ROMAN J. ISRAEL. ESQ.
About The Film
In Roman J. Israel, Esq., writer-director Dan Gilroy teams with two-time Academy
Award winner Denzel Washington to create the portrait of a layered, complex man
whose life has been spent fighting for others' civil rights - and paid a price
for his activism. "For Roman the world is a war-zone and he's never left the
front lines. It's a blessing and a burden," he says. "Activism can take an
enormous emotional toll, but on the other side of the balance is the knowledge
that you're becoming the change you want to see in the world - that you're
making the world a better place. That's one of the key elements of the film: the
importance of believing in something and the burden that often comes with that
For Gilroy, the dual burden and blessing of belief are exemplified by a quote
from civil rights pioneer Bayard Rustin. "Roman has pictures of his heroes on
his wall, and Rustin is represented along with his quote, 'Let us be enraged
about injustice, but let us not be destroyed by it,'" Gilroy notes. "That's the
question Roman faces in the film - to what extent has he been saved or consumed
by his fight against injustice? Anyone who hears a call to do more will see
themselves in Roman."
Gilroy wrote the film on spec specifically for Washington, feeling he was the
only actor who could bring the character to life. "I wrote this movie for Denzel
because of his talent and because Denzel is a man who believes in human dignity
and the human spirit. Knowing who Denzel is in real life, he brings that part of
himself to this character."
More than simply hiring an actor for a role, Washington came on as a producer of
the film, along with Jennifer Fox and Todd Black. Washington collaborated with
Gilroy for a year before cameras rolled. During pre-production, Gilroy and
Washington would meet in a recreation of Roman's apartment set, talking about
the script, music and other aspects of Roman's life that would help Washington
create the character. After production, Washington spent two weeks in the edit
bay with Gilroy, helping to fine-tune the film.
"Writing the script on spec for Denzel was a huge leap of faith for Dan," says
Fox. "If Denzel said no, there'd have been no movie. No one else could play
Roman Israel. Denzel did say yes, Dan's bet paid off, and Dan and Denzel formed
an incredible collaboration."
"Dan and I talked extensively about the spiritual aspects of his storytelling.
He's a very spiritual man, and I work at it every day as well," says Washington.
"Roman is on a spiritual journey, but he doesn't know it. Until now, he's had
only two things in his life - the law and his boss - and now his boss is gone."
With the loss of William Henry Jackson, a leading legal activist, civil rights
icon, and Roman's boss, Roman begins a crisis of conscience that leads to a loss
of faith in everything he's held important until now - and after a tragic
mistake, he comes around to finding that faith again. "There's a reason that the
first and last lines of the movie are the same," says Fox. "Roman makes a
complete arc in this film - a fall from grace, and a return to faith."
Well-known as the screenwriter of Hollywood spectacles like Kong: Skull Island
and The Bourne Legacy, Gilroy made his directorial debut in 2014 with a very
different kind of film - Nightcrawler - which earned him an Academy Award
nomination for Best Original Screenplay. "I can write spectacle-driven,
entertaining films, but what I learned, coming off Nightcrawler is that
audiences love to watch something character-based," says Gilroy. "Audiences are
hungry for a story that resonates in real life, that's relevant."
That is what inspired Gilroy to create the character Roman J. Israel, whose life
mission has been to wield the law on behalf of the disenfranchised. "The name of
the character was one of the building blocks of the story - of a man in conflict
with himself," says Gilroy. "The Esquire at the end of his name is of great
importance to him. It's a mark of distinction which, as Roman says, is in the
same realm as knight. As for the J., it's emblematic of his idiosyncratic
Gilroy took his screenplay to Jennifer Fox, who also produced Nightcrawler.
"Both Nightcrawler and Roman J. Israel have elements in common - they are
opposite sides of the same coin, outsiders who don't conform, both incapable of
navigating the world. Though the films have some obvious differences -
Nightcrawler had a level of cynicism that Roman J. Israel does not - they are
both criticisms of a system, led by characters who battle the system every step
of the way," says Fox. "Roman pays a great price for that battle - his belief
that justice and mercy cannot be divorced nearly wrecks him."
Gilroy heavily researched the legal profession, in particular civil rights and
activist attorneys. He found an overburdened justice system in which the
housing of inmates has been privatized and monetized, and one which
disproportionately affects African-Americans. "The criminal courts and prisons
are wildly out of balance and greatly in need of reform," he says.
"When you go to a courthouse or a prison, you see people struggling to prove
their worth, to prove their story - not even necessarily their innocence; they
just want their story to be heard," says Todd Black. He says that many lawyers
in the system don't hear that, because they take a more clinical view of their
cases. "They're cut and dry - does it fit the law or doesn't it fit the law? -
and they put zero moral value on right or wrong."
Into this world, enter Roman J. Israel, Esq., a character whose "moral compass
always points north," Black continues. "Denzel has played a lot of morally
corrupt people and a lot of morally right people, but this character is like no
one he's ever played before."
Next Production Note Section
Home | Theaters | Video | TV
Your Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome.
© 2018 80®, All Rights Reserved.