Not many actors have had as diverse and an acclaimed year as Jake McDorman, who has appeared on two of the best TV series of the year, Watchmen and What We Do in the Shadows, as well as taken the lead as Alan Shepard on the ambitious Disney+ series The Right Stuff. But for the 34-year-old actor, who first broke out on the ABC Family original Greek just over a decade ago, it’s been a long time coming.
“I mean, as much as an actor can have agency over their choices, that is something that was very much by design,” McDorman tells ET. “From step one, the way it’s worked for me has been kind of accumulating enough experience and building enough relationships and enough stability that you get to a point where you can say, ‘OK, well now I don’t have to make choices because I have to eat. I have a little bit more agency that I’m not living from job to job.’”
He adds, “These jobs were all ones that I was just over the moon to work on and super glad that I got to play in those sandboxes.”
The first is portraying the first American to travel into space in the series adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s best-selling, nonfiction book, The Right Stuff, about the 1960s space race between the United States and Soviet Union and the formation of NASA. It’s told through the eyes of the seven men who made up the original astronaut program, with Patrick J. Adams as John Glenn, Colin O’Donoghue portraying Gordon Cooper, Aaron Staton as Wally Schirra, James Lafferty as Scott Carpenter, Micah Stock as Deke Slayton and Michael Trotter as Guss Grissom.
While it was previously adapted into the popular 1983 film of the same name, McDorman says the eight-part series has more time to get “into the minutia of who they were and how the sudden fame affected their families and ripped them apart in so many ways behind the scenes.”
For Shepard, in particular, that meant trying to maintain a semblance of privacy despite being thrust into the spotlight and called an American hero, despite not having actually achieved anything yet. When not training, he was a known philanderer and faced the disappointment of his father, a WWII vet. “Of them all, Alan was the most tight-lipped and private. He wanted to keep it all about the flying and who was the best pilot,” McDorman says.
Shepard is very much unlike Glenn, who has experience in the spotlight and can charm the press and politicians alike, which perhaps led to a contentious relationship early on as they both competed to be the first person to be launched into space. “He was a little bit more adept at nurturing a public image than any of the rest of them,” the actor says.
The character and actor make an appearance in episode six, “This Extraordinary Being,” which recounted the history of the Minutemen and events leading up to the foundation for the modern take on the graphic novel. Because Metropolis didn’t have a major presence in Zack Snyder’s 2009 film version, McDorman felt free to put his own stamp on him.
“I got to have free rein and kind of play with that,” he says, adding that his big focus was finding a transatlantic voice that seemed appropriate for the socioeconomic clash between Jovan Adepo’s character and Captain Metropolis.
What excited McDorman most about guest-starring on the show was being part of a project that “you could tell everyone was excited to be there and everybody knew that they were involved in something incredibly special,” he says. “So the fact that it turned out to be, in my opinion, one of the best series ever on HBO and that episode, particularly, was so important and artistically just gorgeous, it's all you can ask for.”
Meanwhile, one project that has failed to materialize is the Greek reunion movie, which was first announced in 2016 when ABC Family was rebranded as Freeform. Four years later, nothing else has been announced, with fans left in the lurch.
“It was going to happen and there was a script for it, too. We all talked about it as a cast,” McDorman shares, before adding that he’s just as curious about what happened to it as everyone else. Though, he assures that there was no holdouts among the cast or any drama behind the scenes preventing it from moving forward. “I don’t know if it got lost in a lineup there… I have no idea.”
Admittedly, “it’s a big cast of a lot of people that are doing a lot of different things now. So I’m sure there are some logistics and kind of wrangling schedules to make that possible,” McDorman continues. While nothing ever came together, the actor says they talk all the time. “I think we’d all be super stoked to work together again.”
In the meantime, the first two episodes of The Right Stuff are now streaming on Disney+ with new episodes debuting every Friday.