Denzel Washington on why he loves his character in his newest film

Washington appears on "Popcorn With Peter Travers" to talk about playing a defense attorney who is almost a savant but, he said, "lacks social skills."
18:44 | 12/01/17

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Transcript for Denzel Washington on why he loves his character in his newest film
Civil war and Civil Disobedience the First Amendment to protect your right. To freedom of speech. As long as you don't incite violence so all law breaking and it ought to be people to get caught up in a mock big one of vandalizing gonna. I'm sorry excuse me SE too sis is standing. Why this is to stand in in a brother sitting. And we want to pick and that's where you ladies got to speak up for yourself. Since forty years ago. This team a statute of limitations on civil reading. A standard and sexist. And polite and patronizing and a lot. Hello everybody I am Peter Travers this is popcorn when we tell you what's happening at the movies. And there isn't moving now courtroom NJ is real squad starring my guess Denzel Washington and I think one of his best performances and I think that that means something because this guy's a real. Record a great performances this is like you've never seen him before so. On welcoming and thank you look like I've seen you before but Roman doesn't look like anybody that way he's different. He EE EE love Roman the FDA it's a character that I have really. Can acting look at it we were editing and you know watching it day after day I was like you know I think. And I and I felt like I'm looking at. Someone else when that. We'll described him a little. While he he's as these. Alone. M only. You'd say. But bit of so bond. Every bright. Very very accomplished with with laws and legal legalese. It's lacks social skills. That. You know slow when it comes to relationships and these on the spectrum he's out that's what I decided yet. Eat eat eat eat you got a taste of of asp as he tries to what they call me in New York typical behavior. What makes him such a fascinating character if that. He he dresses he looked the Afro the raspberry colored Philip Allen stuck in the seventies where he basically. Found his ideal. That's formed them. This was a guy who said I'm going to be a social activists in the world and everybody said well yeah you can do all that. And stay in the office and do the research but we don't wanna see you in a court rise but his ideals where the satin and to me. When I watch it I feel for Newton because we don't see that frame right. I do I like that. Well did not celebrated. Necessarily I think there's still people do in the heavy lifting Dylan the real work but that's not celebrated. As he says he's the man behind the curtain you spokesman. Well he's behind the curtain but he's also somebody who Nielsen. And when you how do you research plant some but it. You know. Have a friend of mine whose son. Who who would lose is on the spectrum and was is brilliant and and I started there. And he knows he knows what he knows what started with the law in and you know and and I asked the question why will why deal. Why he never you know had a girlfriend why why why why why why and you start answering those questions and it starts leading to. To understand in the capital a bit better. Well you know somebody and you want to exit your approach when you're playing captain like it's because this is never one is never one. That approach. I can't say all the different yet sold it's all different shoes were important. For this does this character. I wore big big shoes. On purpose to a couple of sizes to be. Because in made me feel little more awkward. Some of the research I was doing about Asperger's is that this sometimes it do their bit awkward so I was looking for Handel way into the to field. Love Walt Whitman. Was it about how somebody who is on the spectrum. Can't look somebody directly in the that's a part of it and I bet that's a part of it you know not only that and and and ID one a just rely on that and say oh it's it's old. You Asperger's but. But it was fascinating just doing the researching and and meeting the people lament. I remember when I first saw. And but this isn't like I see you it's not like you always played the same character you don't that this is a guy who. Basically doesn't have that sharpness that you do we have a different he just looks different yet stood there and who's got tremendous brain. Remember much on our legal Brit yes sure you have all yet that patent act really get much unlike a butt it's. Eight it takes some getting used to in the beginning to see it because we think. Your T steps ahead. Always when you want spring what it is and here he can be that any and also be something else characters or interest thing when they're not one mountain. And that's basically wrong. Yes and in you know I'm not looking at me so I'm I'm that. Comparing it to other meats and me because I'm not looking at myself I'm being looked at me so I'm just interpreting the role in again and head down the pat you know. Game Joseph ward wrote a rich. Script. With the rich Karen and it was fun and and fertile territory so it was it was easy job. How are you in terms of looking at you on the screen wind this is finished and you're looking at a first cut of room and why are you saying are you critical but yourself. Less so now