'People v. O.J. Simpson' Director Reveals Why He Didn't "Talk to Anyone Living" Who Was Involved With the Case
Tackling the FX project gave helmer Anthony Hemingway a fresh opportunity "to use storytelling to connect with people" as he re-created complex moments from a trial that transfixed the world.
They say that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. If that's true, Anthony Hemingway is on permanent vacation. He has directed more than two dozen films and TV series, from ER to The Wire to Shameless to Orange Is the New Black to Underground. It's an eclectic group of projects, but every time he tackles something new, says Hemingway, he begins by finding a way to "advance progress and provide a contribution to the world." THR spoke with the veteran about his personal, passionate approach to directing, including his acclaimed work on half of the episodes of FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.
What was the most challenging thing about The People v. O.J. Simpson?
It was definitely the writing, figuring out what parts of the story to tell. There was way more than 10 hours there, so we really had to figure out the story and what our intent and purpose were. We also needed to show sensitivity toward the story because two people died. We made a decision to not talk to anyone living who had been a part of it. We knew the story we were telling and wanted to just get our grounding and foundation right.
When do you feel like you hit your stride with the limited series?
It falls between episodes three and four, both of which really represented what the show was about — balancing the tragedy and high drama and absurd comedy of the trial. It's great any time I get an opportunity to use storytelling to connect with people and make the project really relatable to those around me. Entertainment softens the blow and draws you in, but hopefully it's the story you're telling that has people walk away feeling affected by what they saw.
What would you say these episodes were really about then?
Episode three was the unraveling of certainty. Marcia Clark had so much evidence, more than she'd ever had in a double murder. For her, it seemed this [case] would be a slam dunk. Then the defense started throwing jabs at her, and I loved that we could show what happened even though Marcia didn't see it coming. It was interesting to get the opportunity to really dive deep into these characters you thought you knew. With the third episode, we really got to show how dealing with their jobs distorted the personal lives of those involved.
Some of the actors from the series praised the way you'd keep everyone loose while shooting the courtroom scenes. You played music. You had people dancing. Why?
I love fostering a happy environment in the workplace. We have enough adversity and hardship in life, so I don't want to dwell on them. Everyone loves music and a good time.
What is the thing about being a director that you appreciate the most?
It's definitely my passion to find ways I can help advance progress and provide a contribution to the world. I use these opportunities to examine my own point of view. For me, People v. O.J. Simpson was an opportunity to examine race and culture in America. And that we haven't made much progress. It gave us the chance to shine a light on the problems, ring a bell and sound the alarm, speak loudly to get people paying attention.
Two of Hemingway’s projects this season dealt with race in America: WGN America’s Underground (right) and FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson.
This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.