8:01pm PT by Bryn Sandberg, Amber Dowling
'The People v. O.J. Simpson's' Chris Darden Talks the Glove Scene: "It Was a Power Play"
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode seven of The People v. O.J. Simpson, "Conspiracy Theories."]
When it came to the O.J. Simpson trial, there were several key factors that influenced the ultimate outcome: race, class and an ongoing battle over something more than two murders ultimately emerged as reasons why Simpson eventually got off. But none were as flashy or as mocked in the public as the integral moment when the prosecution asked Simpson to try on those gloves, which clearly didn't fit.
That key moment is examined in detail in Tuesday night's episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, "Conspiracy Theories," when prosecutor Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown) asks Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) to try on the gloves, much to Marcia Clark's (Sarah Paulson) chagrin. It was a game-changing moment in the trial, and one that eventually led Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) to coin the infamous phrase, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."
To break down that crucial scene, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Brown, who talks about how the FX series has completely changed his perspective on the trial, why he had zero qualms taking on the controversial role and his failed attempts to reach out to Darden.
How has starring in this series changed your opinion of the trial?
Twenty years ago, I unabashedly celebrated the acquittal of O.J. Simpson. With all the other black students at the time at Stanford University, we were absolutely overjoyed. And for me, it wasn't a matter of innocence or guilt — I wasn't 100 percent sure one way or the other. But for the first time I had seen played out for national consumption the criminal justice system work on the behalf of an African-American man rather than against him, and that was a very powerful image. Twenty years later, having had an opportunity to see things more from the prosecution's standpoint and having an understanding that what was [then] in the forefront of my mind was justice for African-Americans [who were the victims] of misconduct by law enforcement throughout the country, what I didn't think about [then but] what I can't help but think about now [playing] a member of the prosecution was that two people actually lost their lives — and two people lost their lives in a very brutal fashion. I don't think those people got justice at the end of the trial. So it's changed [my view] quite dramatically. When I hear about the frustrations that have been voiced by the Goldman family in particular, I understand. They lost a son, they lost a brother, and they didn't get justice. My heart goes out to them in a way that I don't think it was capable of doing 20 years ago.
How did you prepare for the role?
The first thing I did [before auditioning] was cut off my hair, and then I watched a whole bunch of YouTube. I started to see that I sort of bore a resemblance: I had a shiny bald head, he had a shiny bald head. I could grow a pretty scraggly beard, and he had a pretty scraggly beard himself. I was like, "All right, that's two for two." I went and got my rehearsal glasses out of the garage, which are basically frames with no lenses. Then I started to see myself in the role. I watched a bunch of trial footage, as much as I could find, and as many interviews as I could find of him. Then once the job actually came my way, reading Jeffrey Toobin's book, The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, and then reading Christopher Darden's book, In Contempt, was really instrumental in terms of getting an idea of how he experienced those events on a personal level. Toobin gives his perspective as an outsider, so it was very interesting to hear them talk about similar events at the same time.
And what about how you prepared specifically for tonight's episode?
I watched a couple of interviews, one specifically with him and Charlie Rose where he talked about the glove. He didn't necessarily view [his asking O.J. to try the gloves on] as a tremendous or colossal shortfall. He saw once the media picked it up and ran with it that it spiraled out of control from his own perspective. So it's interesting — it was his call, his decision that he did independently, and he did get frozen out of some meetings of the prosecution for the next couple of weeks because he was in the proverbial dog house. I think the most interesting thing about this particular episode was pulling the Jedi mind trick of not remembering that it's going to turn out to be a colossal failure and believing in that moment when I put the gloves on O.J. that confetti is going to come down from the sky and everybody is going to put me up on a pedestal and celebrate me for having won this trial with the single most damning piece of evidence against the defendant. You just have to believe it. You can't play the end of a scene until you get to the end. So it was very interesting going through that process and watching Mr. Gooding Jr. try to cram his little fingers into the glove and ham it up for the jury as if it didn't work. Darden actually talked about it on Oprah, too. He said he felt like O.J. was acting and he felt like it was obvious.
What do you think was going through Darden's mind when he thought to have O.J. try on the glove?
The way in which the writers set it up was very interesting because they set it up in such a way that the defense comes up with all of these theories — these grandiose ideas that entice and excite the jury, and it gets the jury to perk up and pay attention — and while the evidence was on the side of the prosecution, the evidence in and of itself was not necessarily sexy, and we were not necessarily maintaining the attention of the jury. So it was Darden's hope that putting the gloves on O.J., and them seeing him wear those gloves, that that would be the ace in his pocket that would get the jury to sit up, pay attention and recognize that this man killed two people. It was a power play to do something on par with what the defense was doing to pique the interest of the jury and get them back on the side of the prosecution.
Have you heard from Darden after he originally declined to meet?
No, not at all. The most correspondence that I've had has been with his daughter via Twitter. Her name is Janae. She's been watching the show, and she blogs about it. It's very interesting to get her two cents on what her experience was as a 15-year-old girl when this trial was going on. But no, I haven't hear from Mr. Darden and I don't think that I necessarily will and I'm OK with that. I've made my peace with it. I think there was initially a part of me watching Sarah and Marcia have the opportunity to develop a relationship and a bit of a friendship, thinking that that might be something in the cards for me as well, but different strokes for different folks. And after walking through his shoes for a little bit, I can see how he's just not interested in reliving this particular episode of his life.
