9:00am PT by Lacey Rose
FX's 'The People v. O.J. Simpson': Why Cuba Gooding Jr. Never Reached Out to O.J.
When the actors were first hired on FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, the producers had but one request: avoid contacting the people whom you portray.
"Our official position was that we had source material [Jeffrey Toobin’s book, The Run of his Life,] and we weren’t basing it on any particular person’s point of view," executive producer Brad Simpson explains in this week's Hollywood Reporter cover story, with fellow executive producer Nina Jacobson adding, "When you’re playing a person, it’s very easy to feel that you owe a certain portrayal to them." Of course, some heeded that advice better than others.
Cuba Gooding Jr., for instance, had no plan much less any desire to contact O.J. Simpson, who's now serving a 33-year sentence in Nevada for felonies including kidnapping and armed robbery. "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," the one-time Oscar winner tells THR, 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 who everyone loved — not just an athlete, but a movie star — and in that cage, he’s a broken man," adds Gooding, who relied on Toobin's book, trial footage and extensive research. "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."
Sarah Paulson, on the other hand, couldn’t shake her hankering to meet Marcia Clark, whom she had come to feel great empathy as she prepared for and took on the role. She waited until the production was well underway and her portrayal firmly establish to send the prosecutor a note. "I just said, 'I want you to know how much I revere your mind and the sacrifices you made for your family, all while having a white hot spotlight in your face,' " says the actress, revealing that they share a mutual friend who’d relayed early on that Clark was complimentary of Paulson’s casting.
"The amount of scrutiny that Marcia had to endure based on her physical appearance was horrifying," she adds, "and I told her I thought she handled it with such grace. Then I asked if she’d be open to having dinner or a drink with me." Clark responded the same day and the two met for dinner the following night. Paulson arrived early, and watched as the woman she'd spent months portraying walked through the revolving door. "I made a squealing pig sound, and I said, 'I feel so strange right now. I’d been looking at you for so many months, I feel so star stuck.' I’m sure she thought I was absolutely out of my mind."
Over the course of their lengthy dinner, Paulson relayed how much care she believed had been taken to tell everyone’s story honestly. "I told her that I really felt that people were very concerned in wanting to honor the realities of real people," she says, "and it was not an opportunity to drag people through the mud." The women have remained in touch, though not once have they discussed whether Clark will tune in Feb. 2.