Wherever he goes and whatever he may be doing, Pharrell Williams can’t help calling attention to himself. At the start of a typical week in early December, this musician and producer was modeling in a Chanel show in Paris. By Thursday evening, he was in New York, talking to Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show” and performing “I See a Victory,” one of his new songs from the film “Hidden Figures,” with the gospel singer Kim Burrell.
That Friday morning, he and Ms. Burrell were playing that song on the “Today” show, and that afternoon, he was stretched across the couch of a suite at a luxury hotel in Midtown Manhattan.
But by the end of this itinerary, Mr. Williams was looking to shine the spotlight on “Hidden Figures”: The film, directed by Theodore Melfi, tells the story of the real-life mathematicians Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), black women who worked at NASA during the space race of the 1960s, a period of racial segregation and open bias.
“Hidden Figures” is a story of representation that Mr. Williams cares about profoundly, and he has been deeply involved in the project. In addition to writing and performing new songs for its soundtrack, he is a composer of its score (with Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch) and is also a producer of the film.
He has always been an in-demand guy — even more so since the success of songs like “Blurred Lines” (which he wrote with and produced for Robin Thicke); “Get Lucky” (which he helped write and performed on for Daft Punk); and “Happy,” the infectious global crowd-pleaser he contributed to the soundtrack of “Despicable Me 2.” These days he can have the effect of a living billboard, one who spent roughly a year drawing attention simply for wearing a Mountie-style hat designed by Vivienne Westwood.
Mr. Williams, 43, who has a gentler demeanor than his flashy showmanship might suggest (and who, at this conversation, was wearing an unassuming knit cap), said he is used to the many obligations that go hand-in-hand with the increasing opportunities coming his way.
But as he sees them, Mr. Williams said in even, enigmatic tones, the duties of producing and promoting movies do not have to feel like burdens at all; he compared them to a favorite hobby, like collecting comic books.
“Could you imagine not filing them away properly?” he asked. “Could you imagine not keeping them in a sleeve? Could you imagine skipping a step there?”
He added, “There’s no such thing as skipping a step with something you love.”
The screenplay for “Hidden Figures,” which is adapted from Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, was circulated to Mr. Williams and his producing partner, Mimi Valdés, early in the film’s life cycle, even before Mr. Melfi had signed on to direct.
Mr. Williams was drawn to a factual story that celebrated the contributions of African-Americans and, he said, was “chipping away at the pro-male narrative that’s out there right now, which needs to go.”
“There needs to be a narrative that is shared by both men and women,” he said. “The female contribution can be hid no more.”
The project had another layer of resonance for Mr. Williams, who was raised in Virginia Beach, not far from the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, where “Hidden Figures” takes place.
Growing up, he said, he had a kind of mystical reverence for the NASA facilities. “We knew the bigger questions were being answered there,” he said.
“The idea that there’s something beyond this planet that goes on forever, in any direction?” he said, his voice rising slightly. “Come on. Or the idea that our sun is just another star, and that all those stars have exoplanets around them. Right now. That was mind-blowing for me as a child.”
Mr. Williams’s new music for “Hidden Figures” includes “Runnin’,” a snappy song that accompanies Ms. Henson’s character on her lengthy cross-campus sprints to and from NASA’s segregated bathrooms, and the inspirational “I See a Victory,” which he explained in cosmological terms.
“The moon’s perspective of your situation is that it has seen how far you’ve come, and how far you’re going to go,” he said of the song. “You can see a victory if you can see beyond this moment.”
For all of his arcane talk, Mr. Williams can also be blunt when he needs to be. When it emerged at the end of December that Ms. Burrell had given a sermon in which she called gay people “perverted,” Mr. Williams responded in a Twitter post: “I condemn hate speech of any kind. There is no room in this world for any kind of prejudice. My greatest hope is for inclusion and love for all humanity in 2017 and beyond.”
Date Posted: Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017 , Total Page Views: 2295
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