Three African-American women who work at NASA play crucial roles in the development of the space program in the film “Hidden Figures.” In this scene, the women are just trying to get to the office. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe portray the characters in an early sequence in which their car is broken down on the side of the road. In an interview, the director Theodore Melfi spoke about how he directed his actors and how someone tried to interrupt the shoot. Here are excerpts from the conversation.

Where did you shoot the scene?

We shot it on a very lonely highway in Monroe, Ga., which is north of Atlanta. We were on a picturesque, flat road. Atlanta has a lot of those outside of the city.

What were your goals for the scene?

For me, what the scene’s doing is setting up the three characters, instantaneously, who they are and what their personalities are. You see that in each of the actors’ performances. It also sets the time. It shows you what 1961 Virginia was like. And it puts you in social context with the importance of the space race and how meaningful the astronauts were to Americans.

How long did it take to shoot?

It took us a full day to shoot the scene and then a little piece of a second day.

How did you direct the actors?

I told Taraji, playing Katherine, that she’s the one who doesn’t want any trouble. She just wants to do her work and not get into any of the “isms” of the day. I told her to stand up properly and have perfect posture. For Mary Jackson, played by Janelle Monáe, I told her that she can’t help herself when the cop asks her a question. I told her to be sharp and only be complacent when she realizes she could get others in trouble. And then Dorothy, played by Octavia, was the educator of the group. So when the cop pulls up, I wanted her to spend her time talking to the cop, educating him.

Did anything surprising happen while you were shooting?

Yeah, we had a guy, I don’t know if it was a farmer or a homeowner. But he kept walking in the middle of the road up and down screaming at us, “Get off my damn road!” He was violently angry that the police had allowed us to shoot on this road on what he called “his land.” It was very funny because it was kind of the story we were telling at the time. Life was imitating art. Here we are exercising our rights to free speech in creating a film. And here’s a man who doesn’t care.