Jae C. Hong/AFP/Getty Images; FX
Jae C. Hong/AFP/Getty Images; FX
The 48-year-old actor tells E! News he actually turned down a previous offer to play O.J. prior to getting the offer for the FX megahit, but then immediately said yes when his agent called and said he was being offered a Ryan Murphy project.
"I'm at that age in my career, or experience level," Gooding tells E! News, "where I don't worry about the scripts as much anymore as I do the filmmaking team, the director. When my agents called and said Ryan Murphy wants to meet with you, I said, ‘Great! Tell him I'm in!'"
Before he started shooting, Gooding decided he did not want to meet Simpson for fear it would unfairly color his performance, but now he says he has changed his mind.
"I played him when he was at his most flamboyant and charismatic," Gooding explains. "And he's just a shell of himself now, sitting in a jail cell."
But now, if Simpson were up for it? "Yeah. I mean, now. I've finished the character. The character's locked away, so I would do it."
Simpson, who is currently serving a 33-year sentence in Nevada for numerous felonies including armed robbery and kidnapping, said last week that he was "indifferent" to Cuba's performance but hadn't yet seen the premiere.
Gooding didn't want to say whether he believes Simpson to be guilty of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, but tells E! News: "If we did our job right, people will understand how they came up with that verdict based on incompetence on many different levels. And I hope even in that statement, I hope you don't think that I think he's guilty or innocent."
As for the rest of the cast of The People v. O.J. Simpson, here's what they've told E! News about meeting their real-life counterparts:
Sterling K. Brown has not met Chris Darden. "I would love to meet him," Brown tells E! News. "I reached out a couple of times and he respectfully declined. I don't think he's necessarily eager to relive this part of his life again, but if and when he sees it I hope he's pleased with the representation and I would love to meet him."
John Travolta has not met Robert Shapiro. Shapiro said he wanted no involvement in the FX project, but asked producers to make a donation to the fund he started in his son's memory to fight addiction, which they did.
Sarah Paulson met Marcia Clark. The two met close to the end of Sarah's filming, and Sarah calls it "one of the best days of my life." "I had done so much research," Paulson tells E! News. "I really felt like I knew her and felt very close to her and protective of her. I was deeply hungry to meet her. She was so lovely and so smart and so witty and so funny. She's the real deal in terms of her humanness."
Selma Blair met Kris Jenner. "When I started this little role," Blair tells E! News, "I was just so exited to be working with Ryan. But I gained a friend that I cherish, I really do. She's a warm and generous and open and giving woman. And this was her best friend…I know Kris hopes this raises some awareness for domestic violence and by revisiting this case and Nicole."
Courtney B. Vance met Johnnie Cochran. Years ago, before Johnnie's passing in 2005. "I didn't follow the trial much when it happened, and I didn't watch old footage of him," Vance tells E! News. "I didn't want to try to imitate him."
David Schwimmer never met Robert Kardashian, who died in 2003. But Schwimmer spent hours on the phone with Kris Jenner. "She was very generous with her time," Schwimmer tells E! News. "And what really struck me was what a spiritual man he was."
For his part, Gooding's experience on the first season of American Crime Story has been so rewarding, he's already lobbying for season two, which will focus on Hurricane Katrina.
As for Gooding, the Oscar-winning actor now calls the knee-jerk decision to take on the role of O.J. an "emotional roller coaster" but ultimately very satisfying, especially since a whopping 12 million people tuned into the premiere. He's even already thrown his hat in the ring for season two of American Crime Story, which will focus on Hurricane Katrina. "I've told Ryan…I'm available!"