Amidst all the attention on nostalgia television and reboots of 1990s franchises, FX made headlines this year by finding an intriguing way to revamp the most famous U.S. court case in recent memory with The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. The first installment in another anthology project from executive producer Ryan Murphy and others made us again obsessed with the fallen football player’s trial of the century and racked up enough Emmy nominations to fill a Hertz Rent-a-Car.
Some nominees spoke to journalists about the series at the Television Critics Association on Tuesday at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif. Cuba Gooding Jr., who played the Juice himself, arrived late, sporting dark shades and a wallet chain and telling the audience to “wake up, motherfuckers.” Others, like Sarah Paulson—who played she of the tightly wound curls, prosecutor Marcia Clark—also had amusing anecdotes to share about the project. Esquire included some of the best ones here.
Saying the N-word in the series didn’t come easy for everyone.
Joe Robert Cole wrote the fifth episode of the series, which includes prosecutor Chris Darden’s (Sterling K. Brown) arguments that the jury should not be able to hear detective Mark Fuhrman’s incendiary comments that include a certain racial slur—and defense attorney Johnny Cochran’s (Courtney B. Vance) eviscerating rebuttal that includes shade thrown at Darden with the exact word in question.
“It’s like he’s one-upping Darden by looking straight to camera, playing it straight to camera, breaking the fourth wall,” says John Singleton, who directed that episode. “And at the same time, he is one-upping the audience.”
However, in a later episode when Cochran gets to use the testimony, executive producer Brad Simpson says, “Courtney kept forgetting his line. And our very white, very nice script supervisor…He’d say line, and she would have to scream, scream the N-word over and over and over again.”
The standards and practices department had to be notified of this word usage.
“Ryan had a conversation very early on, a thoughtful one with Standards and Practices to say, ‘We’re going to use this word. We’re going to use it in a thoughtful way. We’re going to talk about how often we use it. But we’re not going to pretend like it doesn’t exist for this show, because it’s at the heart of this show,'” says Simpson.
The series purposely doesn’t try to give an opinion on Simpson’s guilt.
“The idea [was] how polarizing the case was between whites and blacks during the actual trial, [so] what we wanted to do was try to show the multiple perspectives and try to get under the skin,” says writer Cole. “So if you were coming from the perspective thinking he was guilty, at least if you hadn’t changed your mind or felt the other way, at least you could understand where the person, you know, who felt differently was coming from. Because we all essentially are seeing the case through a different lens based on our life experience. And so I thought that the idea was for us to try to give that 360 [view] so that we could at least come out of this understanding more where everyone was coming from regardless of which side you were on when it started.”
Cuba Gooding Jr. had a hard time recreating O.J. Simpson’s Bronco chase.
“The Bronco stuff… He was having a mental breakdown,” says Gooding, Jr. “He was going through a psychosis. I had a gun in my mouth all day for two weekends in a row, and it got to the point where… I guess I live the emotion pretty much, when I’m in it, and then I try to step away from it, being jokey, taking my pants off, whatever it takes.”
Sarah Paulson has a whole new appreciation for Marcia Clark.
“Nothing that I sort of learned about her [in my research] was jiving with what I had been led to believe or what I had gulped down myself that was fed to me,” says Paulson. “I did enter into it sort of thinking she was a particular kind of person, woman. And all of those were negatives. I didn’t really think of her as a human being, really.”
The episode number was a point of contention for the writers.
“There was a big discussion between all of us early on in the writers’ room about is it one 10-hour movie or is it 10 one-hour movies, and I think we wound up doing a little bit of both,” says executive producer and co-creator Larry Karaszewski. “But, I mean, it was very important to us to have each episode actually have its own theme, have its own statement. We thought there were so many interesting aspects of this trial that one of the benefits of doing it as a television program as opposed to a movie was that you could really just do a deep dive and do a deep dive every week. And that’s, I think, one of the great things about having it air on traditional television where it aired once a week. It really felt like here’s a new chapter. Here’s a new aspect of this case. You could do something like the jury episode, which was really self-contained. So, for us, it was very important all along. And also I think for us, I don’t want to hog the first question, but it was a new tool that we never had. We had never written television before. We’d only written movies.”
There was almost an episode about the L.A. riots.
“At one point, we were going to open one of the episodes with a flashback to where everybody was during the L.A. riots,” says Simpson.
There were a lot of strange coincidences with the jury casting.
One of the actresses in the jury, Susan Beaubian, played O.J. Simpson’s wife in The Naked Gun, and writer D.V. DeVincentis says that “there was one woman who was on the jury who was related to somebody actually involved in the case.”
The cast and crew did watch Ezra Edelman’s documentary O.J.: Made in America, but they weren’t aware of it when they were filming.
“The thing that that was able to do that we couldn’t when you meet Cuba is when you meet O.J. in the show, he’s already a murder suspect,” says Simpson. “And so I think, especially for a lot of younger people, even though we tried to paintbrush how much he transcended race and who he was, a lot of younger people only know the sort of sad O.J. that you see now. And certainly Cuba portrayed that, I think, masterfully. But that doc really contextualized him in a way that we could never do in our TV show.”
Gooding adds that “I’ve said it a lot in interviews that I stayed neutral, but it was interesting for me to see Made in America. Those five hours really blew me away because I just watched it as, like, an infomercial of that time period. And I had forgotten how much he was loved.”
The next American Crime Story installment is about Hurricane Katrina and promises to be just as riveting.
“You will have you will have the famous people [from that disaster, like perhaps Michael Brown and Ray Nagin],” says Simpson. “You will also have the people that weren’t famous during Katrina. And I think we’re looking at it in two ways. It’s going to be tonally and thematically incredibly different. I think every year the show will change and morph based on the crime that we’re exploring. But really, it’s going to be about two things. One is just the intensity, what it was like to be there on the ground, to be in that pressure cooker; but also, thematically, the bigger crime, which is that Katrina was something that was predictable that we weren’t prepared for, even though we knew it was going to happen. And like O.J., I think it turns a lens back on America and, you know, shows some uncomfortable truths about it. But we’re just now about to get scripts in, so we’ll know who the main characters are going to be.”