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In 1994, the news that football great and movie star O.J. Simpson was a suspect in the murder of his wife Nicole, and another man, Ron Goldman, shocked the world. Further, when Simpson fled in his white Bronco, driven by A.C. Cowlings, the chase was broadcast on television and captivated viewers. The ensuing trial took nearly a year, and each moment was equally startling.

People vs OJ on Fox    The new FX series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story tells the story of the Simpson case over 20 years later. Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Simpson, and John Travolta plays his defense attorney, Robert Shapiro. Sarah Paulson plays prosecutor Marcia Clark, and significant figures Johnny Cochran, Robert Kardashian and Christopher Darden are also represented by actors.

1994 was a significant year for Travolta, too. The release of Pulp Fiction jump-started his career after it had waned in the ‘80s. The world discovered Pulp Fiction in October of that year, but the journey was already beginning in May. The film won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival just as the investigation of Simpson begaJohn Travolta is in again
“It was a dichotomy because I was in the middle of Pulp Fiction resurrection,” recalled Travolta. “I had a new career. I was happy. We had just the Palme d’Or and the Cannes Film Festival. My father, who was a coach and worked with Vince Lombardi, was obsessed with the case, so I had my dad at
the sofa, watching every second of it, from the car-chase to me, and I'm in sCochran delivered the linesome sort of glory about my new hopeful part as an actor, so I would check in, but that was what I was doing at the time. I was kind of enjoying a ‘second career,’ if you will.”

The trial became a vaudevillian performance with Cochran delivering lines like, “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit.” Jurors were taken on a field trip to the Simpson estate, and the media devoured every detail on a daily basis.

“My opinion is it's where the legal system has broken down,” Travolta said. “I mean, it was more important for certain lawyers to become celebrities than it was their client. I think that's the kind-of-interesting fault of the legal and judicial system––it's inverted a little bit. Where is it written that the legal part of it has to be so center-stage? So I think it's more sad than it is anything else.”

Travolta wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to participate in a series about reliving a tragic miscarriage of justice. He was ultimately won over by the perspective the series took, under producers Ryan Murphy, Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson. They allowed Travolta a credit as producer as well, but Travolta was modest about his title.

Travolta and Schwimmer
“It took four months for me to decide to do this project,” Travolta said. “Then I was convinced that it was going to be a multi-layered message, which is what I would have hoped it would be. In order to ensure that or assure that, Ryan and Nina allowed me to have some participation––if I wanted to––in the production of it. To be honest, other than some suggestions here and there, I never needed to assert that producer card, because everybody was so excellent in their departments. I was only doing it as an insurance method to assure that the product would be going in not a sensationalist way but in a wa
Simpson had further troubley that communicated something to an audience that was enlightening, and, perhaps at the end of it, they would understand more about why the verdict ended the way it did, as opposed to chasing some rabbits that didn't matter. The things we don't know were more important.”

  Simpson has had further trouble since he was found not guilty of murder. He was found guilty of committing an armed robbery in 2007 and currently serves a jail term for it. He had already fallen out of public favor, with many believing him guilty of murder even if the jury did not. Gooding was tasked with recreating the O.J. Simpson of 1994, who made audiences laugh in the Naked Gun movies and convinced them to rent cars from Hertz.

“I had no desire to visit him in his present condition, being incarcerated, being a shell of a man,” Gooding said. “I have relatives who are incarcerated and friends, and it breaks a man's soul and spirit. At some point you start to believe whatever reality that you went in there thinking, even if it isn't the truth, so if Ryan wants to do next season as O.J. today, and he casts me again, then I'll sit with him every day and research. Until then, I knew that this portrayal in 1994 was a flamboyant, charismatic movie star/marquee athlete. I would use the research materials from that time period in his life, and I let that not only propel my research in terms of his walk, his gait, his physical appearance, but that ‘braggadocious,’ egotistical manner in which he carried himself then is what I was looking to achieve.”

Like everyone else awaiting the verdict in 1995, Gooding has an opinion about Simpson’s guilt. However, revealing that could color the experience of those watching him play Simpson during the trial.

Gooding has his own opinions  

“The question of his guilt is my own personal opinion,” Gooding said. “I don't want to have that [opinion] reflected in. . . my performance, and say, ‘Oh, yeah, but he thought he was guilty,’ or, ‘He thought he was innocent,’ so I leave that to myself. I don't think that was Ryan's intent when he tackled these 10 episodes––to sway your opinion in any way. I think people believe one thing or another, and that's not going to change.”

Simpson continues to impact the people in his life, even the actors playing him decades later. Gooding said he had a hard time shaking Simpson when it was over. “This was probably the hardest character I've ever played,” Gooding said. “It was six months of an emotional roller coaster. It took me a month or so to finish this ride, emotionally.”

Paulsen as Marcia Clark Marcia Clark thought she was trying an open-and-shut case. She was shocked to find herself on trial in the media for her style choices and her personal life.

“Having two small children and a husband who betrayed her and the public nature of all that scrutiny, she was completely ill-prepared to handle [it],” Paulson said. “It's like walking into a battle without any armor. She just didn't have the skin for it. She didn't have any of that razzle dazzle that Cochran had and they all had. She just wasn't designed as much for public life.”

As a woman in Hollywood, Paulson is sensitive to the positive and negative attention she receives in the public eye. Playing a lawyer whose focus is on the case, she had great sympathy for the treatment Clark received in 1994.

“There was a fine line between what felt like it was happening to me personally and what felt like it was happening to Marcia,” Paulson said. “She walks into the courtroom thinking her hair looks great and very quickly learns that it doesn't. I hadn't planned or thought about having any kind of particular reaction necessarily. It says, ‘Welcome, Ms. Clark, I think,’ and the audience of people [are] sort of giggling and laughing. I remember feeling my temperature change and my skin got pink and hot. It was a funny melding of my own personal feeling of humiliation and embarrassment, but fueled by all I had been carrying as holding Marcia as closely as I had been all that time leading up to that moment, so it was hard to sort of live in that. That episode in particular, she's getting pummeled left, right and center in a relentless way. That was really something she had to contend with the whole time.”

           The People vs. O.J. Simpson premieres February 2, 2016 on FX at 10et/9c

Gooding ans Simpson / Issue 177 - September 8103
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