Henson takes on calculating role in 'Hidden Figures'

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Toronto -- An emotional Taraji P. Henson teared up after footage from her new film “Hidden Figures” screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday.

Taraji P. Henson, a cast member in "Hidden Figures," poses at a photo call for the film on day 3 of the Toronto International Film Festival at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Toronto.

“We haven’t seen anything (yet)! I want to cry!” said Henson, wiping away tears after 20 minutes of the film was shown at a special event during the festival.

“Figures” tells the story of three African American mathematicians who worked for NASA in the 1960s whose work helped launch John Glenn into space. It is scheduled to open in January.

Henson was joined at the screening by her co-stars Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, along with producer Pharrell Williams, who also did the film’s soundtrack. Glen Powell, who plays astronaut Glenn in the film, watched the footage from the audience.

“I’m so glad I did this,” said Henson, saying the story of the three women is “so important, it’s overwhelming.”

Taraji P. Henson, a cast member in "Hidden Figures," poses at a photo call for the film on day 3 of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Henson stars in the film as Katherine Johnson, and said she took the role in part as a departure from Cookie, the character she plays on TV’s “Empire.” When offered the role in the film, “I said hell yeah,” she said.

The movie, directed by “St. Vincent’s” Theodore Melfi, offers up a story of role models different from those whose stories are typically told, Henson said. “I’m a girl from the hood,” said the Washington, D.C. native. “I didn’t grow up with much, all I had was dreams. This story is so important. If I would have known about these women growing up, maybe I would have aspired to be a rocket scientist.”

Henson’s tears quickly turned to elation following the film when she cheered on Pharrell, who performed a six-song outdoor concert on a closed-off street in downtown Toronto, just footsteps from where the “Figures” footage was shown. Hundreds of fans lined the streets to watch the free show, with many watching from balconies above street level.

Pharrell, joined on stage by a nine-piece band and an eight member gospel choir, performed lively, celebratory material from the soundtrack, including “Runnin’,” “Surrender” and “I See a Victory,” for which he was joined by gospel singer Kim Burrell. “I feel like doing that one again!” he said at the close of “Victory,” and brought Burrell back out for an encore performance.

Henson, wearing a spectacular green dress, was called up to the stage at the end of the set as Pharrell and her cast mates sang her “Happy Birthday.” Henson’s 46th birthday is Sunday.

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