INTERVIEW: Eloise Mumford Discusses Her Role in Nat Geo’s ‘The Right Stuff’ Streaming Now on Disney+, Falling in Love With Acting, Hollywood, and Broadway
Eloise Mumford opens up on how portraying pilot Trudy Cooper in National Geographic’s The Right Stuff, was the opportunity of a lifetime.
National Geographic’s The Right Stuff chronicling the Mercury Seven astronauts ended its first season on Disney+ with all episodes of the series now streaming. The series is based on Tom Wolfe’s nonfiction book that explores the early days of the NASA space program and is based on the true story of getting the first American man to space. Space movies are all the rage, and what better drama than to see seven men competing to be the first to go where no man has gone before. The series highlights three of the Mercury Seven wives, although all were married, including Annie Glenn, Trudy Cooper, and Louise Shepard. Mumford portrays Cooper, the wife of Gordo Cooper, a woman of grace and independence. Trudy and Gordo were temporarily separated due to his reckless affair, but they came together to give Gordo a family man appearance when NASA inquired about the astronaut role. Trudy’s pilot background prompted her to want to see her Gordo go to space.
You’ll probably recognize Elizabeth Mumford from her role as Kate Kavanagh in all three of Universal Pictures’ Fifty Shades of Grey films or her recurring role in the hit NBC series Chicago Fire. You can also see the actress in the independent film Standing Up, Falling Down.
Mumford, a 2009 graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts, understudied Elisabeth Moss in Speed the Plow on Broadway, which led to her performing opposite William H. Macy and Raul Esparza. She got her first taste of the TV world as a female lead on FOX’s Lone Star.
Glitter Magazine spoke exclusively with Eloise about The Right Stuff, her decision to pursue acting, time in isolation, what’s next for her, and acting advice. Read below to find out more about this amazing actress and series.
GLITTER: Tell us about what attracted you to National Geographic’s The Right Stuff?
ELOISE: I’ve been a National Geographic fan since I was a little kid. I didn’t have a TV actually in our house growing up. We had a VCR, and we were allowed to rent one movie a month, and it had to either be a musical or a National Geographic documentary. Needless to say, I love musicals, but I also love National Geographic documentaries. And so I just have always loved Nat Geo. Getting the magazine every month was a huge deal when I was a kid and continues to be. So when I saw that it was National Geographic, that in itself I was super excited about, sort of like nerded out. Then, when I read the script, I just absolutely fell in love with the story. Mark Lafferty, who wrote it, just did such a beautiful job of capturing not only the heroic nature of what these people were doing but also how very real they were and how human; and that in itself makes what they accomplished all the more incredible. I fell in love with Trudy Cooper, the woman I play, who is just a spectacular person. I didn’t know anything about her honestly before I started this project, and learning more about her and getting the chance to play her was just the opportunity of a lifetime. I feel really humbled by it.
GLITTER: Are there any qualities that you share with your character, Trudy Cooper?
ELOISE: Oh, man, I mean, there’s a lot that I aspire to share. I think she was really incredible. She was very, very brave, and very resilient in the face of many obstacles. The time that we were portraying is the late 1950s, early 60s, and women and people of color faced obstacles that they still continue to face today in our society, but even more so back then. They were limited so much in what they were allowed to do by society, and witnessing the way that Trudy fought back against that and pushed to make progress in that realm is something that was incredibly inspiring to me. I’ve long been a feminist, like my whole life, and so fighting for equal rights has been something that’s always been important to me. But getting to play a character and really slip into her shoes in that realm and witness up close and personal the fight that women had back then has just made me even more renewed in my resilience in continuing that fight as we move forward into the future. So I really aspire to be a lot like Trudy Cooper. I was incredibly inspired by her.
GLITTER: How is this character different from other roles you’ve done? Do you look for something specific while choosing roles?
ELOISE: Well, the thing that was different about her, this is the first time I’ve played a real-life person, so that was really exciting to me; getting to research everything that I can find about her, wanting to do her justice in that way, wanting to really capture who she was as a real person. So that was something that was unique to this job for me and it was really exciting. The other thing that was different was that she’s grown up in a way; she’s an adult in a way that is a really nice transition into playing characters who have faced more adversity in their life and who are older and who are going through different parts of their life. So that was really cool to get to do.
I look to surround myself with people who are inspiring and people who I admire and this definitely fit that bill. Everyone involved was just incredible. I also look for complexity and a reflection of what it is actually to be a woman in this world, which is not just an archetype; it’s not just one thing. It’s many, many things all added together. That has always drawn me to characters. It’s also what I try to bring to characters, too, a real reflection of what it is to be a woman and be human and to not have it just be a character in a box, but to try to break out of that in all the ways that we all hold multitudes. So, a character that I can really explore in that way.
