Actress Shannon Lucio shared with AfterBuzz TV how she prepared to play Louise Shepard, the wife of famed astronaut Alan Shepard, the first man sent into space by the United States.
From the moment actress Shannon Lucio picked up the script for The Right Stuff, she was sold.
“It was the best pilot I had ever read, which is after 20 years of doing this,” she told AfterBuzz TV. “And you read a lot of pilots.”
The Right Stuff, which tells the true story of the first ever astronauts, is one of Disney+’s latest original show releases. Lucio portrays Louise Shepard, the wife of astronaut Alan Shepard who is best known as the first man from the United States in space.
The dichotomy of Louise Shepard
“I found Louise to be such an enigma at first. I didn’t fully understand her,” Lucio shared. “I was just fascinated with her, so I thought, ‘Wow, this could be a really fun puzzle to solve.’”
Though Louise was raised in a working class family, she grew up on the estate of Pierre S. du Pont, a wealthy entrepreneur whom her father worked for. He became close friends with du Pont, and Louise and her sister became like his de facto grandchildren, with him showering them with gifts and paying for them to go to college.
“Louise is this interesting combination of grounded blue collar working class roots, but also this white collar elitist kind of personality,” Lucio explained. “When Louise was growing up, people actually thought that she was a DuPont, and she carried herself with that kind of poise that an exceptionally wealthy person does.”
Lucio noted that Louise was nicknamed “Ms. Westinghouse” after the leading refrigerator brand at that time because people found her to be icy and cold as a result of the way she carried herself.
“But she was also very sweet and loving and grounded and did not see herself as being better than other people. She just kind of took on that demeanor of the wealthy,” Lucio said. “She’s a rare combination of a person who did not have means but carried herself in a way that commanded respect and showed that she herself had respect for herself. I don’t know anyone like that.”
Love and sacrifice: Louise and Alan
Louise and her husband Alan were also an enigma of sorts. While they rose to fame as the “Bill and Hillary Clinton of the space program,” they were known to be very private. This meant that much of Lucio’s preparation revolved around leaning on the script and using her own methods to get into the headspace of Louise.
“I would do things that I’ve never done in my acting career, like just go in my office and get all dressed up in these period clothes that I have that I felt like would be what she would wear,” Lucio said. “I would have imaginative scenes with some of the other astronauts’ wives or with Alan, and just try to see what it was like to be in her skin.”
The central question revolving around Louise’s storyline which Lucio had to answer in her performance is why she stays with her husband. Alan was a serial adulterer, and Louise stayed despite knowing this.
Lucio’s research during her preparation to become Louise included reading The Astronaut Wives Club, the true story of the women behind the astronauts, and that’s what guided her answer.
“There was this meeting at one point years after the program when the wives were hanging out and finally one of them broke and said, ‘Louise, how can you handle this? How can you handle Alan’s cheating?’” Lucio recalled from the book. “And she just simply said, ‘Because I know I’m the one he really loves.’ I think she accepted the man for who he is so she could be with him, because there was no other way around it.”
Lucio said she also used her own fiancé as a resource in figuring out Louise, getting into debates with him about why Louise stayed.
‘He was saying, ‘How could she accept this?’ But I don’t think it’s an acceptance,” Lucio said. “It’s not all these things that are from our modern perspective, where you want to fight for equal footing for both sexes. In a way, she still had equal footing because she always had the choice to leave if she wanted to, but she didn’t want to.”
Lucio believes it was ultimately love that made Louise stay.
“I think at the end of the day, it was worth the sacrifices for her that she had to make in order to be part of this exciting life that she had with him,” she said. “And they genuinely loved each other; she would call him at five o’clock every day and that’s because they had this intense connection. And when you have something special, you can overlook the flaws that might otherwise get in the way.”
Being an astronaut wife
However, as the couple’s storyline progresses through the series, Louise’s commitment to stay falters. After Alan is chosen to be the first of the Mercury Seven astronauts in space, fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter’s wife, Rene, tells Louise that he’s been cheating on her throughout the space program.
“My favorite scene to film was actually the one out on the porch with Rene Carpenter,” she said. “I feel like that scene really shows the two sides of Louise, much like her husband. Alan had these nicknames: the ‘Icy Commander,’ because he could be really cold and punishing, and then his other nickname was ‘Smiling Al.’ He could be really jovial and the life of the party.”
“She had these two nicknames: ‘Saint Louise,’ the serene, calm, respectful woman, and ‘Ms. Westinghouse,’ the cold, frigid girl who really wouldn’t let you close,” Lucio continued. “That scene shows you the two sides of her; that there’s this public facade that she’s working really hard to maintain that everything’s okay, that she’s in control and she’s cool, calm and collected. And then there’s the internal struggle of, ‘I’m uncomfortable, and now I realize people know something about me that I did not want them to know.’”
This tension between her and Alan comes to a breaking point when Louise confronts and threatens to leave him, which Lucio considers her final warning that she won’t put up with his escapades anymore.
“I don’t think she even means adultery, because I think she assumes that’s going to continue, but more the shame of it if it were ever to come to light,” Lucio said.
Louise doesn’t leave Alan, but does leave Cocoa Beach, from where Alan is set to launch into space.
“I think what drove her to leave Cocoa Beach before the actual flight was the shame of realizing everybody knew something about her that she didn’t realize they knew, and she had no control over,” Lucio said. “And all the looks she’s receiving now which she perceived previously to be looks of jealousy because Alan was this one first chosen, are now looks of contempt and pity and judgment.”
“She already had to endure what it felt like internally to know that he was running around with these women. She was not going to endure it publicly,” Lucio continued. “Especially if God forbid the worst scenario happened and the mission is not successful and Alan dies, and now all of this attention is going to be heaped on her, she wanted to be in control. The only way that she could do that was to be at home.”
Lucio says that in a second season of The Right Stuff, she would like to explore more of Louise’s struggles as a wife and mother. Louise’s storyline largely revolves around her complex family dynamics, which is the overarching theme of the show that Lucio says she connects with the most.
“It’s your family and the support they give you, or they don’t give you, that makes or breaks a person’s willpower or the ability to achieve their endeavors,” Lucio said. “We can really go astray in life because of our ambition and our ego, and your families are the people who kind of hold up that mirror and go, ‘Hey, wait a second. Look at yourself. Is this really what you want to be?’”
It looks like Lucio may just get the chance to explore that theme further. Though The Right Stuff hasn’t officially been picked up for a second season, Deadline reports that the series has been given $13.7 million to move production from Florida to California.
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