because I've directed movies and directed movies I've been ants on the used to looking at the footage. So I stayed away from this until Dan was ready for me to look at you know but but. How come I'm used to it at them a more used to it I guess because that because I've directed them myself. Well you just finished directing yourself north exit earth it to them they acted as it relaxing when you go back to not have to yet. I have team I have to. We remind myself that that's not my job. You know that lets you know O Whitman answer just the acting yet W policy they'll have any of my thing Ella. Come and see it coming I go at yes. Who lives I've really not into that. Have to be impossible not to do that that team to not be watching everything would when she done with you know. Robert Ellsworth who's a brilliant cinematographer. And dance that they they've worked together. And between three of us that there was such trust. That I didn't have to stand Aaron union just concerned would. Will went on to make sure Adam must often. Wolf this is a long time that you've been an act. Now and how long do you think it is it's like. I started. Profession I've been an act professionally for forty years. 1977. And still learning still learning you've got to do that I don't read a statistic that just ward. When you were doing things elsewhere. And I remembered. Its dead that you were when 113. Seven episode and elsewhere of that should. Over six years yet. Well. That's normal and well not funny age did you 22 right now it now repeatedly and and it did to do. Will we were I remember every year Bruce crouch wrote rest is so was executive producer. And I'd go in at the end of the season Nancy you know should I rent ocean side by. We would never. Act and act great ratings says it should I went pollution advice it keeps winning okay. And another U 880. Why we don't know it yet if we avenue we were coming back. Heat season. That's a long time to work on something gone back to Bruce Paltrow he allowed me. To leave the show at the coast three times to do movies so I got to work with Sidney lament. While I was doing seen elsewhere I got to work with. Nome in Jerusalem. Well as the when saint elsewhere and I got to work with who to that bird. Correct freedom although all the while shooting sent elsewhere so unique unique situation that you could have bought them. Seven oh yeah we should have done. We were talking before a little bit about them. I'm very fascinated with and you are here when you talk about growing and growing up in mound for an hour. That form new house it still Wiki what ever and however you were raised. I'm an ordinary guy with an extraordinary job. And and I am proud and happy to. Been born and raised in Mount Vernon in the friendships that I had in the way I was raised the people who that was agrees with them like going back up there and you know whacky wait news for some I didn't wake me up and I'm still working at the post office in their life. You know I'm like when he knew nothing listening now back to work is post office. This didn't happen it is dig out when those you win an Oscar. And an email got to be delivered and I am Twilight Zone that your tell it like it really nice trip. But you're the sun of the preacher of impeachment. What does that a few. I mean you Mount Pleasant gentleman. He was a really gentle man he was a powerful preacher very charismatic big voice handsome guy. And church with some had to do. The blizzard like what's fun as little kid you know he had to go and go all the services and sells always look always sneak out. News in his church in his church in the manic the bathroom was in the hallway but in the hallway when outside. So applicable in the bathroom and at sneak outside the and you had to go past the front of the church in the door was open. They concedes he ran up north fly across this. And in next that couples stewardess down was the fire firehouse and is still an candy store them. So did when he caught you in them if not they never came out of it did not only be your mom might answer. It was that was I remember you saying to me once I think sometimes that was meant to beat Freije I'd I do have a platform. A poll if you will he. And I am I asked them member. A minister up of bishop that he take action B a preaches as well you purity speaking purity have your your your pulpit. So at a look at them. Do you feel that when you're making a movie a specific kind of movie that you all are reaching somebody in that way I don't. Worry about. Trying to send a message. Because. Debt it's sort of suggest that I know what people need. And I don't necessarily know what they need I know what I've been given. And values the abilities I had it to share what I know and you know people say what do you want people to get from this movie as it will depend the quality bring to it. So that's up to it it's up to you it's up to the view it's not like oh I need you to feel this way Iran doing this so that you mean I wouldn't. Presume I know what you knee. But it's it is insisting the connection between preach it. Which we all thinks of sermons and out but the best sermons basically touch you in a certain way and make you think for yourself isn't just like a performance can do and I've had actors who have been on the show said well I saw Denzel differences on mountain yet and I said I wanna do that. You never will leave