Screen Homage

The Right Stuff - Sam Shepherd 15

The Right Stuff - Sam Shepherd

In Philip Kaufman’s space race drama, which tells the story of America’s Mercury Seven astronauts, actor and playwright Sam Shepherd received an Oscar nomination for his role as U.S Air Force General Chuck Yeager’s bid to become an astronaut after becoming the first man to break the sound barrier.

This epic aviation film, chronicles the fledgling years of the American space programme, from breaking the sound barrier to putting the first man into orbit. Yet rather than focusing on the technological advances that made this possible, it instead pays tribute to the daring and heroic air force test pilots, most notably Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard), John Glenn (Ed Harris) and "Gordo" Cooper (Dennis Quaid), whose competitive desire to be the fastest and the highest drove them to keep "pushing the outside of the envelope". Charting the emotional highs and lows of these men and their long-suffering wives, whilst delicately balancing their personal achievements and failures with the invasive media frenzy surrounding NASA's attempts to better their Soviet rivals.

With his mesmerising performance Sam Shepherd seemed to spring straight from the big book of American heroes – strong jaw, cowboy hat, horse sense, stoic manner… A brilliant actor, he brought a certain truth to everything he did, a sort of cowboy aura and that special, unspoken and unquantifiable quality called ‘the right stuff’.