NEW YORK, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Taraji P. Henson says she felt tremendous respect and a sense of responsibility after meeting Katherine Johnson, the NASA scientist and mathematician she plays in director Ted Melfi's 1960s-set drama Hidden Figures.
The film is about Johnson and other brilliant, African American women who made enormous contributions to the U.S. space program while being treated by many of their colleagues as second-class citizens because of their race and gender.
"When you are portraying a person that is very real -- in my case, Katherine is still alive, she's 98 years old -- there is a responsibility to get it right. So, as soon as I signed on to the project, I asked Ted immediately -- when I got the script, actually -- 'Is she still alive?' And he said, 'Yes.' And I said, 'WelI, I have to meet her immediately,'" the 46-year-old Washington, D.C., native told reporters in New York recently.
Henson said she and Melfi flew down to Virginia where they were greeted by Johnson's daughters and granddaughter.
"They hugged me and they were like: 'Oh, my God. We're so happy they got YOU to play our mother and my grandmother.' And I was like, 'No pressure!'" the actress recalled.
As for her meeting with Johnson?
"You are sitting in there and you're waiting for the queen," Henson explained. "That's how it felt to come and you greet the queen and she came and it was just like, 'Wow, I am in the presence of a real-life superhero.' And I guess the biggest thing I took away from her was her humility and when you talk about superheroes, they are selfless. They don't think about themselves. They put humans, humanity before them."