Eloise Mumford stars as Trudy Cooper, wife to Mercury 7 astronaut Gordon Cooper, on the Disney+ series, The Right Stuff.
You know her from the Fifty Shades franchise and from her role on Chicago Fire, but as Trudy, she's playing a pioneer in aviation as not only an astronaut's wife, but a pilot in her own right.
Get to her a little bit better with our full interview.
How did you get involved with The Right Stuff?
I auditioned for it, oh my gosh, it was a year and a half ago now at this point. I read this script. It's one of the best pilot scripts I've ever read in my life, written by Mark Lafferty. And I just was totally taken by the whole project.
The space program has been something that I've long been fascinated by, along with everybody else, but the fact that they were peeling it back and telling this story from a darker, more clear-eyed point of view and telling parts of it that we'd never really seen before, I was just immediately enthralled.
So I put on my grandmother's old dress, and I went and auditioned for it. My grandma was a really tough, loving, but really fierce woman who was a product of her time in the same way that Trudy was.
She was always bumping up against the boundaries that were put on her by society. And I really just tried to channel that energy as I went in, and I feel really lucky to be a part of it.
Your story's so special with that grandmother connection.
Thanks. Yeah, I thought a lot about her while I was filming, honestly. I think it feels like this era was so long ago, but it really wasn't. People that we know and love were alive during that time, including my parents. I mean, they were kids, but my grandmother was well into her life.
And so I thought a lot about bringing that sort of humanity to everything that I did and that it's just, they were just normal people. They were under different circumstances, but everything was very familiar as well.
The astronaut wives, themselves, have been explored quite a bit over the years. What was your familiarity with them as a group and with Trudy Cooper specifically?
I didn't know anything about Trudy Cooper, honestly, before taking on this role. And I absolutely fell in love with her. She is one of the lesser known of the wives, just because Gordo wasn't as famous as the other astronauts. And I mean, although they were all very famous by the end of it, she was notoriously pretty private.
And so I'm really excited to explore, that our show explores her story, in particular, because she was a pilot and because they were separated when the program started and he had to ask her to come back and she did and exploring the rollercoaster of their relationship, as well as her own ambition.
And using that as a window into exploring women at the time, who were not granted the same opportunities that men were. And they continued to fight regardless.
The Right Stuff Season 1 Episode 4 reveals quite a bit about their marriage and where they stand.
And I'm wondering what kind of a difference does it make to you as a performer to portray a fictional version of a real person versus an entirely fictional character, especially when you're dealing with such personal topics?
That's a great question. I feel a tremendous responsibility to get it right. I always do, regardless of whether the character is a real person or not, but in particular, in this case, I respect Trudy Cooper so much her and her family, and I feel deeply humbled by it, to be honest.
And I feel a great responsibility to do her justice and also to portray her with a sort of nuance and complexity that all women have, but her in particular, as she was juggling so much.
So yeah, it adds a lot of weight to it, weight that I'm happy to step into, because I think it's really important to bring these people back to life and to open up a window into their struggles because there was a lot going on for them, and try to fill each moment with as much honesty, emotional honesty as possible.
And what kind of access did you have to materials to help you research Trudy? I know I looked online for her and there's not a lot out there.
Yeah. There's not a lot out there about her. I mean, obviously there's so much about the space program, and Gordo wrote a book, and there's all this sort of research that I did, that we all did going into this, learning as much as we could about the program in general.
But when it came to researching Trudy, I had to rely a lot on sort of creative ways to find out who she was and the way that I found, other than searching for every single piece, truly every single piece of information I could find about her.
And then I started to think a lot about the women that would have inspired her and using that as a way in because we know that she was an incredible pilot. We know that she loved flying very deeply.
And so I started researching the women who she would have found great inspiration from and use that as a way to figure out a little bit more about her spirit, the female pilots of the '20s and '30s and the '40s, like Amelia Earhart and Ruth Elder, and the list goes on and on. There are spectacular pilots. And I was deeply inspired by them.
I mean, you know a little bit about Amelia Earhart, but there was a whole group of women at the time who were fighting barriers in a way that just is mind blowing. And so I was really inspired by them. And in that, I found a lot of inspiration for Trudy.
