'First Man': 15 of the Film's Stars and Their Real-Life Inspirations

8:00 AM 10/12/2018

by Sydney Odman

Damien Chazelle's biopic tells the story off the historic Apollo 11 mission that would ultimately end the Space Race and land the first man on the moon.

First Man presents a change of pace in Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle's recent film repertoire.

The 33-year-old director rose to Hollywood prominence with the critical success of Whiplash (2014), followed by musical phenomenon La La Land (2016). Now, Chazelle tackles the extraordinary American story of man's first trip to the moon.

First Man depicts the years leading up to the launch of Apollo 11, the lunar mission that would ultimately end the Space Race and land the first two men on the moon in 1969. 

Based on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen, the biopic stars Ryan Gosling as first man Neil Armstrong, alongside a star-studded cast that boasts the likes of Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Jason Clarke and more.

First Man, which opened the Venice Film Festival on Aug. 29, is set to hit theaters Oct. 12. Read on to learn more about the cast and the historical figures they portray in the film. 

  • Neil Armstrong, portrayed by Ryan Gosling

    Universal Pictures; Chip Somodevilla/Getty

    Following his leading performance in Chazelle's La La Land, Ryan Gosling steps into the starring role of First Man as Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon. 

    Armstrong, famed for his role in the historical launch of Apollo 11, began his career studying aeronautical engineering at Purdue University, an education that was paid for by the U.S. Navy under the Holloway Plan. Armstrong served as a naval aviator until 1962, when he joined the NASA Astronaut Corps.  

    First Man will depict Armstrong's journey leading up to the lunar mission of the Apollo 11, in which he and Buzz Aldrin complete the first successful trip to the moon and back. Upon stepping onto the moon, Armstrong uttered the famous words: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." 

    For his contributions to astronomical discovery throughout his career, Armstrong was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Richard Nixon, in addition to the Congressional Space Medal of Honor by President Jimmy Carter. Most recently, Armstrong and his former crewmates received a Congressional Gold Medal from President Barack Obama in 2009. 

  • Ed White, portrayed by Jason Clarke

    NASA; Universal Pictures

    Australian actor Jason Clarke portrays NASA astronaut and U.S. Air Force officer Ed White, the first American to walk in space.

    Known for his roles in Mudbound, Zero Dark Thirty and White House Down, Clarke steps into the role of White, who died during prelaunch testing for the first manned Apollo mission after a fire broke out in the pure oxygen-filled cabin of the space craft.

    White was awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal for his flight in Gemini 4. Posthumously, he was also awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

  • Janet Shearon, portrayed by Claire Foy

    Universal Pictures

    Following her Emmy-winning performance as Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix's The Crown, Claire Foy is no stranger to portraying historical figures. This time, Foy dons an American accent to take on the role of Neil Armstrong's wife, Janet Shearon. 

    Shearon is Armstrong's first wife, whom he met in college and shared three children. According to the First Man trailer, Foy's strong-willed interpretation of Shearon seems to play a large role emotionally in Armstrong's journey to the moon. 

  • Deke Slayton, portrayed by Kyle Chandler

    Bryan Bedder/Getty; NASA

    Prior to his time as a NASA astronaut, Deke Slayton served as an American World War II pilot. After the war, Slayton returned to his education to receive a degree in aeronautical engineering at the University of Minnesota.

    The Wisconsin native went on to become one of the original NASA Mercury Seven astronauts, in addition to becoming NASA's first Chief of the Astronaut Office. In this position, Slayton would prove to play a large role in the selection of the crews for several historical space missions, including Armstrong's Apollo 11 mission to the Moon. 

    Slayton is played by Bloodline's Kyle Chandler. Earlier this year, Chandler starred alongside Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams in Game Night and is set to star in Michael Dougherty's Godzilla: King of the Monsters in 2019.

  • Buzz Aldrin, portrayed by Corey Stoll

    Paul Archuleta/Getty; Universal Pictures

    Although he wasn't the first man to walk on the moon, Buzz Aldrin famously followed Neil Armstrong onto the lunar surface on Apollo 11 in 1969, nine minutes after Armstrong took his first steps.

    Aldrin got his start in the military at the United States Military Academy at West Point, later going on to be a Command Pilot in the U.S. Air Force. The astronaut's work on Gemini 12, where he successfully proved that extravehicular activity could be performed by astronauts, helped pave the way for the Apollo program that would later lead Aldrin to the moon. 

    House of Cards's Corey Stoll is portraying Aldrin. The Golden Globe-nominated actor is known for his previous roles in films such as Ant-Man, Midnight in Paris and This Is Where I Leave You

  • David Scott, portrayed by Christopher Abbott

    Bryan Bedder/Getty; Mark Wilson/Getty

    Girls' Christopher Abbott is set to portray NASA astronaut and U.S. Air Force officer David Scott.

    Scott made his first flight into space on Gemini 8, along with Neil Armstrong. Scott would later become the seventh man to walk on the moon, as well as the first person to drive on the moon. In his career, Scott received a number of awards and honors, including two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, a NASA Exceptional Service Medal and a United Nations Peace Medal.

