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How Recreating the O.J. Simpson Murder Trial Affected the Cast and Crew of ‘American Crime Story’

How Recreating the O.J. Simpson Murder Trial Affected the Cast and Crew of 'American Crime Story'

Over the past several years, FX has become one of the preeminent cable television networks thanks to the great success of shows such as “Louie,” “American Horror Story,” “The Americans,” “Sons of Anarchy” and “Fargo.” Given the vast critical acclaim surrounding all of these shows, it’s a bit shocking to hear FX Senior Vice President of Public Relations Jon Solberg refer to “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” as “arguably the best television we’ve ever done.” Believe it or not, such was the case last night at a special screening and dinner honoring the cast and crew of the upcoming 10-hour miniseries event, which premieres February 2, 2016 on FX.

READ MORE: Watch: The Street Is Quiet…Too Quiet In New ‘American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson’ Trailer

Executive produced by “American Horror Story” masterminds Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk and created by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (“The People vs. Larry Flint,” “Big Eyes”), the true crime series goes behind the scenes of the infamous O.J. Simpson murder trial to provide an up-close-and-personal look at the proceedings from the perspective of the lawyers and O.J. himself. The event at the Paley Center for Media in New York City was attended by a handful of the show’s heavyweight cast members, including Cuba Gooding Jr., John Travolta, Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance and David Schwimmer, as well as Jeffrey Toobin, the legal analyst and author who wrote the book upon which the show is based.

For Toobin, the chance to see his research and investigative work translate to the small screen has been a surprsingly gratifying and informative experience. “One of the conventions of literary life is that if you are fortunate enough to have them make a movie or miniseries you’re supposed to be upset or disappointed like, ‘Oh, they didn’t do x, y or z.’ But I am so thrilled with this production. The production, the writers, and the timing of this story. It did not take me too long to recognize just how timely this is and how rich and complicated this story is.”

“You may think that after 20 years you remember every thing that happened, but I assure you that you didn’t,” he continued. “It is tremendously entertaining and fun, and it’s also really serious and deals with issues that are of great [importance] throughout all of American history, but especially now. […] The one image that stays in my mind when I think about this is that this is a 10-hour trailer for Black Lives Matter. This is 10 hours that tell you, at least in part, why America is the place that it is today, and that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment for a TV show. I’m privileged to have been a part of it.”

While only the series’ first two episodes were screened during the evening, they easily confirmed that Cuba Gooding Jr. has gotten perhaps the best and juiciest role of his late career. Playing O.J. with an effective combination of sorrow and hysteria, Gooding Jr. shows a new range that teeters on the edge of a nervous breakdown, particularly during the infamous car chase in Episode 2. Talking to press at the post-screening dinner, the actor revealed that he knew viewers’ personal connection to the story would do a lot of the heavy lifting in getting them on board with the show, leaving him to just focus on the emotional truth of finding the soul of O.J. 

“Tackling this character and reading these scripts, I knew that the absurdity of the events surrounding the trial were going to connect with people in such a way that all I had to do– I didn’t have to look like O.J., I don’t have to try and be him, but I have to try and be truthful to what someone in his life’s position experienced and express that experience in the truth of my emotional acting,” he said.

“I was surprised by things that I had forgotten that really actually happened, but I think in the theme of my shot was that I had an opinion on his innocence of guilt and all of the things I knew to be fact for his innocence were wrong, and all the facts I knew for his guilt were wrong,” he continued about the collision of his own thoughts of the case and the reality of it. “Even if it was just by one little slight thing, it wasn’t the full picture. I think that’s what makes this so interesting to watch. There was an incident where we’re doing the funeral scene where he kisses Nicole’s corpse, and at the lunch break I wept in my trailer. What surprised me was why I wept. I wept out of guilt because I celebrated the not guilty verdict strictly because the cops didn’t get another black guy unjustly. It hit me having kids that there were two families that were rocked by those murders and whether he did it or not, that was something I never grieved over. I couldn’t stop crying.”

To step into the shoes of Marcia Clark, the head prosecutor in the murder trial, Sarah Paulson watched dozens of YouTube videos of the actual case so that she could properly nail the cadence and body movements of her character. She even wore the same perfume that Clark wore during a pivotal day in the trial. As to why she wanted to go to such great lengths to embody her character, Paulson shared, “I didn’t enter into it thinking I wanted to debunk the myth of Marcia Clark, but I definitely felt I had to approach this [like I do any character]. Where is their heartbeat? What are they moved by? Yet when you’re playing a real person you feel an enormous responsibility of getting it right. Marcia is still alive. Those children that are in the movie are now 25 years old, and that’s their mother that’s going to be depicted. It feels a little scary.”

Even scarier is the fact Paulson was shooting “American Crime Story” and “American Horror Story: Hotel” at the same time, often switching off days between Clark and heroin junkie Sally. While the characters couldn’t be more different, Paulson said she found the similarities in them and was able to benefit from her days having a split character personality.

“They’re very much animals,” she said. “Marcia will do whatever it takes even to her own detriment and even to a sort of blinding degree [in shining a] focus on justice for these slain people. We keep forgetting that the sensational reality around this trial was so enormous that you forget two people were dead. Nicole was practically decapitated. Those children will never have a mother anymore. For all the sensationalism, what happened at the time was outrageous and people constantly lose sight of the truth. […] We’re such a product of where we are in the world, and we have so much information coming at us all the time that I don’t know how she survived it, honestly.”

“American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” premieres February 2, 2016 on FX.

READ MORE: Watch: ‘American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson’ Teaser Lets Their Voices Tell the Story

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