Sony Pictures devoted its entire session at Deadline’s 7th annual The Contenders all-day awards-season kickoff event to the new drama Roman J. Israel, Esq. which opens wide this weekend. Star Denzel Washington and writer-director Dan Gilroy joined me onstage at the DGA Theater in front of a packed crowd of Academy and key guild voters for a conversation about where Washington’s unique character came from — a socially backward activist who really has never left the spirit of the 1960s behind.

Deadline

Gilroy also talks about how he flew to NYC to convince Washington to take the part; the Oscar-winner says it was all on the page, and that is what convinced him. He also talks researching the autism spectrum and particularly Asperger’s to develop the character, who sports a serious Afro as well.

Music also plays a big part in the film, and Washington with his iPod collection of thousands of songs played a key role in which tunes would make the cut.

Check out our conversation above.