February 14, 2017 1:55 PM EST

Pharrell Williams is a jack of all trades—performer, producer, composer. For the acclaimed film Hidden Figures, he signed on as producer and wrote the score and original music for the story of three female NASA mathematicians who changed history. In a panel interview hosted by Variety on Monday as part of the Variety and AARP Movies for Grownups Screening Series, he shared that his interest in the extraterrestrial was longstanding.

“Space, since I was child, has always intrigued me,” he said. “I asked my mom questions like, ‘What are the stars and where did they come from? What makes them come from out of nowhere? The blackness around it—how far does that go?’ And when my mom couldn’t answer those questions, those open questions actually ended up being inspiration and it would always make me admire space because it’s something that cannot be fully answered, at least in our lifetime.”

Pharrell also said it didn’t hurt that NASA had “cool spaceships and rockets and shuttles.” Beyond the space aspect of the movie, however, Pharrell also noted his support of the strong role of women—in this storyline and beyond.

“I always said I felt like it was women who would not only save this nation, but would save the world,” he said, to applause, mentioning the recent Women’s March as an example. “The crazy thing is that they’ve been trying to save it the entire time. I feel like Hidden Figures is one of those stories where it’s like, ‘see?'”

Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com.

Read More From TIME

Related Stories