movies haven't know who you touch and you never know how that's why I don't even like certain movies I've done that. Are my favorites are someone's face and you know because on non that was my favorite because a what I was in the news said that it's like oh okay. We know you do that he had favorites and monuments. I always say people say what's your favorite movie as in my next next because I'm I'm I'm interest in the process you've been. So you watch. Your Olbermann is now the kids want to watch them with you. And a how well they're growing up my youngest my oldest son John David who's who's a wonderful actor and that fact he's he's he's done on the Spike Lee movie now. He wore out glory. He watched that movie had to get him in uniform plan to give him rifle while that he really take. Yet he would sit in front of the TV and watching the wall apart do my part and Morgan Freeman and Matthews. Broderick Barton. So your taking on this on Broadway and spring. Eugene O'Neill's iceman coming thing hit in. Set a bear of a park. Good a lot of people could see so you're not afraid of any kind of trounce. The best appointed yeah I mean little it is but some people would say look. I'm I do I'm successful I have this really good career do I need to do this on stage. For. Why won't grow. I need to continue to grow as an actor and I'm getting the opportunity to work with a great director George will you. So I'm excited about that he's he's shaping. Would have a version of this. Of the play that we're going to be doing right now going for him to give it to me so I'm reading and let them. That's that that's the fun of it for me that's the challenge started in a theater. And it's my first and last low professionally done. See coming he'll always go back with all wean them movies always do no longer can. And it gives you besides the chance to grow why do you get a visceral. You get the text you get to find out that night. Every night every night nit wit yeah I love you wouldn't hate hate to the next. I remembered use it goes on Broadway and eighties and house dilemma play and I didn't want to be there. And I just was one of them funky mood that was and that night I heard it was quiet and I heard a woman's whose key news. And hit me like a ton of bricks. That comes across. So be on who take it seriously don't take it for granted and give your best. No I never forgot that it loses quiet moment. Maybe she was talking about the character maybe yeah maybe but I still got. Then I heard the that we do offenses in the in fences come out with do with with the with the baby comes with a beaten. And other war might have been the same woman. Oh yes yeah. A season it was dead quiet she's like ho demands that I'll. Of them can hang his big. Outlook on the spotlight with a play that way it's not really it. Yeah I ought not and I told Troy to carry it all access. Account that how could you. Well I guess that's the fun of tea to do. It's a lot you don't you don't know what you're gonna get and each night each audience. Is different is a collective energy that's. Differed about every every audience who who when you were growing up and wanting to do this indeed if were you inspired by. You know Joan via us you know starting in the theater I remember seeing him do Oedipus the king. At saint John the divine cathedral. And he made its entrance and just filled up the whole cathedral for seasonal side man. So I went backstage. And neck I snuck into his dressing room. And he was talking to them you know with its fans of people. And I remember seeing or buys dressing table all the rings and stuff that is way and passed on to put stuff won't. I think he solo meet this kind of let me. Hang out you know like a young actors evening that was generous yet well yeah. I kept a couple of rings. I remember how fake it were and and the clothes and house man and one day. So you've got to meet your idol. In that sense. And had that DDG keep a relationship with nobody EEE he came to see fences we defenses while the guy who created yes yes and I remember. Taking a picture and I got a copy of the picture. And house how he's not as big authority. That's what I remember ever you know when I looked at the picture because he was so big to me when I was. When I am when I saw him miles up and coming. And in this photograph that looked at it we're about the same height and I thought he was. I'm he's tall and means it is. It's that command he has of the stage he does need now. So you know how we ended solve all the time. A song we dealt with then it's okay who always saying from what were you. Would that we value less well no. For me I'll do with you if I knew it. With what are we find you have. Looking for. For fences you wanted all the way what you you can do not only did that but what would roam and be listening to. Well you know it's like 1000 he would practicing acting in the fifth grade. May excel one B. It's me me. Just want us only unhappy. This remains on them on saying growth is the answer some unwanted. You. And you know amounts may someone happy. Just make one one. We in the last line would and you will be. There it is that's what I think Jack instinct for about two seconds. And I hear myself and them. Denzel Washington. Esquire. Thank you thank you thank you great.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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