The Right Stuff features a superb cast, and we had the chance to jump on the phone with Patrick Fischler, an actor with quite an impressive resume.
Mad Men, Lost, Once Upon a Time, Twin Peaks, Happy!, and Defending Jacob all get prominent spots.
Today, we're speaking with him about his role as the first director of NASA's Director of Project Mercury, Bob Gilruth, on the Disney+ series, The Right Stuff.
I hope you enjoy getting to know Patrick and his character a little better.
Tell me a little bit about your familiarity with the origins of NASA and The Right Stuff book and film before you joined the show.
Before I joined the show, very, very little. I had actually not read the book.
I'd seen the movie when I was a teenager and hadn't seen it since then. Was not a space fanatic, was not someone who's particularly interested in space, but the script was so great and then I read the book once I took the part and the book is brilliant.
I now am a mild space fanatic. What's great about the show is you don't even have to be. My daughter who's 11, who loves the show, couldn't really be less interested in space, but the show has made her asked a lot of questions, which is great.
You've played such a wide array of characters, I absolutely loved your performance in Happy. That was such a fun character. What drew you to the roll of Bob Gilruth?
Exactly that I was coming from Happy, actually. If the universe came down and said, we're going to create two characters who are polar opposites, what would they be? I think it would be Smoothie from Happy and Bob Gilruth from The Right Stuff. So coming from Happy, which was an amazing experience.
A lot of the guys I play are big, are, for lack of a better word, assholes. Bob is the opposite of that. He is controlled. He is simple in terms of his actions. He's strong. It was all of that that made me feel like I was ready to try something different.
But that's funny that you were a Happy fan because I loved the show so much and I loved doing two years of it. But for sure, when I left Smoothie behind, I was looking for something that was the opposite of him.
Well, you're certainly not typecast.
That is the best news of the recent time. Yes.
What kind of preparation do you do playing the fictional version of a living person versus playing an entire fictional character?
Yeah, it's so different. I keep trying to remember because I've only played a real guy one time before in 27 years of doing this. It's all about research. With playing someone fictional, all you really have is the script.
When you're playing someone who's real, you learn anything and everything you can about them and what was hard and yet great about Bob Gilruth is he's one of the only ones who did not write a book. All the astronauts wrote a book. Chris Kraft wrote a book. Bob Gilruth wanted no public sort of lights at all.
He had absolutely no interest in recognition. So he was a little harder to find information on, but in the days of Google and the internet, it makes it a little easier.
After deep diving for a while, I was able to find an old '80s interview with him for Air and Space, I believe it was. Air and Space Museum and it's about 100 pages. Once I found that, I felt like I struck gold. I called Mark Lafferty, the creator of the show, and I was like, "You won't believe what I found."
He was awesome and I could call him occasionally and say, "Hey, I think you should throw this in. I don't think this is talked about anywhere else." It's really all about research.
How does knowing that he didn't want really a public persona affect your performance? Because obviously a lot of the show is dealing with them dealing with publicity.
That's an amazingly good question. It doesn't affect my performance because I'm not thinking about the show when we're doing it, if that makes sense. I'm just in the moment.
If I'm in a scene with John Glenn or I'm in a scene with Chris Kraft, that's what the scene is and I'm not thinking about, when this comes out and his family and he would want to be.
None of that even occurs to me because I don't have any control over it ultimately. All I can hope is what I'm doing, that his family, it makes them proud and I can honor Bob Gilruth in some way.
I understand the production was given some privileged access to some of the historical locations where all of this actually happened. Can you talk a little bit about that and how it impacted the atmosphere of the production?
Yeah, it was so exciting. It was amazing. There's nothing better than that because a lot of the stuff we did was build sets and those were unbelievable and Derek Hill, our production designer, couldn't have done a better job. It's beautiful and brilliant.
But when you're in a real place, you just feel what happens there. I couldn't not. When we were at NASA, we shot at the blockhouse, the actual blockhouse where they did some of the launches. Not mission control, but the blockhouse, which is right by the launch pad. We shot there and we shot the launch pad.
We got access to stuff that no one has had access to. The blockhouse is not open to the public. You'll see it in I think episodes six and eight. It's not open to the public, they don't shoot there, but they let us shoot there and nothing is really been changed since the '60s. It's unbelievable. It was kind of jaw dropping. When you're at any kind of place of history, you can feel the history. You can't not.