  • Gene Kranz, portrayed by Ciaran Hinds

    Bill Ingalls/NASA; Universal Pictures

    Aerospace engineer and former NASA flight director Gene Kranz remains today as one of the most prominent figures in the early days of U.S. manned space exploration.

    Prior to being portrayed by Ciaran Hinds in First Man, Kranz has been the subject of many films, documentaries and books. Most famousy, Westworld's Ed Harris portrayed Kranz in Ron Howard's critically acclaimed Apollo 13, which tells the story of how Kranz successfully directed NASA's mission control team to save the crew of Apollo 13. 

    Before First Man, Irish actor Ciaran Hinds appeared in films such as There Will Be Blood, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Frozen and Justice League.

  • Elliot See, portrayed by Patrick Fugit

    NASA; Universal Pictures

    Patrick Fugit got his start as the young William Miller in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous. Today, Fugit stars in First Man as Elliot See, a member of NASA's second selected group of astronauts in 1962. 

    See joined Neil Armstrong as the backup crew for Gemini 5, later to command Gemini 9. Before Apollo 11, See died in 1966 in a training crash at the McDonnell Space Center in St. Louis. His name remains inscribed on the Fallen Astronaut plaque placed on the moon by Apollo 15 in 1971. 

  • Michael Collins, portrayed by Lukas Haas

    NASA; Universal Pictures

    Like many of his fellow astronauts, Michael Collins served in the U.S. Air Force prior to joining NASA. As for his role in Apollo 11, Collins was the command module pilot who stayed in orbit while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin historically made the first manned landing on the lunar surface. 

    Following his retirement from NASA in 1970, Collins continued to serve his country as the assistant secretary of state for public affairs. One year later, he became the director of the National Air and Space Museum, and later took on the position as undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution. 

    In the film, Lukas Haas will play Collins. 

  • Gus Grissom, portrayed by Shea Wigham

    Jim Spellman/WireImage; NASA

    Prior to his role in the Armstrong biopic, Shea Wigham appeared in films such as Kong: Skull Island, Fast & Furious and Fast & Furious 6. In the film, Wigham portrays Gus Grissom, one of the seven original astronauts in NASA's first human spaceflight program Project Mercury. 

    As an aviator in the U.S. Air Force, Grissom was awarded a World War II Victory Medal, as well as a Korean War Service Medal. He later went on to receive a Congressional Space Medal of Honor, in addition to NASA Distinguished and Exceptional Service Medals. 

    Grissom, commander of Apollo 1, was killed along with his colleagues Ed White and Robert Chaffee in an pre-launch explosion in 1967.

  • Joseph A. Walker, portrayed by Brian D'Arcy James

    Jim Spellman/WireImage; NASA

    Broadway star Brian D'Arcy James steps into the role of U.S. Air Force Captain, American World War II pilot and experimental physicist Joseph A. Walker. Walker became the seventh man in space when he flew, along with Neil Armstrong, in his X-15 experimental rocket aircrafts. 

    Walker was later killed in 1966 when his F-104 Starfighter collided with a North American XB-70 Valkyrie in a flight accident.

  • Jim Lovell, portrayed by Pablo Schreiber

    Jim Spellman/WireImage; Stefanie Keenan/WireImage

    Orange Is the New Black's Pablo Schreiber is Jim Lovell in First Man, portraying the NASA astronaut and naval aviator known for commanding the failed Apollo 13 flight that was safely brought back to Earth. 

    Lovell was originally meant to serve as command module pilot on Armstrong and Aldrin's Apollo 11 flight but was later replaced by Michael Collins. Prior to Apollo 11, Lovell orbited the moon on Apollo 8. 

    The astronaut also received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to manned space travel. 

  • Roger B. Chaffee, portrayed by Cory Michael Smith

    Paul Archuleta/Getty; NASA

    Although he got his start in stage acting, Cory Michael Smith has since made his way to both the small and big screen, starring in Fox's Gotham and now in Chazelle's First Man.

    Smith will portray Roger B. Chaffee, a capsule communicator for Gemini 3 and 4 who later died in 1967 in a pre-launch test for Apollo 1. He was posthumously honored with the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. 

    The naval aviator joined NASA in 1963 as part of the space administration's third group of astronauts. 

  • Pete Conrad, portrayed by Ethan Embry

    Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for InStyle; Courtesy of NASA

    Following appearances on shows such as Once Upon a Time, Brotherhood and The Walking Dead, Ethan Embry portrays Pete Conrad, the third man to walk on the Moon. 

    Conrad is known for commanding Apollo 12, the lunar mission that would follow Armstrong and Aldrin's historic Apollo 11. As part of NASA's second class of astronauts, Conrad was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978 for his work as the commander of Skylab 2, in which he and his cremates repaired launch damage to the Skylabspace station.

  • John Glenn, portrayed by John David Whalen

    Courtesy of NASA; Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

    Former American naval pilot turned actor John David Whalen takes on the role of Colonel John Glenn. Not only was Glenn an accomplished astronaut, but the colonel was also a U.S. Marine Corps aviator, engineer and U.S. Senator in the state of Ohio. Historically, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962. 

    Prior to becoming one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts, Glenn served as a fighter pilot in World War II, China and Korea. He was awarded six Distinguished Flying Crosses and eighteen Air Medals for his military accomplishments.