‘The Right Stuff’: Nora Zehetner Says Annie ‘Can Fully Be Herself’ With John Glenn

Patrick J Adams Nora Zehetner The Right Stuff John Annie Glenn
National Geographic

All eyes were on the astronauts part of the competition hoping to become the first American in space, but The Right Stuff also highlights what that meant for their families, to be thrust into the spotlight (from 1959 to 1961).

That includes for Annie Glenn (Nora Zehetner, Grey’s Anatomy), the wife of John Glenn (Patrick J. Adams), who became the first American to orbit the Earth. And that was particularly difficult for her because she stuttered severely, but she’d go on to become an advocate for those with all kinds of communication disorders.

With The Right Stuff, “I hope that people watching it will, if they’ve never experienced [a stutter], understand how difficult it is and have compassion for it in a way that maybe they haven’t,” Zehetner tells TV Insider.

Here, the actress introduces us to her Annie Glenn and her and John’s love story.

Introduce The Right Stuff‘s Annie. She has a lot to say, as is noted in an episode, right?

Nora Zehetner: She does have a lot to say. She hasn’t got to say it all yet, but she definitely has a lot to say. I think she’s just an incredibly intelligent, strong woman. A lot of that is [lost] in social settings, but with John, they’re very much equals and she can fully be herself then.

And Annie and John’s love story is so sweet. What makes it stand out, especially compared to the other relationships we see depicted on this show?

They met when he was 2 and she was 3, and they started dating in seventh or eighth grade, and they were together until he passed. They were so in love the whole time. He was also obviously one of the only astronauts that did not cheat on his wife because he really believed in those values and love. I just think they were soulmates.

All of the astronauts’ families have to adjust to the spotlight on them as a result of this competition. Why might Annie be better prepared for it than others?

I don’t think she’s better prepared. I think she just handles everything so gracefully, but I think it was actually quite a bit even more difficult for her just because of her stutter because it made it very difficult to communicate with other people, to meet strangers all the time, and she said that people were also quite unkind to her when she was at events with John. I think that will make you a bit more reserved, but I don’t think in her personal life she was at all.

The Right Stuff Mercury Astronauts Fans Press

A crowd and press greet the Mercury astronauts (National Geographic/Gene Page)

What will we see from Annie and the other astronauts’ wives?

Some kind of commonality of experience of human bonding because you’re going through the most insane experience I think any of us could possibly imagine. They’re all quite different, but they’re sharing this huge experience together, so I hope moving forward we get to see quite a bit more of that. I know Eloise [Mumford, who plays Trudy Cooper] and I really enjoyed shooting the scene in the second episode, and I hope we have a lot more like that.

Yes, their husbands are in this competition, but I like that we learn who these women are, in conversations with each other and their husbands.

Yeah, it was such an incredible thing for them to be going through as well, to go from being these military wives to suddenly being on the cover of Life magazine and having every woman in America interested in everything about you. I can’t imagine that level of scrutiny. It’s mind-blowing. They really were kind of our first reality stars, I would say, without really being given a choice.

And we see how that was handled back then, considering how popular reality TV is now.

Yeah. People are just, I think, very invested in other people’s lives, trying to get [a sense] of what’s really happening. As human beings, we have this tendency to just want to compare ourselves to other people at all times, so I think that’s where you get that fascination of the reality stars of this thing that’s not just fiction.

Annie is an inspiration to those who stutter. How are we going to see that depicted on The Right Stuff?

She actually [sought treatment for] her stutter [in] an intensive program when she was 53. After that, she was able to give speeches and to tour and to speak to people and become this very public advocate for it. But I hope that people watching it will, if they’ve never experienced it, understand how difficult it is and have compassion for it in a way that maybe they haven’t if they haven’t known anybody in their lives who has a stutter. And hopefully people who have experienced that in their lives or with one of their loved ones, it will give them something to relate to.

Can you talk about the research you did for the role?

[Patrick J. Adams] was really kind to bring [the letters John and Annie exchanged] back from the archives and so we actually sat down and read a few of them to each other before we started shooting. It was really amazing and so informative to be able to read these really personal, beautiful letters because obviously their public profiles were very managed and then cultivated by NASA and by Life, and so to get to the truth and to what’s really real and personal and to hear them talking about what movies she went to see and that friend or that person, it’s so much more casual.

It’s interesting also with period pieces there’s this tendency to want to always sit perfectly and be very appropriate and perfect, and these women were, but they also laid on the floor sometimes. [Laughs] You have to, right? Those letters were everything for me.

And then I watched as many interviews with her as I could. There weren’t really any from that time period on camera, so they were all her later on in life. And then I watched a lot of YouTube videos of people who do have stutters to try and sort that part out.

The Right Stuff, Series Premiere, Friday, October 9, Disney+