Kenneth Mitchell plays astronaut Deke Slayton on ABC’s summer hit Astronaut Wives Club. Deke was recently grounded due to a heart arrhythmia, but the bad news was tempered by a promotion that puts him in charge of the Mercury Seven decisions. Talk Nerdy With Us had a chance to catch up with Kenneth to find out how this new job will affect the characters, how he prepared to play this historical figure, and what’s been great about working on Astronaut Wives Club. Read on to hear what Kenneth had to say!
What kind of research did you do in order to prepare yourself for playing an astronaut?
“First, I started off reading the book, which is a great place to start. It was great at giving me a little tidbits of stuff about Deke. To take it a step further, I collected a couple of books; his biography, another great book called We Seven. Then I watched a lot of videos. It’s a fantastic place for research these days. The biggest source was from Deke’s biography.”
What’s been the biggest challenge for you of playing Deke Slayton?
“I’d say sometimes it’s hard to wrap your head around playing a character that has some faults or does things that are against your own personal self. Not to say that it’s bad. In fact, it’s a blessing that the characters have conflicts or have faults or are doing things that are unique and interesting. It just creates a fuller character and it gives you some place to go.”
You’re saying that you feel like you, Kenneth, are different from Deke? That he does things that you maybe wouldn’t have done yourself?
“Or even in a positive way. He had a full life himself. That’s a challenge to wrap your head around that. For instance, he was a bomber in World War II. Kenneth Mitchell has never flown a plane before. It’s always a challenge when you’re playing characters like these. Just really sit there and sink your teeth into who is this person and what experiences have they been through and what would that feel like. If you haven’t experienced them yourself and you just got to try and understand some of these feelings. Just wrapping your head around the concept of someone, World War II, hopping into an airplane, flying over Germany and dropping off some bombs and putting your life in danger like that. What would that feel like? It’s mind-boggling. It’s important to carry those things with you because these astronauts were fearless, and their experiences as pilots in World War II or as test pilots was important to carry with their characters as astronauts.”
Do you feel impacted by the fact that Deke Slayton was a real person and that you’re portraying someone who actually lived?
“I always feel a sense of responsibility. A lot of times in this case, you have to trust the writers and you just try to be as truthful to the material as possible. There are some leniencies when you’re telling a story like this. I went through the same thing when I did Miracle and I played the character Ralph Cox. You always want to be as respectful and truthful as possible. You feel a sense of responsibility.”
How is it different working on a period project as opposed to something that takes place in the modern time? Do you feel that there’s anything different? Do you feel there’s anything different about portraying someone from the 60s?
“Well, I didn’t live in that time period, so I don’t exactly have those particular experiences. But, you’re always trying to ground yourself in the truth of that time period. I work both externally and internally. Like I said, internally, I’ll do the research as much as I can, swallow it and go and work externally from there. Then I also just approach things externally The clothes, the wardrobe, the costumes, the sets, the hair, the makeup, all that stuff, physicality of it all really help get you in the right mood for the period. I love that stuff. I love dressing up. For me, one of the most important things is the hair cut, the flat top. The costume, the wardrobe. You can’t help but feel different and feel like you’re transformed in a different time period. It’s really fascinating.”
That’s very cool. How is the dynamic going to change among the guys now that Deke’s been promoted above them? Are we going to see a shift in that dynamic now?
“Yes. Now he has more of a leadership role and more power. There’s always a shift in dynamic relationships between people. We’ll explore some of that in the upcoming episodes.”
What’s been the best part of being on this show?
“For me, I love all the new friendships. We have such a great cast. It’s pretty rare to have 14 series regulars who are all roughly the same age playing in a pretty darn cool city, New Orleans. That was a lot of fun. Something I’ll always remember and carry with me. Then there’s the work itself. I love working, especially when it’s fascinating, interesting material. That’s special.”
Is there anyone in the cast specifically that you wish you would’ve gotten a chance to work with more?
“Interesting question. Luke [Kirby] plays the reporter and I didn’t really get a chance to work with him. He’s a friend of mine, a fellow Canadian. I really respect his work and I was really happy that he got onto the project. He does an amazing job. It would’ve been nice to have shared scenes with him, but it just wasn’t in the nature of our characters, crossed paths.”
Is there anything else that you’re working on, anything that we can tell your fans about?
“Not really. After I finished wrapping Astronaut Wives Club, I shot another pilot for ABC with the same producers, Fake Empire [Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage]. It’s called Broad Squad, based on the origin of the first female police officers in the Boston Police Department. It unfortunately didn’t get picked up to series, but it was another great experience. It was great to work with Stephanie and Josh again. They’re such amazing people.”
I’ve been loving the show and I’m really excited to see where it goes from here.
“Thank you very much.”