‘Come From Away’ cast on reconnecting with their real-life counterparts for the Apple TV+ film
Six cast members shared memories of meeting the Newfoundland residents and the "come from aways" and staying in touch with them throughout the show's run.
After being away from Come From Away for over a year, Sharon Wheatley was about to restart rehearsals. She, alongside most of the original Broadway cast, were preparing to perform in a taping of the musical, which is streaming on Apple TV+ starting September 10. But shortly beforehand, Wheatley became afraid she’d forgotten to do her character’s accent.
“I knew if I got on the phone with Diane for even two minutes that it would come right back,” she said, referring to Diane Gray, the real-life woman she plays in the musical. “I was like hi, it's me, Sharon; I just need to hear you talk for a minute. She was like, ‘ Well, I don't know what you want me to say,’ and I was like, ‘That's it, that's all I need!’
“We laughed. I love her,” Wheatley continued. “Any excuse I have to call is a good one.”
Wheatley has been with the show since its first pre-Broadway run at the La Jolla Playhouse, and she will return to her role when Come From Away resumes performances September 21. In that time, she’s developed a close bond with the real-life Diane — and she’s not alone in the experience. Caesar Samoya, who plays the plane passenger Kevin Jung, said, “[Kevin and I] are in constant contact with each other. We hang out when he's in the city. We all hang out with our ‘others,’ our real-life counterparts.”
In fact, about half the original cast is still in the show, so they’ve had six years’ worth of encounters with the Gander, Newfoundland residents and the “come from aways” — the global plane passengers who were stranded on the Canadian island for a week following 9/11. The “come from aways” and Newfoundlanders have made numerous trips to New York and beyond to support the actors telling their stories onstage.
Hannah O’Rourke, a mother who lost her firefighter son to 9/11, is one such person who has joined the Come From Away audience. Q. Smith, who plays Hannah in the show, first met her when the show opened on Broadway. She describes Hannah as “a little spitfire, just a fiery little Irish woman who loves hugs, loves cooking, loves loving.”
Hannah’s character becomes close with Beulah Davis, a composite character played by Astrid Van Wieren, over the course of the play. Van Wieren recently called the two Gander teachers, Beulah Cooper and Diane Davis, whose stories make up her Come From Away character, before taking their stories to the screen.
“It wasn’t so much for the acting, but just the little touchstone of, ‘Yeah, I'm taking you with me on this journey,’” Van Wieren said.
Even the newest cast members have gotten to connect with the people they play. Paul Whitty, who took on the role of the police constable Oz shortly before the pandemic began, had met only a few of the Gander residents, including O’Rourke and the pilot Beverley Bass (a famously frequent audience member). He only met Oz just a few days before our interview, on a Zoom Q&A that also included Diane Gray, her husband Nick Marson, and others, to promote the Come From Away film.
For Joel Hatch, a veteran cast member who plays Gander’s mayor, Claude, returning to Come From Away brought back memories of his first encounter with the real-life mayor. Claude had come with the Canadian consulate to see the second pre-Broadway tryout in Seattle, “to kind of scout out what are we doing here, what does it look like, are [the Gander residents] being represented in a way that's good for our community,” Hatch remembered.
“Claude took everything in very, very seriously. He didn't laugh; he didn't cry. He just concentrated on every last moment,” Hatch said. “But then as they were leaving, this elderly woman walked up to Claude and she said, ‘Mr. Mayor, I grew up in Gander, and I want you to know I've never felt so proud of my hometown.’ And at that point, he just sobbed. He said ‘excuse me’ and turned to a corner to wipe his eyes.
“When he came backstage, I said, ‘It's a little nerve-wracking actually having the guy out there who I'm playing,’ and he said, ‘Relax. I'm not here to worry about how you're portraying me; I'm here just to know that our story is being told honestly. You are, and that's the important thing.’”
Come From Away tickets will be available soon.