GLITTER: What is your favorite part of Trudy’s storyline acting-wise? Obviously, as you said, you’re taking on a real person’s role, so did that present different challenges for you?
ELOISE: So, there’s two-fold of my favorite things. One, I love working with Colin O’Donoghue, who plays Gordon, my husband. He is a total delight, and getting to act opposite him was so much fun. We just had a blast on set, and it was just like getting to play, and that’s the best thing as an actor when you just jump in, and you’re like, “Okay, here we go.” So it was like that every time. But the other part that I really, really enjoyed was all of the flight stuff, how much I got to be around, you know, she was a pilot, and so getting to be on airplanes, getting to learn a lot about flying, and so that when I was sitting in a cockpit, I could look like I knew what I was doing. I just was riveted by all of that, and I couldn’t help but feel her joy of flying when I was sitting in planes because it brought me alive as well.
GLITTER: What is the first thing you look for in a script?
ELOISE: As far as what I look for in a script… I mean, gosh, good writing, you know? It all starts with the writing, and when you have good writing, it just feels like you’re a kid in a candy shop, honestly.
GLITTER: What was the first moment you knew you wanted to pursue acting? Was it an easy decision for you?
ELOISE: Oh, that’s a great question. I fell in love, I was a really shy kid, and I fell in love with acting when I was seven when I saw a local musical production that my neighbor, Mrs. Dennie, who was the love of my life, took me to. And I just I don’t know, there was something about it. I just absolutely fell in love with it. Suddenly, I went from being this shy kid offstage to just wanting to be on stage in any capacity; honestly, it wasn’t like I wanted to be the star of the show. I just wanted to be a part of the experience. I spent most of my childhood from then until I graduated high school doing musicals and plays and mainly honestly, like in the chorus.
I would work backstage, too, like I operated the spotlight for a bunch of different plays and musicals. I would build the sets. I just loved it. I fell totally in love with it. So when it came time to decide what to do after I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t know if I should go to school to be an actor or to do something else. I don’t come from an entertainment family. My dad’s a scientist and my mom’s a teacher. I knew that it would be a really tough road to be an actor because it is; it’s really hard. It takes a lot of luck and a lot of resilience, and I just didn’t know if that was smart. So I applied to a bunch of schools to do pre-med, and then I applied to a bunch of acting schools, and I ended up going to NYU for acting.
Once I made that decision, it was a really hard decision, but once I made it, I was like, “Okay, I’ve made it. Now I have to stick with this and fight really hard to make this happen.” So I feel really grateful that it has all worked out the way that it has.
GLITTER: You understudied Elisabeth Moss in Speed the Plow on Broadway while still in school; what was that experience like for you?
ELOISE: Oh, man, I mean, honestly, it was the most nerve-wracking experience I’ve ever had in my life. Like any time I feel like I can’t do something, I’m like, “Okay, you did that thing, which was crazy,” because being an understudy is really wild. It was a huge learning experience. I took the semester off from school as a senior in college. And, you know, you go to every single rehearsal, you learn the whole play. It was a really small cast; it was three people and two understudies, and just getting to watch them work was incredible. And then, you know, you go into performances and go to the theater every night and sit backstage so that you can go on in case something happens. And I did go on once. I knew I was going to because Elisabeth Moss was at the SAG Awards that night. So I invited everybody I knew, which in retrospect is absolutely insane. But I invited everybody I knew, like you know, everybody was in that theater.
I didn’t think that part through because I’d never done the play before with those actors that I was about to act with. I’d never, ever run the play with them. So I was doing it for the first time in front of a ton of strangers, too, honestly, like Jeff Goldblum was in the audience, which was super weird, just randomly. Anyway, it was so overwhelming, and I remember I was walking out on stage. I was carrying a tray because that’s the beginning of the play. I was shaking, like the tea on the tray was shaking. And I set it down in front of William H. Macy, who was playing one of the characters, and he looked up at me, and he winked at me, and I was like, “Okay, okay, game on.” I mean, what could you do but just do it. And so I did, and it was absolutely thrilling. And I just feel really grateful for that experience cause it taught me that with lots of preparation, you know, you do all the work and then you just have to, like, step out and trust that the work will catch you, and just trust and believe in yourself. So, yeah, it was pretty wild.
GLITTER: Did you learn any lessons that you still live by today?