I felt like I understood her on a cellular level a lot better. And I tried to bring that to everything that I did with her on screen.
Part of the reason why this story resonates so much is because they were thrust into the public eye and the story of being a normal person who suddenly is under the microscope in that way. And you are, actors are in the public eye. What's your thought on how that impacted everything else they were going through?
I mean, there's Trudy. She's a pilot. She's struggling with her marriage. She has hopes and dreams of her own, but then they had to kind of almost change a little bit to fit the narrative that NASA wanted to portray. What's your thought on that?
I do not envy the position that she was in. I think it must've been incredibly, incredibly hard, and you're right. As actors we're used to being in the public eye and having this sort of division between a public and private life and trying to figure out, trying to navigate how much we reveal about our personal lives and how much we don't.
But that's something that I've been aware of for as long as I've been in this industry. And it didn't happen overnight in the same way that it happened for her and for the other families of these astronauts.
I mean, they went from being military wives living under really harsh conditions, honestly, making very little money, being used to their husbands ... One in four test pilots died.
And so they were incredibly brave women who were dealing with that whole situation. And then they suddenly became some of the most famous people in the country. And it was right at that moment where television and media was really starting to explode in a way it hadn't before, and so they were just at the precipice of that.
And I can't imagine how hard it must've been, especially since she, in particular, was being asked to play a role really, truly to play a role that wasn't entirely true. And so suddenly she had to act like a wife who she was not entirely.
I thought a lot about when we were filming. Hope Hanafin was the costume designer. She's absolutely incredible, and I talked a lot with her about how I feel like Trudy would be the kind of woman who wore flats and who wore pants whenever possible.
And in contrast to a lot of the expectations at the time of that sort of perfect late 1950s, early 1960s look of a dress and heels and the coiffed hair and all that, that she fought against that whenever possible.
And so in the moments when Trudy had to fit into the mold of being a more "proper wife" that it was even physically uncomfortable for her, that she was stepping into shoes that she didn't particularly enjoy, I think.
What's the most surprising thing you've learned about Trudy Cooper, both at portraying her and in your research?
I guess it's not surprising, but it was wonderful to find out that after Gordo left the program, they got a divorce immediately. And after that, she started her own business with Charter Airplanes, which I thought was just spectacular. It doesn't surprise me because she had that sort of ambition throughout the whole thing, but I was deeply thrilled by that.
And the thing that I learned, the thing that surprised me the most in portraying her was how deep the frustration and the anger of facing sexism runs and how visceral it felt in playing her.
And also, I felt a lot of kinship in that. Obviously, times have changed a lot since that time period as far as equality, but we still have so far to go. And I felt a lot of my own anger and frustration at the amount of sexism that women face. I felt very bonded to her in that, and that was a surprise to me. I didn't expect to feel that sort of kinship with her on that level. And I really did.
I felt like I carried it for the both of us in some way. And in the same way that I think that she fought very hard for her daughters to be able to have opportunities that she was not afforded, it really inspired me to keep fighting for the next generation of women going forward, to keep carrying on that fight.
That's a great answer. And after being so closely involved with the history of the Mercury 7 and this story, how has your perception of events changed?
I think what was so cool about filming this is that we were at Cape Canaveral for a lot of it in the actual locations where it happened, like on the launch pad where they actually launched these rockets from.
And it's sort of hard to put words to the feeling of that, but something about seeing how normal it all is, seeing the cracks ... When the very first time I stepped out onto the launch pad where they launched the very first one that Alan Shepard went up on, it's just the cement pad, and it's all cracked and there's like grass coming through it, and it felt so normal. And something in that makes the accomplishment of what they did all the more spectacular.
The fact that it was, it just was real life, and they did this spectacular thing from, it gave me a much greater appreciation of what they actually accomplished when you look at how flawed and how real everybody involved was.
They're heroes because of what they did, but they were deeply problematic and flawed and human. And together, they all accomplished this spectacular thing with a lot of bravery and a lot of perseverance. So it gave me a greater appreciation of what was actually accomplished by seeing how flawed the people involved were.
We're reviewing the full season of The Right Stuff after episodes drop on Disney+ on Fridays, so be here tomorrow for another look into the deeply flawed and courageous individuals who helped shape history.
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.