After seven seasons of playing Mike Ross on USA Network’s Suits — plus a return arc during the show’s final run — Patrick J. Adams wasn’t searching for another TV role.
“I was looking to go to sleep for about 365 days,” the actor tells TVLine with a laugh. “It’s sort of a joke, but it’s not far from the truth. I was really excited to be home and to not rush into something, to take a break. We [were] starting a family, and I’d been away from my wife [Troian Bellisario] for so long. I remember being of the mindset of, like, ‘I need to just take a moment and get used to being home and get back into the swing of that.’ So I was really excited to just hit pause and be able to enjoy the fact that I’d earned the rare ability, as an actor, to be patient, to wait until I was inspired again to do something.”
During that time, a couple of projects came along that Adams “almost jumped at, but I felt like, ‘I just don’t know if they’re going to get the best version of me, honestly, at this point,'” he shares.
Then Adams got wind that The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book about the first Project Mercury astronauts, was being adapted into a TV series (premiering with two episodes this Friday on Disney+). “I just went, ‘This is what I’ve been waiting for,'” Adams recalls, “and suddenly, everything in my body woke up again, and all the systems went on, and all the switches flipped, and I was like, ‘If I can be a part of this, I would kill to do it.'”
Below, Adams reveals what scared him about playing astronaut John Glenn and previews his character’s rich relationships with fellow Mercury Seven member Alan Shepard (Limitless‘ Jake McDorman) and his wife Annie Glenn (Grey’s Anatomy‘s Nora Zehetner).
TVLINE | What was it about The Right Stuff that drew you in?
I could not have been a bigger fan of the book. My father gave me the book, I think, when I was about 14 or 15, and it’s one of the books I remember first truly falling in love with. I think I read it a couple of times, cover to cover, and I became just fascinated with the space program. I loved Tom Wolfe’s sense of humor and his intelligence and his insight into it. I loved the way that it talked about masculinity, and pushing the envelope, and people working together. The whole thing was just completely fascinating to me as a kid. It just sort of resided there in my memory as this thing that inspired me, that I loved so much, and then I hadn’t thought about it in years. It certainly spurred an interest in space. I’m very familiar with the Gemini program, the Apollo program, and following the Challenger, and the Shuttle program, and then now SpaceX. I’ve always sort of kept my ear to the ground. I’ve always been paying attention to it.
But then when I heard they were making the show, it was like that part of me, that little kid in me that had been so excited and first inspired by this story, came alive, and I was like, “Wow, to be a part of that would be really special.” And then I read the script, which just knocked it over the edge. It was such a beautiful script and got it so right in every way that I just knew that these were people that I wanted to work with. To be a part of telling a story that meant so much to me as a kid, and a story that I think has kind of fallen by the wayside, just by virtue of so much time has passed, so many things have happened in the space program, that people don’t really think about these men and women, it felt like such a gift to be able to be a part of bringing that to a new generation.
TVLINE | Was there something about John Glenn, in particular, that you connected to? There’s a wide variety of rich characters in this series, so what was it about John that made you want to play him?
I honestly read the script, and I went, “I don’t know that I’m any of these guys,” but I certainly wanted to be a part of it, and it was sort of a rare moment where I didn’t know what to fight for. I kind of took [the producers’] lead and was like, “Who do you guys want to see me for?” and they immediately said, “John Glenn,” which at first, to me, didn’t seem like a great fit. I had a lot of fear, to be honest. I said, “Listen, I don’t know that I have what it takes here,” but I prepared, nonetheless. I did as much research as I could before the audition. I sat with a lot of video and audio recordings of him, and then really just tried to see what was on the page, and what was sticking out to me. I went in, and they, thank God, said that I was the guy. I think I was the first person cast.
