W Magazine Videos

Taraji P. Henson Failed Math in College, But Now Plays a Mathematician in 'Hidden Figures'

In a revealing interview with W Editor at Large Lynn Hirschberg, actress Taraji P. Henson opens up about playing mathematician Katherine Johnson in Hidden Figures and more.

Released on 1/5/2017

Credits

Starring: Taraji P. Henson

Transcript

00:03
Hidden Figures.
00:04
I read the script, and I just remembered thinking,
00:08
how come I've never heard this story before?
00:10
And I started asking, have you ever heard of these women?
00:12
Have you ever heard of Katherine Johnson?
00:14
Did you know women had anything to do
00:15
with the great race to space?
00:18
And the answer kept coming up no, and I was like, angry.
00:21
Because this is a very important piece of history
00:24
that we should know.
00:25
I did not know that that was a dream that I could have.
00:28
Yeah, I could act like I know math,
00:30
but I'm not mathematically wired.
00:32
I failed math in college.
00:34
I don't know why I chose electrical engineering,
00:36
it just sounded like I would make a lot of money.
00:38
I didn't even consider the math part.
00:40
Now I gotta go to pre-calc, and oh, you know.
00:44
It looks Chinese.
00:45
I have two tutors, I think.
00:47
I still failed.
00:49
God has an incredible sense of humor,
00:52
because now, I have to play this mathematician.
00:55
They actually had a mathematician on set,
00:56
and he's trying to teach it to me.
00:58
I said, no, no, no, no, no.
00:59
No.
01:00
Mm-mm, mm-mm.
01:02
Don't try and teach it, we'll be here for ten years.
01:05
I'm just, I'm not gonna get it.
01:08
Show me what I have to write,
01:10
I'll memorize it, and watch what I do with it.
01:13
There you go, math, take that!
01:14
I became an actress.
01:17
(laughter)
01:19
You know, Cookie,
01:20
I don't know if you guys know this character.
01:22
She's this character on this show called Empire,
01:24
I don't know.
01:25
You may have seen, or you may not have.
01:26
She says it like it is, no holds barred.
01:29
Katherine, very different woman, from a very different time,
01:33
where women had no rights, basically.
01:35
It was exhausting in another way,
01:38
because I am a lot in life.
01:41
Taraji is very, you know, I'm rambunctious.
01:44
I have a lot of energy, I'm very animated when I speak.
01:48
Katherine is not.
01:50
Women were very different in the 60s.
01:52
Particularly black women.
01:54
And, you know, the clothes were different.
01:56
The girdles.
01:57
You couldn't move like that in a girdle!
02:00
I remember my first boyfriend in high school,
02:06
it was my first puppy love, and I was so into him.
02:11
And when he kissed me, things started happening.
02:17
(laughter)
02:19
Things woke up, and I was like, hey, what is that?
02:22
Because I was a virgin, and I mean, I was like...
02:26
What is this feeling?
02:28
And I went on to date him, and we never did anything.
02:32
Yeah, I wasn't ready, and he didn't wanna break my heart
02:34
by cheating on me, so he broke up with me.
02:37
Girl crush.
02:39
I would have to say Teyana Taylor right now.
02:42
Just, did you not see it?
02:44
(laughter)
02:45
I'm in the gym every day like...
02:47
Hold up, hold up, like, come on.
02:51
I just love everything Teyana Taylor.
02:53
I think her baby's beautiful, her body's beautiful,
02:56
she can do no wrong in my book.
02:58
I am afraid of being trapped in a small car,
03:01
like a Datsun two door, in the backseat.
03:04
It's been a long, long life fear of mine.
03:08
I don't know where it came from, but there you have it.
03:12
Why is that?
03:15
And I'm in the backseat, so I will freak out.
03:18
Don't pull up to my house in a car with just two doors,
03:21
and expect me to get in the backseat.
03:23
It's not gonna happen.