Last month, we wrote about the incredibly gripping trailer for FX’s new series “The People v. O.J. Simpson: An American Crime Story.”
The miniseries will unfold in 10 episodes and represent the first installment in an anthology of American crime stories. The next one will center around Hurricane Katrina, which executive producer Ryan Murphy says “Katrina was a f—ing crime — a crime against a lot of people who didn’t have a strong voice, and we’re going to treat it as a crime. That’s what this show is all about.”
But let me not get ahead of myself. Before Katrina, FX is taking on O.J. Simpson and more specifically the racial implications of his trial in this country.
In the cover story for The Hollywood Reporter, the author notes that according to a “Washington Post poll, taken at the time of the verdict, 72 percent of whites thought Simpson was guilty, while 71 percent of African-Americans believed him innocent.”
Cuba Gooding Jr, who was raised in Los Angeles, was certainly among that latter number.
“Back then, I was just so relieved that another black man got away from the injustice that was the LAPD. I was just so relieved that they didn’t screw us over again.”
But during the monthslong process of becoming Simpson, Gooding said his views changed and he had a bit of an emotional breakdown.
“There was one day after filming that I went to my trailer and I couldn’t stop crying because I realized I never [even considered the loss] for the Goldman or Brown family.”
That’s precisely what producers hope to do with the story, tell it from all angles so that people who once held very strong convictions about Simpson’s guilt or innocence may be able to see the story from another perspective in the retelling of it.
Initially, producers planned on shying away from the racial component. But when the deaths and subsequent trials for the murders of Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown and many others took dominance over the news cycles, producer Brad Simpson said their series started to feel less and less historical.
One of the reasons Johnnie Cochran was so successful in his defense of Simpson was that he recognized the enormity of the racial component from day one.
According to HR: During the course of the eight-month criminal trial, Cochran, a longtime crusader for justice in the black community and the flashy leader of Simpson’s “dream team” of attorneys, successfully transformed the case into a referendum on race. With a jury of nine blacks, two whites and one Hispanic, he got the verdict he wanted in less than four hours of deliberation.
Courtney B. Vance, who will portray Cochran, said, “Unlike others, who got surprised by the moment and found themselves trying to catch up, Johnnie recognized that this case was absolutely about race and not about anything else, and his whole professional life to that point had been about that.”
One might think that since this trial was so consuming and ubiquitous, audiences might not be interested. But New Yorker legal writer, Jeffrey Toobin, who wrote the book for which the series is based, says that’s just not true. Having poured himself over the details of this case, Toobin said: “Much of what you thought you knew about this story is either wrong or vastly oversimplified.”
I don’t think audience engagement will be an issue. Every little tidbit that comes out about the project, from the trailer to the actors’ process is making headlines and becoming water cooler talk.
Like the bit about David Schwimmer, who plays Robert Kardashian, not wanting to be meet with the Kardashian family about his role. According to Schwimmer, that’s partially true. He told HR that he did speak to Kris Jenner, Kardashian’s ex-wife, for two hours. During that time he says he learned “how much a man of faith Robert was, how he prayed at every meal and before every big business meeting and how he was this very compassionate, generous guy. Then Schwimmer adds with a chuckle: “The producers of [Keeping Up With the Kardashians] had asked me if I wanted to talk to the daughters, too, but I didn’t feel that was necessary. And they wanted to do it on camera.”
He wasn’t the only one, Gooding had no desire to contact O.J. either. But his reason is a bit different. Since Simpson is now serving a 33-year sentence in Nevada, for felonies including kidnapping and armed robbery, Gooding recognizes that he’s likely in a different mental space these days.
“I have a lot of friends and family who are incarcerated, and I know what that jail cell does to your psyche. I didn’t want him to take me into that frame of mind,” says the actor, noting that the Simpson that he’d been cast to play was at a very different stage of his life. “He was the O.J. Simpson whom everyone loved — not just an athlete but a movie star — and in that cage, he’s a broken man. Now, if I did a movie about O.J. Simpson in jail, I would do everything I could to sit with him and get into his mindset today, but I wanted to understand who he was when this crime happened.”
“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” will premiere on Feb. 2 on FX.