“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” forced Marcia Clark to relive one of the most difficult moments of her professional career – but more than 20 years after the verdict, she’s found peace.
Clark, now a successful author, joined Sarah Paulson – the actress who played her on “People v. O.J.” – on stage Monday in their first public appearance together. Together, they held a candid conversation about the series, sexism and life after O.J.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to heal completely from the injustice of it, the unfairness,” Clark told “People v. O.J.” executive producer Ryan Murphy, who moderated the conversation at 20th Century Fox’s Zanuck Theatre. “But I’ve come to understand it more deeply.”
Clark said the racial divide was something Los Angeles’ district attorney office was aware of, and an issue they knew would be a focal point of the O.J. Simpson murder trial from day one. “But over the years, I came to understand on an even deeper level how much that divide played a role in the trial.”
The unique aspect of having Clark and Paulson next to each other was evident throughout the chat, as both admitted how unusual it was for Paulson to discuss her motivation as Clark – with Clark sitting right next to her. And although Clark has moved on after two decades, there were moments where it was clear it’s still hard for her. (At one point, after discussing how Judge Lance Ito would change his rulings while playing to the camera, she even joked, “But I’m over it! It’s cool!”
Here are several things we learned from Clark, Paulson and Murphy as they spoke to an audience of fans and Emmy voters on Monday night.
Clark was horrified at first with the idea of an O.J. trial series.
Her first thought? “Oh God horrible, just misery, because the trial was misery. I was hoping it would fall apart because things in Hollywood do.”
The project did disappear for a time, before Murphy got involved. Given his strong track record, Clark said she realized at that point that it was getting done. She figured it would be “good, but it could be very painful. The better it is, the more it hurts to watch.”
Clark did finally start watching the show, but with a specific regimen: “I had one friend on this side, one friend on [the other] side and a great big friggin’ drink [in the middle],” she said. “It was hard, really hard.”
Ryan Murphy found it easy to cast Paulson as Marcia Clark.
Murphy recounted one of the first casting sessions for “The People v. O.J.,” which included around 50 people. (Not only was there intense interest in the limited series, but it boasted many producers). When the discussion came to casting Marcia Clark, Murphy raised his hand and made a statement: “If Sarah Paulson doesn’t play this part, I really don’t want to do this show!”
Murphy said there was a pause in the room, until FX boss John Landgraf spoke up. “Sarah Paulson it is,” Landgraf said. “On to O.J.!”
Paulson found a way to smell like 1990s-era Marcia Clark.
Paulson contacted a friend who knew Clark and found out what perfume she was wearing during the O.J. Simpson trial: Magie Noire, by Lancome. “It was one of the most terrible smelling perfumes,” said Paulson, who bought an authentic 1990s version of it off eBay. “It was real ’90s. I’d be sniffing my wrists right up until action!”
Murphy asked the actors not to meet their real-life counterpart until after shooting Episode 6.
“We didn’t get anyone’s life rights,” Murphy said, opting for historically accurate portrayals instead (which don’t require those rights). “An actress friend of mine told me, don’t meet the person you’re directing or playing until you have enough in the can.” That’s why Murphy came up with the Episode 6 rule.
After that, he had dinner with Clark, “and I loved her on sight. She was somebody I’d really want to have as a friend. O.J. did not come up one time.” At the end of dinner, he told her about the project – but she already knew.
Murphy said he invited her to watch a cut of the series in the editing bay, even offering alcohol and snacks to ease the sting. She passed at first. “She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘I don’t think I’ll be doing that. I just can’t go through it again. Which really moved me.”
Clark thought Sarah Paulson nailed her portrayal of her.
“You got so inside everything,” Clark said to Paulson. “[For] Sarah to get the emotions I was feeling… how did she get that? She didn’t talk to me. At times it was really funny, she would do something, and I would say, ‘I don’t do that.’ And my friends would go, ‘Yes, you do!'”
The fictional “People v. O.J.” dream team would console Paulson, as Clark, after an emotional take.
In the episode “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” Clark is humiliated after showing up to court with a perm hairdo. On set, the actors playing the dream team would come over to Paulson after each take to see how she was doing.
“That never happened to you?” Murphy jokingly asked Clark. Her response: “No.”
