'I wrote the character, but Denzel really brought it to life,' writer-director Dan Gilroy tells EW

When nominations for the 90th Academy Awards were announced last week,Denzel Washington broke his own record as the most-nominated African-American actor of all time. Roman J. Israel, Esq. marks Washington’s eighth Oscar nomination for acting, and the actor is near unrecognizable as the titular lawyer, who’s dedicated the past 40 years of his life to the civil rights movement and the pursuit of justice.

In this exclusive clip from the upcoming home release, Washington, writer-director Dan Gilroy and producer Todd Black talk about how the two-time Oscar winner transformed into the combative attorney.

“I wrote the character, but Denzel really brought it to life,” Gilroy tells EW. “The physical transformation really began with Denzel acknowledging the physical toil that this person has paid for 40 years of self sacrifice.”

Those four decades have left Roman overweight from sitting behind a desk all day, and Washington gained more than 30 pounds for the role. Roman’s style hasn’t gotten much of an update either, and Washington zeroed in on the idea of Roman as a man who’s “stuck in time,” with his hair, wardrobe, and music taste all distinctly rooted in the ’70s.

Washington also decided to play the brilliant but socially awkward Roman as a person with Asperger’s syndrome, and he conducted research into the autism spectrum to help inform his performance.

“[Roman] wears thick glasses and is socially awkward,” Gilroy explains. “He tenses up when people try to hug him, or any social context. And there’s a little bit of clumsiness to the character, by nature of the fact that he’s not a very physical character. He’s much more in his head. And Denzel really embraced all of those things.”

Roman J. Israel, Esq. will be available digitally starting Tuesday, with the Blu-ray and DVD hitting shelves Feb. 13.

Roman J. Israel Esq.
  • Movie