Denzel Washington is an award-winning actor, director, and producer with a lengthy and varied resume of projects. He’s primarily seen critical acclaim in biographical roles such as Steve Biko in “Cry Freedom,” Malcolm X in “Malcolm X,” and poet and educator Melvin B. Tolson in “The Great Debaters.” Now he is taking on the role of Roman J. Israel in the legal drama, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”
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,
Washington dishes on a role he says is unlike anything he’s ever played.
Q: The director Dan Gilroy wrote this script with you in mind. In fact, saying if you passed, he wouldn’t do the film. You’re known for having great intuition in picking your roles. What was it that attracted you to Roman J. Israel Esq.?
A: Just a good, really, unusual script. I hadn’t read anything like this. Characters like this don’t come along often. I knew Dan’s (the director) work from “Nightcrawler.” We had a two-hour meeting and I said I’m in. I wanted to find out who this guy is and what makes him tick, which led to a lot of the development of the character, and the hair, and the glasses and all of that. But not just what makes him tick. I wanted to find out why does he still have this burning passion? It was different. So different than Fences. It was so well written. I read it and knew I had to do it. So it’s no mystery why I took this role — Dan just wrote a good script. It was someplace I haven’t been before. It’s easy when it’s good
Q: The character has Asperger’s. How did you prepare for the role?
A: Well, you know, you go online and there’s all kinds of videos and I just got into that world. Just kept going and one book led to another. I did a lot of research and what they call mimicking nuerotypical behavior. Roman is brilliant but he lacks certain social skills. He’s awkward, but he’s human. That was actually motivating. Outstanding, inspiring, powerful people come in all shapes and sizes. They’re not all sexy and handsome and have their own reality show. I was inspired and I hope people are inspired by someone like Roman.
Q: Roman is a social activist. During a recent speech you addressed whether the Black community should be optimistic about making change given the state of the world right now.
A: That’s one of the things I also loved about the script. Change starts in the home. If the father is not in the home the boy will find a father in the streets. I saw it in my generation and every generation before me, and every one since. If the streets raise you, then the judge becomes your mother and prison becomes your home. I remember when I was doing the movie Malcolm X and we were doing a speech up at Columbia, we had a bunch of students from Columbia University. In between takes, we were talking about things and how tough the world is and I was like ‘With everything we’re talking about, does it make you want to give up?’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, no no, we’re gonna change it.’I was like, ‘Oh, I’m the cynic.’ So I pray that young people never lose that fire, I don’t think they will. And needless to say there’s a lot for them to work on.”