Some actors are known for playing certain types of roles. Dwayne Johnson plays musclebound badasses, Vince Vaughn portrays fast-talking con men with funny streaks, and Denzel Washington has made a career out of bringing dominant and commanding presences to his roles. One of the few times that he didn't play a role like that came in Dan Gilroy's Roman J. Israel Esq., and in a recent interview with CinemaBlend, Gilroy explained that this is one of the critical reasons why Washington earned his 2018 Best Actor nomination. Gilroy elaborated:
I believe, and I believe he believes as well, It's the most transformative performance of his career in the sense that he is playing something at this point in his career that he's never played before remotely a character like this. He has to literally transform himself, not just physically, but internally as well, to become something which he has never been before. And he does something which, to me, is the hallmark of all great performances, which is very quickly you forget that you're watching a movie star and you just feel like you're watching a character. And I think, I think Denzel does that to a very high degree in this film. And really, he's transformed himself in a very organic, really authentic way. And I think that's what he's being recognized for.
It's no secret that Denzel Washington has played a variety of different roles over the years in films like Crimson Tide, Remember the Titans, and Fences. All of these movies required different characters with different emotional cores, but each one possesses a similarly dominant and powerful presence that carries over from film to film. With Roman J. Israel Esq., Dan Gilroy asserts that Denzel Washington finally dove into a far more timid and less self-assured character than we have ever seen from him before.
Part of that transformation has to do with the type of character that Roman is, but another layer involves that physical transformation that Denzel Washington committed himself to for playing Roman. Not only did the 63-year-old actor gain a significant amount of weight for the film, but he also had a dental cap at the front of his mouth removed to give Roman his signature gap between his teeth. Put all that together, and this really is Denzel like we've never seen him before.