David Schwimmer hasn’t been a regular presence in our living room since his lengthy run as Ross Geller.
That changes Feb. 2, when the former Friends actor takes a starring role as O.J. Simpson attorney and pal Robert Kardashian on the first installment of FX’s anthology series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. When he got the call from his agent, Gersh’s Leslie Siebert, about the part, he was struck not only by the subject matter but also by the project’s pedigree, which includes Ryan Murphy, of whom Schwimmer is “a huge fan,” Nina Jacobson, whom he went to temple with as a kid, Brad Simpson, and writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.
Schwimmer, like the rest of the world, tuned in for the white Bronco chase and followed the trial, which coincided with the first season of Friends, but loved the idea of taking a deeper, non-sensational dive. And given the racial tension of the post-Ferguson era, he couldn’t help but wonder how much things had changed — if things had changed — in 20 years. “That’s the most interesting question,” he says in an interview for this week’s Hollywood Reporter cover story. “Yes, it’s entertainment, but I think the show does have the potential for people to reflect on where we are — how far and how little we’ve come.”
But before signing on, Schwimmer wanted to understand who Kardashian was and what his arc would be, so he read Jeffrey Toobin’s book, Run of His Life, on which the series is based, and devoured trial coverage and interviews the late lawyer had done. “I didn’t realize the depth of his friendship and his history with O.J., so the questions for me became, ‘Why did he make the choice to stay by him? What did he believe and did those beliefs change?’ ” he says. “It began a dialogue with me and Ryan and the writers about what was Kardashian’s arc and what was his journey? Once we all figured that out, it seemed like a really interesting role.”
After signing on, the actor watched still more trial footage and spent two-plus hours on the phone with Kardashian’s ex-wife, Kris Jenner, learning about the man he’d be portraying. “I think people will be people really surprised by their assumption of who he was given his kids and the Kardashian name, and what that represents to people today,” he says. “What was most interesting to me and the hook for the whole character was how much of a man of faith he was. He prayed at every meal and before every big business meeting, and he was an incredibly compassionate and generous guy. Now, that’s not to say he didn’t own two different Rolls-Royces at different times, a black one and a white one … ”
The Kardashian daughters, then just kids, do pop up periodically in the series, though Schwimmer didn’t see any need to consult them in the preparation process as they were so young at the time. “The producers of [Keeping Up With the Kardashians] had asked me if I wanted to talk to the daughters, but I didn’t feel that was necessary,” he tells THR, adding with a laugh: “And they wanted to do it on camera.”