ELOISE: Totally. I learned mostly that preparation is key and that if you’re truly prepared and if you put in the work, you just have to jump and trust that the rest will happen. I think about that all the time, actually. Also, to enjoy the ride, you know, success comes, and it goes. Early on in my career, I was working on something, and it was going really well, and someone said to me, “Enjoy the ride, because it won’t always be this good,” You know, like, it ebbs and flows. In all of it, I think it’s just really important to enjoy it when it’s good, because it’s not always good, and then when it’s not good, remember that it will, with hard work, get back there again. So just trying to keep an even keel through all of the waves of it.
GLITTER: What is your favorite thing about Broadway? Do you want to do Broadway again in the future?
ELOISE: Yes, 100%. I miss theater so, so badly right now. I mean, I know we all do. It’s so hard that it shut down for so long right now. I would do anything to do it again. It’s one of the most spectacular institutions, honestly, in our arts, and the thing I love most about it is the thrill of being there altogether. It’s a live experience. Witnessing something that will never again happen; every night is something fresh, and it will never happen again in that exact same way. And that’s why theater has thrilled humans for centuries. There’s this sort of bringing together that feels really special. It makes you feel alive. And so I really miss that a lot. I would love to go back someday and do theater, and also, theater people are just, I don’t know, they’re just great. So here’s hoping that Broadway’s back up sooner than later, and, yeah, I would absolutely do anything to be back up on stage.
GLITTER: Your TV debut was as one of the female leads on FOX‘s Lone Star. How excited were you to start your TV journey?
ELOISE: That was wild cause I graduated college, and I moved out to LA to do pilot season, and I didn’t know anybody. It was incredibly lonely. I had a mountain of student debt from school, and I just felt a huge obligation to get work; honestly, because I had to, I didn’t have another choice. And so when I got that job, I was just overwhelmed with what a huge opportunity it was; I also, at the time, didn’t understand really how much luck it takes for a TV show to do well, and that just because you get a job doesn’t necessarily mean that that will last for a long time. So Lone Star was notoriously very short-lived, and that was really, really heartbreaking.
Everybody said to me after that, because I gave up my apartment and I moved to Texas to film it, and all my stuff was in my car, and everyone was like, “Oh, well, you have to get a tough skin.” And I was like, “well, I just I literally just got it, it just happened.” But I met some people who continue to be some of my closest friends on that job, and it was an incredible introduction to the TV world and really made me fall in love with how fun it is to tell a character’s story throughout an arc of a season, and how fun it is to build a family within a television show of the people that you’re working with. So I was really, really grateful for that job.
GLITTER: What was it like being part of Universal Pictures’ Fifty Shades of Grey franchise?
ELOISE: It was really incredible. When I got that job, I couldn’t believe it. The books were such a global phenomenon, and to be a part of something that you could walk through the airport and see, like the books that you were going to be in the movie of; it was really special. And again, I met people on that job who I absolutely adore. It was years and years of our lives because, you know, there were three movies, and then we do all the press for it. It filmed in Vancouver, which was a blast. I absolutely fell in love with Canada while I was up there and with a bunch of the crew that works up there. So it was a really special experience, and it was really interesting to get to witness such a huge production. I had done TV, I’d done indies, and getting to see a studio movie and that level, I mean, talk about a village. It takes like bigger than a village; takes like a huge metropolis to make movies like that. So I feel really lucky to have gotten to be a part of it. And again, I just adore so many people who I worked with in it.
GLITTER: Any stories you can share from the Chicago Fire set?
ELOISE: I fell in love with filming in Chicago and I was really touched by how wonderful the cast is. I came in on the sixth season, and I was in the first six episodes or so of that season, and so everybody was coming back together, and it’s sort of like summer camp like everybody loves each other so much. It was so fun to witness how much they all adore each other, and then I was like the new kid, you know, and they were all so generous with me and so kind and made me feel such a wonderful part of that family. I was so touched by that, and I fell in love with those people and Chicago in general. I mean, the thing that blew me away, honestly, in the filming of it was I started filming in August, and it was so hot, like, I don’t know how they all look so beautiful on television when it’s so hot. I got there, and I guess they’re used to it, but I was so sweaty the first day just cause I was nervous and it was a new job, and I was just like so sweaty, and they all just looked so perfect. And then I was like, “Oh my God, you guys, it’s very hot.” And they’re like, “just wait; it gets so cold here.” I was just blown away by the difference between, like, how hot it would get, and they’re like, “It’ll be like negative, whatever, you know when we’re filming in the winter.” So I don’t know, I felt really lucky to get to be part of that family for a while and get to see just what a blast they all have making that show.
GLITTER: Last year, your film Standing Up, Falling Down came out. Can you describe the film in three words?
