How Taraji P. Henson And Kevin Costner Prepared For That Pivotal Hidden Figures Scene

Hidden Figures stormed into movie theaters this past weekend, and made enough hay to actually dethrone Rogue One: A Star Wars Story from the top slot at the box office. Audiences dialed in to the true-life story of three incredible women who overcame a series of historical obstacles to contribute to the Space Race being run at NASA in the 1960s... when women, and especially African American women, were struggling to receive any opportunity, regardless of their inherent skill levels.

And if you caught Ted Melfi's Hidden Figures this weekend, you know the scene that was the talk of every group following the screening: the moment where Taraji P. Henson's character -- the brilliant mathematician and physicist Katherine Johnson -- stands up to her superior (Kevin Costner) because he ignorantly wonders where she goes during the day... unaware that she has to run across campus to use a bathroom that's reserved for Colored people. The scene is a jaw-dropper, the kind of sequence that earns actors instant Oscar nominations, particularly when they play it as expertly as Henson and Costner. During a recent press day in New York City, I had to ask the two actors how they prepared for this pivotal and emotional scene. Henson told me:

I just knew I was doing a big scene with Kevin Costner. You bring your 'A' game! [Laughs] But I understood where I was, you know? I did my research, so I knew exactly where my character was, and her state of mind. It's something about the humiliation of coming back into... you know, she's a woman. She's a lady, and now she's sopping wet. Her hair that she has spent all of this time getting so pretty in the morning, her make up, and she's in a room full of men. Let's start there. Let's go from there, and see what we come up with. You know what I mean? And all of this stuff that she's been sitting on, and having to put up with from the moment she walked through that door. They thought she was a janitor! Or the cleaning lady, or whatever. So all of those days of taking that, how many times did she run back and forth to that bathroom? And today was the rainy day. Today was NOT the day! [Laughs] So, you start from there. I already did my research. I know where she is. So you just jump in, and you commit to it.

Kevin Costner, meanwhile, says that the scene only works because the rest of the movie properly builds to the release of the tension. We repeatedly see Katherine Johnson sprinting across the vast NASA campus because there isn't a bathroom for her to use that's near the room where she has to work. These are segregated times, and it's one unnecessary obstacle that Johnson needs to face, when our nation really needs her to be crunching numbers. On the scene, Costner informed me:

Finally, what we get, is this pot boils over. And she can't help herself. And Ted [Melfi] gave her a classic movie speech, which [Taraji] killed. We were all a part of pushing her buttons, and Taraji really delivered on that moment.

Kevin Costner goes on to explain why the cast actually felt a little ashamed after Taraji P. Henson wrapped work on that scene. Watch the video in full for that answer.

Hidden Figures is a must see. It's currently playing in theaters as we speak.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Having been with the site since 2011, Sean interviewed myriad directors, actors and producers, and created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.