10:44pm PT by Michael O'Connell
'People v. O.J. Simpson' Cast Reunites to Talk Finale, Verdict, Prosecution Romance
With one day to go before the series finale, 12 cast members and creatives behind FX's The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story gathered for an early screening in downtown Los Angeles on Monday night. Both a plug for the true crime's swan song and an event for Emmy voters, the ensuing panel discussion offered nearly all the big names associated with the project a chance to share their take on the trial of the century and its TV interpretation.
"There's been a joke on social media the last couple of months, 'Don't spoil it! Don't spoil it!' " said co-creator Larry Karaszewski of the fact that they had been building the show towards an event that would surprise absolutely no viewers. "We've come down to the verdict. Everybody knows the verdict. What we've found, strangely enough, is that knowing what happens makes it more powerful — like United 93 or Titanic. It's a slow-motion train wreck. We've always looked at this like a tragedy for every character but [Johnny] Cochran. He comes out with a victory."
The fact that O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman will not surprise anyone. The Crime Story team instead seems intent on shedding new light to how all of the series' players weathered that verdict. "We wanted people to understand the verdict and how they got there, not agree with it or not," added executive producer Nina Jacobson. "We're more divided now than ever. We wanted to give people emotional access to both sides."
Cuba Gooding Jr., who greeted the audience by spraying a bottle of water on the first few rows as if they were in a spin class, again deflected questions about whether he played Simpson as guilty or not — and how he actually sees his alter ego.
"As you know, I obviously had an idea of his innocence or guilt before I sat down with Lord Ryan [Murphy]," said Gooding Jr., referring to the executive producer. "He told me to stay neutral. In the editing room, he would piece together my guilt or innocence in a way to keep it ambitious. I go back and forth a lot. I want to keep my opinions to myself. I want my performance in these episodes to be representative of a collective."
Sterling K. Brown, who plays prosecuting attorney Christopher Darden, was open about the fact that he celebrated the acquittal when it came down in 1995. He said that what interested him about the role was coming to the understanding that Darden was just doing his job. Darden has not been in the public the way former co-counsel Marcia Clark has been — nor has he met the actor who played him. But Brown was optimistic about how his portrayal might be perceived. "I felt like if indeed we did cross paths," he said, "I hope he could recognize a kernel of himself in this performance."
Clark, of course, is the opposite. She's been present in the media since the show's premiere and has struck up a friendship with the actress playing her, Sarah Paulson. Both Paulson and Brown were asked if they thought Clark and Darden ever got together, romantically speaking, as the series insinuated.
"Neither one of them have come out to confirm nor deny," said Paulson, as several of her co-stars cheered, "They did it!" "We're not going to present that as a fact. We have our opinions about how things might have happened."
Looking back on the run, both John Travolta (Robert Shapiro) and Courtney B. Vance (Cochran) said they took different research paths to playing their characters. Vance admitted he never even watched videos of Cochran, for fear of it "getting in his head," while Travolta noted that many people informed his portrayal of Shapiro.
"To be perfectly honest, I know people like him," he said. "There are through lines to people like Robert Shapiro. I've been around a long time. I've sat and watched lawyers, studio heads, directors and other people with idiosyncratic behavior."
One welcome non sequitur was the addition of Connie Britton. Seated at the opposite end of the stage from moderator Jeffrey Toobin and Murphy, the actress had the least amount of screen time of anyone there and a role even she seemed to admit was not among the most pivotal — but her assessment of Faye Resnick was a crowd pleaser.
"I was fortunate, because I like to keep as uninformed as possible, and I didn't really know who Faye was," Britton said of the recurring Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast member, who quickly penned the tell-all Nicole Brown Simpson: The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted in 1994. "I read her book, which is thrilling. Guys, it's not easy to come by — but if you can track it down, do it."
But for all of the humor, there were also echoes of the timely motivations for finally telling the story of the trial on TV. Producers again talked about using the framing device of the L.A. riots at the top of the first episode and the need to tell why the story is different for black and white Americans.
"I did not just say 'Yes,' " said frequent Crime Story director and executive producer Anthony Hemingway of the initial offer from Murphy. "The line Sterling has in episode nine, what he says to Marcia in terms of being a black face on the story and not being allowed a black voice.... I wanted to make sure that I was here to really contribute something, and not just here."
"The Verdict" premieres April 5, at 10 p.m. ET, on FX.