From there, I really learned to fall in love with John Glenn. I didn’t know a ton about him, going into the process. But what really spoke to me over time was how he’s sort of beloved, and he’s sort of the best known of the Mercury Seven, which I thought was really interesting, because he was also the odd man out of the Mercury Seven, and not because he was the best. He didn’t fit in. He was an oddball. He didn’t drink. He didn’t smoke. He didn’t carouse around with women on the Cape. He was a man of faith and science, and he really felt they were there to do a job, and that they were all called to a higher power. I just loved that about him. He really believed in the magic and majesty of what they were trying to do there, and then he took himself very, very, very seriously in that effort, and that ended up really affecting him and his dynamic with this group of guys. He went on to craft for himself this legendary status and lived an incredible life, not just in the space program or in the Senate, but with this incredible relationship and this beautiful family he built. But when the Mercury program was going on, I think it was a very difficult time for him, from what I could read. It was exciting, and he felt he was on the precipice of history and getting to play a role in it, but he was not one of the guys, and I could really relate to that. I’ve, in my life, felt like I knew that I wanted to be doing something, I knew that I had a calling, I knew that if I worked hard that I could be successful, but at times, felt like nobody really understood me, or that I didn’t quite know where I fit, and I didn’t know how to play the team sport, so to speak. So that was my entry point. That was where I felt like we connected, and where a lot of my research began.
TVLINE | You also kind of transformed yourself in this role, in terms of his look and the accent. What was that like for you?
It was so much fun. Again, scary, because it’s the first time I’d done something like that. But just early on, [I was] inspired by John himself, because the more I read about him, I learned how tenacious he was. He didn’t give up, and he didn’t let fear get in his way, and I just went, “If you’re going to do this, you’re going to have to be fearless,” and I just started surrounding myself with some really great teachers. I had a couple of vocal coaches that I started working with really early in the process, and that was helpful, [along with] doing a ton of research. I got to visit some archives of John Glenn up in Ohio State University, so I got to really dig into a ton of research that, I think, most people haven’t had the opportunity to look at. I just kind of went swimming in the ocean of John Glenn and just grabbed as much as I possibly could, and then had to learn very quickly that when I got to set, you kind of have to throw it all away and just be in the moment.
Where I, really, was most lucky was just how incredible this cast was. You can do all the work you want at home, and do all your preparation, but if you get to work, and you’re not surrounded with people who all are bringing their best versions of themselves, bringing their A-game, then it falls flat. We have a huge ensemble. I’ve never worked on anything where a group that size gelled immediately. We are all friends to this day, and I think we will be friends for a very, very long time. So that made a big difference. It felt like it was a safe place to come, try big things, maybe fail, but pick yourself up and try again, and that made all of our performances all the more richer.
TVLINE | One of the most interesting relationships in the show is the one between John Glenn and Alan Shepard. What do they think of each other?
Not much, I don’t think. [Laughs] It’s a double-edged sword. There’s no doubt in either of these guys’ minds that they are remarkably talented pilots, so there’s a respect there. … But where the relationship really started to come apart, from my point of view in the research that we’ve done, is this competition to figure out who was going to be first in space. That began to play out in all sorts of different avenues, and suddenly, the media was a huge part of it, which John was excellent at, but then Alan Shepard, king of the carousers, big drinker, big partier, he was the fan favorite of the guys. They loved him. He was like their captain in that respect. As that very, very different approach to the work played out, I think it created more and more of a divide between them. In my research, I think, once Shepard was picked for the first flight, and John, at first, he tried to sabotage that, it really tore them apart, and I don’t know that they ever fully recovered from that. But eventually, John getting on his side and being [Alan’s] backup, and learning how to deal with that, and getting his own opportunity to go to space, I think that rivalry began to die down. But there’s no doubt that throughout their lives, their approach rubbed each other the wrong way, and they had to be very careful about what they said, and how much time they spent together.
TVLINE | John’s relationship with his wife, Annie, is also quite interesting, in that it’s very different compared to the other guys’ marriages. How would you characterize it?
Oh, it’s truly one of the biggest sources of inspiration. I’ve known their relationship was something remarkable. You don’t have to dig too far into John Glenn to know that. Annie Glenn is just an incredible human being, and I highly encourage anyone and everyone to go read about her… One of the things I found that helped me most in the process was these three giant boxes that had just been delivered to the archive, which were the letters between John and Annie from the moment that he left their small town to go to boot camp before being shipped off to war, and all the way through the Korean war. Thousands of letters. Too many [to] read, so I had to just kind of pick them at random and look for certain dates, where I knew specific stuff had happened. The way that these two people speak to each other over the course of years and years and years, the longevity of it, the deep respect and admiration for each other, the honesty, the kindness, the love, the support, it’s a love story that I had never really fully comprehended before, and it was such a huge part of why John lived the life that he did. He was so vocal about that. He accomplished so much in his life, but none of it would have been possible had he not had Annie, who was really his best friend. I drew a lot of inspiration from that, as I know Nora did, and we loved to get together and read those letters whenever we [could].