Clark also pointed to a scene in the first episode of “People v. O.J.” when the fictional Clark discovers that Johnie Cochran had joined Simpson’s legal team. “It was so right on,” she said. “I bet that really happened.” (To which Paulson noted, “and you would know!”)
Frank Micelotta/20th Century Fox Television/PictureGroup
Clark still doesn’t understand the obsession at the time with her hair.
“What was up with that? I never understood it,” Clark said. “It was wash and wear hair. I had two little boys [and was] running between work and home, like a rubber band. There wasn’t time to mess with my hair. I have straight hair. If I don’t blow it out, it’s not good.”
Added Murphy: “Where were the people talking about Robert Shapiro’s hair?”
Clark said the hair talk didn’t distract her during the trial. “I didn’t think about it, in all honesty. I heard about it, there were stories about it. I thought it was so ridiculous and irrelevant. I had my hands full on the case.”
Clark added that she was surprised that no women came to her defense at the time. “If it was me watching another woman get pilloried like that, I would say something, I’d like to think so,” she said.
Murphy said he believed that perhaps that would be different today, in the age of social media. “I think Chrissy Tiegen would be on the case today!” he quipped.
On set, Paulson named all the different wigs she used to play Clark, including “Rick James,” “Gerard,” “Winston” and “Miss Perfect.” Said Clark: “I felt so bad for you, I really did!”
Clark still thinks about Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman daily.
“There’s a reason every day that I think about them,” she said. “How old they would be today, how young they were then.”
Even on set, the actors hoped the O.J. verdict might miraculously change.
“[It was a] weird fantasy I had that if we pitched it the right way, the verdict would be different,” Paulson said, prompting a laugh from Clark.
Murphy agreed, noting the entire set felt the same way as they shot the closing arguments. Said Paulson: “They were expecting something could happen that didn’t happen before. It felt like we were there. By time of verdict episode we were all living with the whole story.”
Frank Micelotta/20th Century Fox Television/PictureGroup
Clark’s now-grown children stopped watching “People v. O.J.” after a few episodes.
“They started to, and it was too painful,” Clark said. “I think they got far enough to see things were going to get hard on me and they couldn’t do it… they didn’t read my book either.”
Shooting two shows, Sarah Paulson was exhausted, but that fueled her characters.
Paulson admitted that it was rather tiring to simultaneously shoot both “American Horror Story” and “The People v. O.J.,” both for Murphy and FX. One small perk: A golf cart would shuttle her between Stage 11 and Stage 16, where the productions were housed, on the 20th Century Fox lot.
“The good news was I was playing someone who was very tired,” she said of the Marcia Clark character, who had two small children at home. “I let myself be tired… and because I was playing a heroin addict [on ‘American Horror Story] who was a ghost, I felt I could do the only thing I knew to do at that time, which was to let it go.”
Clark doesn’t see herself as a feminist icon.
“I hope its raising consciousness in a general way,” Clark said of the series. “I don’t feel like an icon, I don’t think of myself as an icon. This is hopefully a benefit to all of us.”
Clark isn’t impressed with Simpson’s current incarceration.
“I’ve heard he has it pretty good in prison,” she said, including “Super Bowl parties in his cell… [but] the parole board has been turning him down, they could very well turn him down again.”
Paulson had trouble wrapping up as “Marcia Clark” the character.
“I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye,” she said. “It feels strange to be saying this, me saying goodbye to the character of Marcia [sitting right next to her.”
Murphy suggested that Paulson could reprise her role in a “Murder, She Wrote” series, now that Clark is an accomplished mystery author. His suggested title: “The Marcia Clark Mysteries.”
Clark’s successful novel writing could lead to a few new TV shows.
Among her books in development: “Blood Defense,” recently optioned by ABC Studios for a one hour drama.
Clark and Robert Kardashian bonded over a love of chocolate.
As the trial wore on, Clark said she saw Kardashian soften. And as people sent See’s Candies to the courtroom, the two of them shared a love of dark chocolate.
Clark and Paulson are quick to name their favorite curse words.
Murphy kicked off the panel joking that moderating the event was his “back door pilot in case Charlie Rose retires.” He then asked Clark and Paulson their favorite swear word, which he said was inspired by the kind of questions that “Inside the Actors Studio” host James Lipton asks.
Their answers? Paulson: “Motherfucker.” Clark: “Cunt.” Gasped Murphy: “I was not expecting that!”