During a recent ride from LAX to Beverly Hills, Donna Gigliotti's driver inquired as to the reason for her visit. The veteran New York producer said she was in Los Angeles for Hidden Figures, the Oscar-nominated film she made with Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams and director Theodore Melfi, about a trio of female African-American mathematicians who helped NASA put the first men into space even while having to endure segregation and racism. The driver asked if he could shake her hand, a common reaction in the collective outpouring of goodwill for the film.
Gigliotti spoke with THR about finding the story, the reaction to the script and Donald Trump's attention span.
How did you find Margot Lee Shetterly's book proposal?
There is a book report that comes to all the producers and studios every week. Margot had just sold a 55-page proposal to Dunton Publishing, and it was on the list. It was just so obvious to me this was a movie. I don't think anybody else was bidding on it. Then we found Allison Schroeder to write the script. She had interned at Cape Canaveral in college and studied engineering. She understood the vernacular of this story.
When did you realize this movie was going to get made?
I got a call saying Octavia Spencer was crazy about the script and that she was going to be in New York. We spent two and a half hours together. Not long after, I had a meeting with Mimi Valdes, Pharrell Williams' producing partner, and mentioned the project. Next thing I knew, my assistant came running in, saying Pharrell was on the phone. He said he had to be involved. Now I had to pound away at directors.
Did you ever imagine tearing Theodore Melfi away from Spider-Man: Homecoming?
Literally within a week after reading the script, he was in my office saying this was a movie that had to be made. He said: "Please let me direct this. I'm taking myself out of the running for Spider-Man." Ted had made St. Vincent with Peter Chernin and asked if he could take the script to Chernin Entertainment. I was on a beach in East Hampton over July 4th weekend, and Jenno Topping at Chernin called to say the script was tremendous. She asked if she could show it to Elizabeth Gabler at Fox 2000, who called and said, "I have to be a part of this film."
In December, then-first lady Michelle Obama hosted a screening of Hidden Figures. Has Donald Trump asked to see it?
The run time on the film is about two hours and seven minutes. I'd be surprised if he has that kind of attention span.
Do you think the Oscars are a good place to make political statements?
If people feel the need, they should feel free to do it. I do not. I think the political statement I made was the picture.
This story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.