ELOISE: Oh, my gosh, poignant, hilarious, and hopeful. I really loved working on that movie so much. I mean, obviously getting to work with Billy Crystal is… you know, I’m speechless. It was a dream come true. When Harry Met Sally is one of my favorite movies; if not maybe my favorite movie of all time. I just love that movie. Getting to be in the same room with him, I was in awe, and Ben Schwartz is such a delight. I worked with some of the people who made that movie, the producer and the DP before, Rick Rosenthal and Noah Rosenthal, his son, was the DP, and they are some of my favorite humans in this world. Again, it’s that feeling of just getting to work with people who you love. I felt so grateful for it.
GLITTER: Have you ever had a really challenging scene for a role that you were nervous about, but you ended up being proud of the final take?
ELOISE: Yes, a lot. That’s the funny thing about this job, is that there’s so much of it that is waiting. You know, you spend so much time waiting, you get ready on set, I mean, let alone waiting to get the job and auditioning and then all of that. And then you get on set, and you go through hair and makeup, and then you sit in your trailer for hours, sometimes waiting, waiting. Then you get on set, and there is one moment where, like, all of the attention is on you and say it’s a scene where you have to cry in an intense way, or you have to, you know, whatever it is, it’s something really emotional, or you have to do a stunt or anything like that. The amount of pressure is really intense. I always think in those moments like this is where you earn every penny of it. That stuff’s the joy of it, and it still is the joy of acting when you have to do it, but in those moments, if you forget your line or if you can’t get there emotionally or if you mess it up, you know, there’s a lot riding on that. The weight of that is pretty intense, and then when you’re able to do it, that feels all the more phenomenal. And so, yeah, there are these really special moments that happen there where it’s like, “Okay, here it is,” and you just have to show up and do it. So there’s been a lot of those throughout, you know, throughout the projects that I’ve done. It always feels like a miracle when you’re able to get through it, but somehow taking the attention off yourself, putting it onto the other person, you know, going back to the fundamentals, it’s when I’m really grateful that I have done a lot of acting training at NYU. You return to the craft of what you’ve learned so that in those moments when it’s really scary when everything feels so big around you, you just hone in on the moment of what you’re trying to create and being present in that moment.
GLITTER: Do you have any tricks for memorizing more difficult lines?
ELOISE: I think every actor has their own. It’s so funny witnessing everybody’s routines of how they memorize lines, and I over the years have developed my own very odd routine of how I do it. But mainly it’s just a lot of I start a few days ahead of time, I wish that I was someone who had a photographic memory, I have friends like that, and I am deeply, deeply jealous, but I do not, and it takes a fair amount of work. That’s sometimes the joy of it because you learn a lot about the scene by doing it repeatedly. Again, I just believe preparation is key. So the sooner I can start working on it, the more it’s in my brain. I also believe a lot in— this sounds a little wacky— but in the power of, like, sleeping on stuff. Not literally, I don’t mean literally. I just mean like doing it right before you go to bed so that somehow it gets in your brain. It’s so funny watching other people and the way that they memorize lines, and you know, everyone has their own little hacks. And there’s some like superstition involved in all of it, too, you know, but yeah.
GLITTER: Advice for anyone looking to go into the entertainment industry?
ELOISE: I would say learn as much as you can, not just about acting and not just about the entertainment industry, but about being a human as well. I think it’s really important. I think training is incredibly important, but I also believe that knowing lots of things about other stuff is really, really important. One of my favorite piece of advice that I got when I was looking to go to school, someone said that I should— I mean, I didn’t end up taking this advice— but they were like get a degree in something else other than acting because you bring that to your craft. I didn’t do that, I minored in something else, but I am really grateful for all the other education that I’ve had and also just outside of school too; being curious about lots of different things in life, I think you bring that whole package to you as an artist. And then I would say be resilient, it’s gonna take time, and it’s gonna take patience. There are many different ways to make art, other than doing what you always thought it would be. Nothing is ever exactly what you planned or what you think it will be. I have so many people in my life who are artists in lots of different ways, not necessarily in acting, being an actor but creating art. Creating art is one of the most important and brave, and beautiful things that we can do in this world. It reminds us of what it is to be human. There’s lots of different versions of what that looks like. So if someone’s looking to be in the entertainment industry, I would say find the storytelling that inspires you and then be dogged in the perusal of that, but know that it might look like many different things, and that’s beautiful as well.
GLITTER: Last show you binge-watched?
ELOISE: The Queen’s Gambit is what I’m currently binging my way through. I absolutely love that show. And let’s see, what else have I binge-watched? The Vow on HBO. I love, like any cult documentaries, so I will go in deep for that. I can’t binge-watch this, but The Amazing Race is my perennial favorite. It’s on right now and I love it. I wish I could binge-watch it, but it’s only out every week.
