Ron Galella/WireImage; FX
Ron Galella/WireImage; FX
Whatever you're thinking about tonight's premiere of Ryan Murphy's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, suffice to say, your expectations will be shattered. Think it's all about a fun little nostalgic romp down memory lane with some silly wigs and fish-out-of-water casting? Well, think again.
Whether you lived through the O.J. Simpson trial 20 years ago or not, FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story is a stunning, breathtaking, eye-opening look at the "trial of the century," which essentially created the 24-hour news cycle, the birth of reality TV, and deeply divided a nation among those who believed Simpson to be guilty or innocent.
It's the kind of TV you can't stop thinking about, and for good reason. This 10-part miniseries delves deep into race relations in Los Angeles in the wake of Rodney King and the L.A. riots, only two years prior to the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, and the severe distrust of the LAPD, plus countless details of the murder and the investigation you either never knew, or had forgotten, which just might make you see everything in a new light.
If you have always believed O.J. to be innocent, you may finally understand why others believed him to be guilty.
If you have always believed O.J. to be guilty, you may finally understand why others believed him to be innocent.
It is powerful TV.
"Being able to see things from other people's perspectives is the key to empathy, right?" muses breakout star Sterling K. Brown, who plays co-prosecutor Chris Darden (and nails it). "Hopefully once you see the information that everybody was presented with, you can say, ‘Ah, that makes sense.'"
"Every week. My opinion changed every week," star Cuba Gooding Jr.., who plays O.J. himself, admits. "Every new script we got."
"It was incredibly illuminating to be able to understand, truly understand from a human perspective, what both the prosecution and the defense were experiencing," says David Schwimmer, who plays O.J.'s lawyer Robert Kardashian. "Race, obviously, was a huge issue. And, for me, the biggest thing was learning how much hubris played a part."
"The minimum you'll go away with," promises star John Travolta, who plays O.J.'s defense attorney Robert Shapiro, "is an understanding of why the result was why it was."
But how real is it? How true to the facts does this 10-part miniseries stay?
"This series is not a documentary," explains Jeffrey Toobin, who wrote the book on which the miniseries is based. "It is not a word-for-word recreation. But in terms of the essential truths of the events, in terms of the insights into the characters, it is brilliant and everyone will learn a lot and be entertained a lot."
Perhaps the miniseries' greatest strength is that it takes real people formerly known as caricatures—thanks in part to the media's superficial coverage of the trial in 1995--and helps you to see who they really were, something that was greatly important to Sarah Paulson as she took on Marcia Clark, who became something of a mythical laughing stock after losing the trial two decades ago. "I would love more than anything for there to be a proper holding of who she is in the world," Paulson says.
"Anyone who was around in 1995 already has strong opinions about every person in this cast of characters," explains writer Larry Karaszewski (who adapted the book with Scott Alexander). "Our main goal was to show you another side. To give a sense of the human beings. Look at what Marcia Clark had to go through, the gender issues as the only woman in this case and had to put up with all this stuff about her hair and that she was frumpy."
And what may be most surprising about The People v. O.J. Simpson is that despite this story, which is obviously ripe tabloid fodder, what with the celebrity and Kardashian angle and all, it feels grounded and important, and respectful to the victims.
"I read the first few scripts and I was blown away at how it wasn't sensationalized," Schwimmer explains. "It was just really moving and really dramatic and thrilling. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is an opportunity for us to possibly add to the conversation that's happening today.' Have things improved in the last 20 years for African Americans in this country? I think that's, for me, that was worth contributing to that conversation."
Like Schwimmer, the FX miniseries marks a return to television for John Travolta, who admits he took a long time to decide to take the role after Ryan Murphy approached him with it. It's been 40 years since he last did TV, with Welcome Back Kotter.
"I couldn't be happier [with the decision to do the role]," Travolta tells E! News. "You wouldn't believe the people I called [while deciding], but they were as good as it gets and every single one had a positive thing to say about doing it, because they all felt it was still relevant and it was still a comment on why we're where we are today in the media, the reality shows, the 24-hour news, classism, the judicial system and racism. It all held up to some degree."
Invite a friend over to watch the premiere tonight. You'll have a lot to talk about. And as the series goes on, you'll probably need a hug and a good cry.