The same when we were on the launch pad that Alan Shepard launched from, was sort of mind blowing. I stood out there and a lot of weeds are grown over it and you think about what this was 60 years ago versus what it is now. It's really beautiful.
As somebody who didn't have a lot of interest in space, how was being in those locations and feeling the enormity of what was accomplished inspire you to maybe learn more about it or get involved? You said you're kind of a mini fanatic now.
Well, I am fascinated ultimately by anything that feels un-doable to me, and this all feels like magic. And yet it's not. These men, especially really the engineer's, not to take anything away from the astronauts and that's what's amazing about our show is those are the guys who became famous, but they really weren't doing very much at the beginning. It was all the engineers.
The idea that they were able to come up with an idea to put a human being in a metal rocket with the capabilities of a nuclear bomb under them and shoot them into space and they achieved it. That's mind blowing to me.
That's where my interest comes from is anything that I feel that I don't understand, I like to learn a little bit more about. As our time here, down here on earth, in all the years, we all think what's going to happen to this planet. It makes me wonder what else is out there.
We're obviously not alone and I don't mean aliens. I don't even know what I mean because none of us really know. The universe is so vast that it all just starts to become a puzzle that you want to put together.
It's interesting that you mention all that because so many people have decided that the moon landing, for example, was a Hollywood crafted fantasy instead of real life.
After getting closer to the topic and being there, what are your thoughts on that issue and what would you say to those people?
One of my favorite movies is called Capricorn One and it's from the '70s. It's about that. It's a brilliant film. It's campy, but it's brilliant. I don't think the moon landing was at all fake.
I'm not a big conspiracy theorist in any capacity. I actually hate them, and they've existed for hundreds and hundreds of years, and they drive me crazy. I would just say to people, "It makes a good movie." That's it. Meaning the idea of the conspiracy. So the idea of the conspiracy theory makes a good movie.
What's the most surprising thing that you've learned about the space program and Bob Gilruth's position in it?
That's a good question. Let me think. What's the most surprising thing? I don't know, actually. It all fell into place like I thought it would. I learned everything about Bob Gilruth because I didn't know anything about him. So surprising wise, it was all surprising.
I'll tell you this, he built boats, like actual ships. Yachts that he and his wife would then sail on. That was his hobby. Not little boats in a bottle, but actual boats that went onto the water. That was his hobby. That's what he would do when he left work and came home.
It was also, not that this should surprise me, but he was really a father figure to these men, and he took it so to heart when something went wrong. We all like to think it's all just a job, but you forget these men were putting their lives at risk. I think Bob knew that, and it really hit him hard when things didn't go well.
You see that on the show, for sure. You see any time something goes wrong, you see Bob just sink. That's what I got actually from a lot of the stuff I read about him and the way people talked about him.
I really liked that you said your daughter has been watching and that she's interested in it. What kind of advice would you give to parents who are watching with their kids? What kind of insight has watching with your daughter provided?
Number one, anything is possible. As I told you earlier, the idea that 60 years ago people had the nerve to think they could shoot a human being into space on a rocket, it's unthinkable. To us now, it's just commonplace. But my big thing I tell my daughter in her life, regardless of the show, is anything is possible because I do believe it.
I think when we watch the show, what's so wonderful about our show, why I love it so much, I watched it with my wife's parents who are in their 80s. I watched it with my daughter, who's 11. My nephews are in their 20s.
We all watched together, and it's fun, but it also makes you feel inside like everything's going to be okay, and anything is possible.
My final question for you is in that same vein. The Right Stuff is all about innovation and heroism and working together to achieve greatness. In 2020, it seems like an ideal time for everybody to gather together and do that, but for different reasons.
What kind of innovations would you like to see come as a result of our current and unprecedented situation?
A, number one, is a vaccine, for sure. I know we're going to get it eventually. I just want a good one and one that can help us all. But I also want us to learn that there's ways... I'd like us, as a world, to eat better, to be totally frank.
My wife, and daughter, and I, we make at home a lot of food. We don't buy a lot of processed food. We don't eat fast food. I really think that has a lot to do with people's health when they're fighting any kind of illness.
So I just wish, as a world, we can all come together and watch what we put in our bodies, start to monitor a little more.
And there you have it!
I hope you've been tuning into new episodes of The Right Stuff when they drop on Fridays on Disney+.
Be here on Friday mornings for reviews of each episode, and we'll have more interviews as the time of those involved allows.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.