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Why Denzel Washington's 'Roman J. Israel, Esq' Is an Allegory of Jesus' Apostles

Roman J Israel
Roman J Israel

LOS ANGELES – Denzel Washington delivers a transformative performance in his latest film role. The Oscar winner is "Roman J. Israel, Esq." in the movie with the same name, hitting American theaters on Thanksgiving Day.
Israel is an aging activist attorney, struggling to continue his fight for what's right in a world that has outpaced him. In that journey, he faces his own personal challenges and internal struggles.         

Roman is a complicated man created in the mind of the film's director Dan Gilroy, who wrote the character and story with Denzel Washington in mind.

Gilroy told CBN News, "I spent a year to write it. And had Denzel not done it, I would not have done the film."

Filmgoers meet Roman just as he learns his boss and mentor is dying.  

In an interview with CBN News, Denzel was asked if his character is a godly man.

Denzel replied, "Old Testament. He believes in the law. His faith is in the law."

"I am a godly man. Dan is a godly man. And we talked extensively about this. There is no coincidence he named him, Roman J. Israel."

"We don't want to be on the nose. But there is a spiritual aspect to it. He runs the race as far as he could take it."

Denzel and director Dan Gilroy leaned on their faith during the film's production.

Gilroy shared, "He and I would talk every morning. He would call you at three in the morning and you would start with a daily word."

"And actually, months before when we started talking about the film and meeting on a regular basis, we would start talking about the Bible, because Roman in some ways can be looked at as one of the apostles after Jesus dies. It's sort of like the man who instilled this in me is gone, where do I go with this?"

Describing how he arrived at the name for the character, Gilroy told CBN News, "Roman, I think embodies a conflict that I feel in myself and other people. I think we are always in conflict between our higher natures and our more base natures. And Roman certainly embodies that."

"So, in the name, I wanted to embody the conflict. So, Roman and Israel, historically and biblically have this sort of built-in conflict between each other, going back several millennia."    

Denzel disappears in this role, playing opposite actors Colin Farrell and Carmen Ejogo. 

He packed on the pounds and donned a wardrobe of suits from the 1970s. And Denzel didn't break character when the director yelled, "Cut!"  

Carmen Ejogo told CBN News, "It's funny, because despite all of the look – and there is a lot of look – at the end of the day, you are met with this compassionate persona that somehow finds its way through all of that stuff." 

"And he went all the way, he put a lot of weight on. There is the hair. There is the outfit. But at the core, which is maybe the point, there is somebody that is really worthy of your time and love and attention."         

When asked if faith requires activism, Denzel told CBN News, "You have to use your gifts, you know. Faith without works is nothing. So, not everybody has to be an activist." 

"A woman prophesied years and years ago that I would travel the world and preach to millions and millions of people."

"And I have traveled the world. I don't know if I am preacher, but through my work I have spoken and now I try to speak more in public. But I asked my pastor, does that mean I am supposed to be preaching. And he said, you already have a pulpit. He didn't say stay in your lane. So, try to be an agent for good. That is what I am all about now." 

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