On a recent episode of The Talk, Hidden Figures’ star Taraji P Henson opened up about her role playing African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson and how she was “hurt” after she read the script for the first time.
“I was hurt because growing up as a young girl there was an understanding that math and science were for boys, so I immediately I felt like a dream had been stolen from me,” she said.
“After I got the script, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s horrible.’ Because what if I was allowed to dream to be a rocket scientist. Who knows where my life would be.”
The film, which also stars Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe, tells the untold story of the crucial and integral role that Black female mathematicians played in astronaut John Glenn’s historic orbit in 1962. The actress also said that another reason she took this role was to inspire young girls to become more active in math and science.
“I made it my mission to be a part of this film because I didn’t want another girl to ever believe that her brain cannot understand numbers and rocket science,” she said. “If a boy can do it, you can do it too. A brilliant mind does not have a color or a gender.”
In addition, in a recent interview with W Magazine, Henson admitted that she failed math in college and found humor in playing a mathematician all these years later.
“I got rejected at the High School of Performing Arts, so I thought that meant acting wasn’t for me. So when it came time to go to college, I don’t know why, I chose electrical engineering. It just sounded like I would make a lot of money. I didn’t even consider the math part. So we get there. I’m doing my thing and I got to go to pre-calc and it looks Chinese, so I had two tutors, I think. I still failed,” she said.
Henson added: “That just was not my calling, so God has an incredible sense of humor because now I have to play this mathematician. And I swear every time, they actually had a mathematician on set and he’s trying to teach it to me, I said, “No, no, no, no. Don’t try and teach it. We’ll be here for ten years. I’m not gonna get it. Show me what I have to write. I’ll memorize it and watch what I do with it.” Yeah, I still use my fingers and I’m not ashamed of it.
She also shared that playing Johnson was “exhausting” (in a good way) given how different the role was from playing Cookie and being herself.
“Cookie is a lot. She requires a lot of me physically, mentally, just the scenarios she find herself in week after week. It’s a lot. But Cookie lives, she’s an extrovert. Everything is on her sleeve. She says it like it is, no holds barred. [But] Katherine, [is a] very different woman from a very different time where women had no rights, basically, so it was exhausting in another way, because I am a lot in life,” Henson stressed.
“Taraji is very, you know, I’m rambunctious. I have a lot of energy. I’m very animated when I speak, Katherine is not. The women were very different in the ’60s, particularly the black women and the clothes were different, the girdles. You couldn’t move like that in a girdle.”
Ha! Once, again we can’t wait to see this film!
“Hidden Figures” hits theaters nationwide on January 6.