Denzel Washington on Crafting the Title Character of ‘Roman J. Israel Esq.’

     November 20, 2017

There’s no shortage of great Denzel Washington performances: Training Day’s unscrupulous officer, Glory’s honorable soldier, He Got Game’s remorseful father… The list goes on and on. Washington is one of few actors who feel just as natural in an action tent-pole [The Equalizer] as he does in a courtroom melodrama [Philadelphia]. There’s seemingly no limit to Washington’s range – and yet still he finds ways to stretch and surprise.

roman-j-israel-esq-posterCase in point: Roman J. Israel Esq. – a complete departure from anything the actor’s done before. Roman’s a highly skilled lawyer, a savant for memorizing cases, but he has almost no social skills and a debilitating need to say whatever’s on his mind, no matter the situation. Washington’s trademark charm and charisma is dialed back to the nth degree, replaced with nervous tics, wayward eyes and half-formed mumbles. It’s one of Washington’s finest performances – in particular, there’s a show-stopping scene where Roman, recently laid off, seeks a position with the ACLU. Washington runs the gamut from self-righteous to embittered to devastated all in the span of five-or-so minutes. Quite simply – the scene’s a master-class in acting, Washington going for the emotional ‘big’ moments without ever tipping into theatricality or affectation.

In the following interview with Denzel Washington, he discusses coming up with the character of Roman J. Israel, his impact on the final cut of the film and how he’s been influenced by the many great filmmakers he’s worked with. For the full interview, watch above.

Here’s a full list of what we discussed

  • How did Washington come up with the look for the character?
  • Did he base Roman J. Israel Esq. on any person in particular?
  • How did he come up with the many tics for the character?
  • Where on the ‘spectrum’ does Roman fall?
  • How did he influence the final cut of Roman J. Israel Esq. [Washington & director Dan Gilroy heavily re-edited the film after its Toronto premiere]
  • How has Washington’s approach to filmmaking been influenced by the directors he’s worked with?

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