How would you describe the relationship between Darden and Johnnie Cochran?
I think it began as a mentor-mentee relationship. Johnny Cochran was a very well-respected lawyer in the Los Angeles community at large — and in particular in the African-American legal community — so any lawyer coming up after him saw him as a mentor. [Cochran] had been in the D.A.'s office and now he was in private practice, so he knew both sides and had information to share with people coming up on either side. [Darden] respected Johnnie a great deal. As the trial went on, especially when Johnnie started making accusations about him only being a part of the prosecution because he was African-American and discrediting him for being there on his own merit, he was deeply hurt and wounded. One of the things that he actually discusses in his book was the public animosity that was played out between him and Johnnie — because it did get very antagonistic, and that was one of his great regrets of the trial. He wished he would have conducted himself better and not allowed [Cochran] to get underneath his proverbial skin so easily.
What about in terms of his relationship Marcia Clark? What was fact and what was fiction?
These people care about each other tremendously. I think both of them will say that no one else can really understand what it was like to be a part of that prosecution and go through what they went through except for the two of them. Speaking with Marcia one time, she said that she could not have made it through that process without Darden, that he was her rock. It's very interesting to see how passionate she was about what a great lawyer he was, why she brought him on to the prosecution, that it wasn't about optics or anything like that. There's respect, there's admiration, there's affection. They have ties to the Bay Area and it's true that they would take trips up to the Bay Area together in the midst of the trial just to take a break from all the madness that was happening around them in Los Angeles. With regards to if they had anything that went beyond platonic, no one has ever confirmed or denied that. I think Oprah Winfrey asked [Darden] point blank in her interview, "Did you have sex?" And he sort of blushed, which is difficult for a man with that much melanin to do. But he was actually able to pull off a blush, and he coyly diverted her back to his book. He says he talked about it in Chapter 15. Having read his book, after talking about all the time they spent together and how he would spend the night at her house on her couch and they'd be up all night working on the trial, he ends the chapter by saying that his mother and father taught him to be a gentleman, and a gentleman never speaks about those things in terms of kissing and telling. He leaves it hanging in the air with that, so that's all I know. (Laughs.)
Darden didn't have the best reputation in the black community. How do you think that affected him, especially given that the trial turned into an issue of race?
I think it really sort of devastated him. He is a man who prides himself on being an example in terms of being African-American. He cares so much about his community. And in Richmond, California, he is a member of one of the oldest black fraternities in the country. So when he was presented as a race traitor and sell-out and an Uncle Tom and all of these things, I think he was wounded to the core. I mean, he would receive death threats throughout the course of the trial. The fact that he was able to persevere in the face of all that is the testimony to his ability to just see something through. I believe even more so than Marcia, it's my humble opinion that outside of the victims' families, he is probably the person who is most haunted by this trial. It is my sincere hope that if and when people watch it that they will gain a new perspective on who he is as a man and that the label of race traitor and Uncle Tom was not merited. He is a man who was trying to do his job.
The producers have said that some actors didn't want to take on the role because of Darden's reputation. Did you ever have any qualms about it?
When I hear those sorts of statements, it piques my interest because as an actor, for me, you can't play somebody and judge them at the same time. I think the therapeutic part of acting is allowing myself to step into another human being's shoes. It allows me the ability to release judgment, if I had any judgment to begin with. It's an opportunity to understand rather than to stand outside and point fingers. So it wasn't something I was afraid of; it was something that enticed me that much more. Not every character that you play is going to be somebody that you like or love, but every character that you play has a story that is worth telling. If you're not the person to tell it, that's one thing. But if you don't want to tell it because you are afraid of the unpopularity of the character, I view that as a missed opportunity. So if somebody else passed on the role, I should say thank you to them because it was a dream ride for me.
Darden was also going though a lot personally, with his brother dying of AIDS. How did you work that in?
That was a part of the original storyline from talking to [writers] Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and [executive producers] Brad Simpson and Nina Jacobson. Ultimately, there were so many other things that they wanted to focus on that they had to cut that storyline out of the show, which I was personally saddened by because it was a really big part of that experience for him, the fact that the trial dragged on for such a long period of time and, from his perspective, the defense was allowed to stretch it out ad nauseum while his brother was fighting for his life. This awful, awful disease was taking him away piece by piece and he could not be there with his family in the way that he wanted to be. I feel like if we had 13 episodes, maybe it would have been something that could have been incorporated. I'm sad that it does not manifest in our retelling of the story.
What was joining a cast of this caliber like for you?
It was one of those things where Brown was acutely aware of his status as new kid on the block. He knew he was going to be playing in the matrix, so it was important to be able to show up and play ball. It wasn't one of those situations where I was showing up and, like, calling for lines or anything like that. A lot of the people can mess up. A lot of people can take their time. They've earned the right to be a little bit like, "Oh, sorry about that guys. Excuse me for being late." But when you're the new kid, you just do your job to the best of your abilities and hopefully somebody will invite you back to the big show. That was my thinking through the whole thing.