Roman J. Israel, Esq. is set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system. Denzel Washington stars as a driven, idealistic defense attorney whose life is upended when his mentor, a civil rights icon, dies. When he is recruited to join a firm led by one of the legendary man’ s former students – the ambitious lawyer George Pierce (Colin Farrell) – and begins a friendship with a young champion of equal rights (Carmen Ejogo), a turbulent series of events ensue that will put the activism that has defined Roman’s career to the test.
The Knockturnal was on the red carpet for the film’s New York premiere at the Henry R. Luce Auditorium in the Time Inc. Building. Cast Denzel Washington, Carmen Ejogo, Amanda Warren, Elisa Perry, Director Dan Gilroy, Producer Todd Black, Producer Jennifer Fox and Producer Charles King were all in attendance. Check out our exclusive red carpet interviews below:
OJ Williams: You always bring us the transformations. What was crucial for you in transforming into Roman J. Israel?
Denzel Washington: It starts with the script if you have good material. Dan Gilroy wrote a great screenplay and a wonderful character, so it’s fertile territory to find the character.
OJ Williams: In the film, there’s a scene where the young ‘uns try to school you a little bit. Why is it important for us, someone of my generation, to listen to those who are wiser?
Denzel Washington: I think it’s important to have an exchange, not just to listen. It’s good to have your opinion. It’s good to respect other opinions unless you already know everything.
OJ Williams: You always surround yourself with some of the best talent in the world. You have Carmen and Colin. What did you take away from working with them in this film?
Denzel Washington: Wow, that’s a good question. First, they’re both very talented and nice people. Decent folks.
OJ Williams: That’s a good start.
Denzel Washington: It is because we’ve all dealt with …
OJ Williams: The not so nice people.
Denzel Washington: Yeah, and I don’t care how talented you are if you’re not a decent human being … They’re good people and hard workers, so it was easy. The job was easy.
OJ Williams: Maya, she is a very fun, interesting character. What about her did you admire most?
Carmen Ejogo: I admire the fact that she’s got compassion, that she has deep empathy, that she really doesn’t judge. I think there is tolerance in her personality. I think we are living in an age where the idea of being fully accepting of people’s differences is something that not everyone is capable of doing, and I wish more of us were. I think those are the things that I respect about her.
OJ Williams: The film is so relevant for so many reasons today. What do you want people to take away after they see the film?
Carmen Ejogo: I hope the film encourages people to realize that there is value in having a fight, a good fight that you believe in and that you try to stay the course. But I think it’s also a film that appreciates and accepts the fact that we all have our weak moments, and that’s okay too. I think for people to be okay in themselves, that they are just doing their best at the end of the day. Also, I hope to recognize that to be somebody that makes the effort to be in service of others. I think that’s something that is clearly what motivates Maya and Roman. I think that’s something that it would be great if people took away.
OJ Williams: Lastly, I have to ask about Denzel. How was working with him?
Carmen Ejogo: What is great about Denzel, he could very easily make you feel as though you’re a little lesser than him as an artist, but he never does that. He never did that. He really recognized that, “If you’re here standing opposite of me right now, you must have earned that spot. So let’s play, let’s have fun.”
OJ Williams: Does one get nervous when handing a script over to Denzel Washington?
Dan Gilroy: Oh yeah. Particularly because I wrote it without getting paid, and I wrote it knowing that if he didn’t do it, I wasn’t going to do the movie. I said it to him, and I got a phone call that he read it and he wanted me to come to New York. I went to New York right before he did Fences. We sat down and an hour into the lunch, he stuck his hand out and said, “Let’s do this movie.”
OJ Williams: What about the story of Roman appealed to you?
Dan Gilroy: What appealed to me is the idea of somebody who never left the 1960s, who was committed to an idealism, an activism and fighting injustice of every form and for 40 years never stopped. One of the few people who never left. Where would that person be? What would it have cost them? What would they have gained? That really interested me.
OJ Williams: What do you hope the viewer takes away?
Dan Gilroy: What I’m hoping they take away is that when you spend part of your day in service of other people, helping people, trying to change something in the betterment of our country, you’re not going to get a financial award. You’re not going to get recognition in many cases, but you will get, I think, an inner satisfaction that you’ve done something that’s maybe more relevant. I’m hoping that when people leave the theater, they take some of Roman with them, and anyway that they think it might be relevant, they apply it.
OJ Williams: You’re having a great year, just project after project. How do you pick them?
Charles D. King: I have an amazing group of colleagues and partners, Kim Roth, Poppy Hanks, some really brilliant young executives at our company as well. We get submitted so much material. We sit down with a lot of brilliant artists, and we debate. We make sure that every one of our projects really checks a couple of key issues. One is it telling a story and a point of view that’s going to uplift culture? Is it doing it in a smart and unique way? Three, are people of color at the front of it or the key drivers of the storytelling? Is there a level of excellence of the creative element of the filmmakers and the talent involved? Plus other things, but we look at all of those, and we make sure that we have a balanced slate so that we’re not only fitting one specific genre. You think about this movie, which you’ll see where it’s dramatic. It touches on real issues, but it’s also fun and light and entertaining too. That’s part of what we hope to do is have a nice portfolio and balance of movies that we’re involved in. A film like Mudbound, which is very dramatic and then something like this is a little lighter, but then we think about some of the other things we have like our television show that just got green lit in Netflix, Raising Dion. It’s the story about a 10-year-old kid who’s a superhero, so it’s action and drama, some suspense to it with a little bit of levity. Think back to those movies back in the day like ET and the stuff that. Then we’ve got this really dark dramedy, quirky comedy called Sorry To Bother You with Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson and Armie Hammer that we’re in post-prod. It was written and directed by Boots Riley. That’s going to completely turn the genre on its head too. We try to mix it up and have a nice diversified slate and do it in a really different way.
The film is now playing.