It’s no easy task portraying an eccentric civil rights lawyer in the midst of a midlife crisis, but in the new film Roman J. Israel, Esq, Denzel Washington steps into these fictional shoes with ease.
Acting as an activist criminal defence attorney in Los Angeles, his character must grapple with his traditional values after being picked up by an up-and-coming law firm in the city.
The film, which has yet to be released in Australia, highlights the generational differences in activism, celebrating Roman Israel’s perseverance to do what is right in an ever-changing culture.
Denzel has been praised for his depiction of the savant, who falls on the autism spectrum, but his portrayal doesn’t just come down to his world-class acting skills—he also shares common values with the character.
“You have to use your gifts—faith without works is nothing,” he said to CBN’s Studio 5.
“Not everybody has to be an activist. A woman prophesied years and years ago that I would travel the world and preach to millions of people. I asked my pastor, ‘Does that mean I am supposed to be a preacher?’ He says, ‘No, you already have a pulpit’.”
His belief in using his gifts—and voice—for the good of others has rewarded the actor with a lot in his 40-plus year career. Denzel played an inspirational football coach in Remember the Titans and a civil rights activist and preacher in Malcolm X. Along the way, he has picked up three Golden Globes, two Oscars, two Academy Awards and one Tony Award.
A frequent attendee at the Church of God in Christ church in Los Angeles, he has also spoke openly about his religious upbringing as a pastor’s son, and told GQ about his first experience of God.
“That was 30 years ago, at the church I still attend. The minister was preaching, ‘Just let it go’. I said, ‘I’m going to go with it,’ and I had this tremendous physical and spiritual experience…I called my mother, and she said I was being filled with the Holy Spirit. I was like, ‘Does that mean I can never have wine again?’”
In the years since, Denzel has married and raised his family in the church, while also becoming one of Hollywood’s most respected actors.
But just as his character of Roman Israel was required to step out of his comfort zone and test his faith and values, Denzel has had to do the same thing. In fact, after his mother confronted him at age 59, he chose to give up alcohol so he can better live for God.
“I don’t drink any more. I don’t do any of those things. I’m all about the message, to the degree that I know it, and I’m unashamed to share it!” he said to Christian Post.
His faith played an integral role on set, and he prayed every day with his director, Dan Gilroy, saying, “God put us together.” Reading the Bible is also a core part of his lifestyle, and he swaps daily devotions with colleagues.
Denzel’s journey with God began decades ago, but like all of us, he is still learning and growing in his own faith every day. And considering he’s now living out the prophecy given to him all those years ago, you can’t help but think even bigger things are ahead—on and off screen—in the days to come.