GLITTER: How would you describe your day to day fashion?
ELOISE: My day to day fashion… well, in pandemic times, it’s been a lot of sweatsuits, honestly; like I love a matching sweatsuit like I want the top and the bottom to match, and I want cozy slippers. So that’s been like pandemic fashion. Usually, I’d say my fashion is a lot of sort of like nineteen seventies mom vibes meets scientist meets like hipster, honestly.
GLITTER: Isolation due to COVID-19 gave everyone a lot of free time; did you get to do anything that you normally didn’t have time for?
ELOISE: Well, like a lot of people, I think I learned how to make sourdough bread, which felt like a huge feat. I’ve been reading a lot, and I’ve been spending a lot of time with family, which has been really wonderful, and a lot of time honestly reconnecting, not in person, but digitally with old friends. And that has felt like one of the greatest gifts of this time, truly, is realizing that the people in my life that have been in my life for decades or less, that I’ve cultivated this group of people who I really, really love to lean on them in times when it’s really hard, because this year’s been really lonely, honestly. I’ve spent a lot of time by myself. I know a lot of people in this country and in the world, so being able to reach out to the people who have known me for a long time and get their support and also give them my support and realize that, you know, when someone asks you, “How are you?” And you’re like, “Oh, I’m great,” instead of doing that being like, “Here’s how I actually am, here are the things that are wonderful right now. Here are the things that are really hard,” and then inviting them to do the same. It just feels so much more… I don’t know, we just are like on this planet once, and we just have each other. So it’s been a lot of that, honestly, and I hope to carry that forward even as life, hopefully soon with a vaccine, starts to feel more normal. I want to carry that with me, that sort of tenderness with the people that I love.
GLITTER: The best piece of acting advice you’ve received?
ELOISE: Do the work. It goes back to the preparation thing; that you will never regret being prepared and then just throw it all away, like be completely prepared and then jump in so that you never know what will happen next. So that sort of yin and yang of preparation and then the unknown, I think, is probably the best piece of advice.
GLITTER: Is there a genre you haven’t done yet that you hope to do in the future?
ELOISE: I’d love to do a Western. I would love to do a Western. Anyone out there who wants to do a Western? Riding horses, like I don’t know, cowboys. I just would love to do a Western.
GLITTER: Any aspect of the entertainment industry you want to explore more?
ELOISE: I’m just starting to explore more the producing side of things and developing, and that has been just the most spectacular expansion on a sort of artist side of it. It’s been so cool to get to witness that part of it. And it’s really lit my brain up in a way that I’m like, “oh, cool, I want to continue to do this,” you know, cause I’ve worked in this industry a really long time. I know so much about it, but learning more about that part of it and getting to be creative in that way has been really cool. Honestly, getting to be like these are the stories that I want that I don’t see getting told right now and that I would like to be told. I think we need more, so much more, female-driven in particular stories and stories for women, stories about women, stories made by women. So that’s been really inspiring to me.
GLITTER: Glitter has a celebrity #SelfLoveCampaign. What does self-love mean to you?
ELOISE: Self-love, man; I’ve been thinking a lot on self-love lately. Self-love means to me becoming really good friends with yourself and falling… it sounds so cheesy, but like falling in love with yourself because you’re the person you do this whole life with, right? I mean, really, at the end of the day, you got you. I mean, you got lots of other people, too, but every day is spent with yourself. And so, you know, getting to know yourself, and getting to love yourself, getting to be sort of delighted by yourself and whatever form that takes, you know? And that’s been something that I’ve spent a lot of time discovering as I’ve grown up; you know, in particular in and out of relationships, knowing that the most important thing you can do is be a pillar of your own strength and your own self-love. And then everything else just feels like icing, but, you know, figuring out a way to keep yourself company and be entertained by yourself, I think is a big part of self-love.
GLITTER: Do you have any new projects coming up that you share?
ELOISE: So, you know, it’s such a funny world right now with COVID in the industry, everything’s all up in, who knows land. But I am working on developing something that I’m really excited about with a creative partner. So hopefully, I’ll have more news on that soon, but that’s been the thing that I’ve been pouring my energy into. And it’s been so fulfilling
GLITTER: What are the best social media platforms for fans to follow you on?
ELOISE: You can follow me on Instagram. It’s lots of photos of like me out in nature and like baking occasionally. And also, I’m on Twitter. I’m not as active on Twitter, but I do love getting my news there. And yeah, those are it. I wish I was cool enough for TikTok. I don’t, and I’m not, but yeah, Instagram mainly.