when you look up at the stars and you feel so tiny, like a part of something so much bigger? I think that’s a really important feeling right now.”
“It’s just the wonder of it all and how much we don’t know, and how we’re all just doing our best in the face of not knowing. I think that there’s something really important in that.”
Above all, the theme that hit home the most for Mumford was the idea of having dreams that are seemingly larger than life. As the daughter of a scientist and a teacher, she often thought her own dream of acting was too lofty, which is one of the ways she connected most with Cooper.
“I recognize a lot of myself in her believing in something so deeply and being willing to make sacrifices for that belief, and in the struggle between knowing how she wanted to be treated and knowing what she deserved,” Mumford said. “I think a lot of people will recognize themselves in that, and I think that’s a pretty human spot to be stuck in or to have experienced.”
“Everybody involved in the Mercury Project was following a dream in some capacity, and some of them were able to accomplish theirs and some of them weren’t, but that constant striving is what I really connected with.”
The first four episodes of The Right Stuff are now available to stream on Disney+, with new episodes releasing every Friday. Keep following AfterBuzz TV for continued coverage and more interviews with the cast throughout the season!
Meagan Lynn is a host at AfterBuzz TV and Elon University graduate with a degree in journalism. She loves singing, listening to inspirational podcasts and watching reality TV.
Founded by Emmy winning journalist Maria Menounos and Producer Keven Undergaro, artist-friendly AfterBuzz TV is the world’s largest digital broadcast network and pop culture news platform, producing post-game ‘after-shows’ for nearly all favorite TV shows, interviewing cast and showrunners and providing the widest video, audio and article coverage of shows, content and influencers than any entertainment news platforms in existence
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