‘Hidden Figures’ cast remembers John Glenn as trailblazer, hero

Pharrell Williams, from left, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae attend the special screening of "Hidden Figures" at the SVA Theatre on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — John Glenn, depicted in “Hidden Figures” as a space trailblazer who also gave critical support to pioneering black women at NASA who helped him orbit the earth, was fondly remembered by the cast at the movie’s premiere.

“He’s a hero. John Glenn was always on the right side of history. During a time when these women, because of their gender and the color of their skin, were often times treated like second-class citizens, he extended his hand out, and he trusted women, and women of color, with his life,” said Janelle Monae, one of the film’s stars.

Glenn, a former Democratic U.S. Senator, died last week at the age of 95. Also a former U.S. military pilot in World War II and the Korean War, he became a national hero in 1962 when he succeeded in circling Earth.

“Hidden Figures” tells the story of a trio of African-American mathematicians, also called “computers,” at NASA in the early 1960s who helped get him there.

“Empire” star Taraji P. Henson portrays Katherine Johnson, the woman responsible for the calculations that led to Glenn’s orbit. The other mathematicians are played by Monae and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer.

Glenn was instrumental in breaking down color and gender barriers at a time when it was unpopular. For Henson, Glenn signified what America is supposed to represent.

“When he decided to shake the colored computers’ hands, he told them their lives matter. And in turn, Katherine told him his life mattered as she made it a point to get those numbers right, so he could come back home and see his family. So that’s what it’s all about. It’s about pushing, putting our differences aside, and getting to a common goal. And that’s moving humanity forward,” Henson said.

PHOTOS: Remembering the life of John Glenn

Jim Parsons, who plays astronaut Tom Stafford in the film, also hailed Glenn.

“What’s so interesting and sad and touching about him passing away right as this movie is coming out is that we are introducing three other major faces of that exact same movement,” Parsons said. “As the film shows, John Glenn was one of the people who let one of these women into the room at a time when that wasn’t being allowed.”

Glen Powell portrays the legendary astronaut in film. He wished he had the chance to meet him.

“We were attempting to try to set that meeting up. He was very ill for like the past year. So he was in Ohio, and we never got a chance to meet him,” Powell said. “But I will say that I’ve done enough research on John Glenn to truly understand the man and come to love him even more. So it’s a tragic loss, but at the same time he lived 95 amazing years. I don’t think there’s a human being on the planet that inspired more lives and more generations.”

Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, “Hidden Figures” opens in limited release on Christmas Day, before going wide on Jan. 6.

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