Screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski have written some of the most acclaimed biopics in cinema history: Ed Wood, The People Vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon and even the recent Big Eyes. Now they are tackling one of the most famous stories in recent history, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.
Based on the book by Jeffrey Toobin, the 10 part series begins with the discovery of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ron Goldman’s bodies. I was far from Hollywood when I remember following the O.J. trial on television, from the Bronco chase that looked like a scene from an action movie, to “if the glove don’t fit, you must acquit.” The series shows that it was even crazier than I imagined. The People v. O.J. Simpson premieres February 2 on FX.
You really capture what a circus this whole thing was from the beginning. Was there any other way?
Larry Karaszewski: “Oh, I think there’s always another way.”
Scott Alexander: “There’s always 1,000 ways.”
Larry Karaszewski: “Which is I think one of the reasons that Scott and I are good at doing these true life stories. A lot of people when they do these true life stories treat everything as manifest destiny. That’s how it happened. We take it for granted how it happened that way. We’re constantly asking that question: How did that happen? What was the minutia? What was the process? Every single decision could’ve been made 1,000 different ways. Certainly, what fascinated us about the O.J. thing, you mentioned the circus. This all happened to create a perfect storm. The birth of 24 hour media and celebrity, and that chase which brought us all to the television had you instantly involved. So the amount of craziness that kept on happening and kept on happening that you couldn’t stop watching.”
Scott Alexander: “It’s extraordinarily rare for a hugely famous person to be accused of murder. People become famous after they’re charged with murder. O.J. had been beloved for decades already. There’d never been anything like this.”
Larry Karaszewski: “Because also O.J. was the kind of celebrity that everyone thought they knew him. He was a nice guy. The idea that he committed murder was mind-blowing to most of America. How could O.J. have done it?”
Scott Alexander: “It was important to us to put the audience back in the ‘what did people think of O.J. before the trial’ mode. Now he’s that chunky guy sitting in a Nevada jail eating too many oatmeal cookies. Back then, he was just this good looking heroic sports hero/TV actor/movie star/pitch man. He was one of the first black pitchmen for a major corporation which is a big deal.”
Was this among the more morbid research you had to do, like the exact position of Nicole’s body?
Scott Alexander: “Stuff like that, we just typed that Ron and Nicole were lying on the stairs outside the condo.”
Larry Karaszewski: “It was also very important to us all the time, because we tend to write a little heightened, a little satiric, to be also aware that this is actually at the end of the day about the murder of two innocent people. You would never try to treat that with any lightness.”
Scott Alexander: “We always had to tread very carefully around Ron and Nicole just to be properly respectful. Certainly they had friends. Nicole had Faye Resnick running around like a looney bird saying inappropriate things about her. We were trying to be respectful. In later episodes, we use Fred Goldman as the very sincere, very outraged voice of reason and voice of the victims.”
Do you wish you’d had 10 episodes to do Larry Flynt or Andy Kaufman?
Scott Alexander: “Oh wow, that’s a great question. I don’t know if Andy could’ve sustained it. We probably could’ve gotten 10 hours out of Larry.”
Larry Karaszewski: “Our original script for Larry Flynt was 180 pages. It was very, very long. That was the thing though about this particular [show]. We wouldn’t have done O.J. as a movie. O.J. as a movie would’ve just been page 10, the Bronco chase. You would’ve been hitting all those markers that we already know. What’s so fascinating about this case is just all the frigging weird directions the case takes and all the different themes that it brings up. It was one of those things, we’ve turned down every television thing that we’ve ever been offered. The second we heard about this, we’re like, ‘O.J. Simpson for 10 hours. That’s what this form was made for. We can actually tell this story properly and take that time.'”
Scott Alexander: “And we can do it in the tone that we prefer. All of our biopics have this mix of drama and sadness and comedy and weird detail. And tragedy and social commentary. O.J. had it all and everyone was very supportive in terms of us just writing the script with the tone that we felt was the way to tell the story. I think people have been surprised by that. They might’ve been expecting just a legal procedural, which this is not at all.”
Larry Karaszewski: “And also in this case, it was all those characters. Each one of those characters is completely fascinating. We sometimes joked we felt at times we were writing an early ‘70s Robert Altman movie where there’s 24 people and they all think they’re the lead of the movie. They all have their story to tell so we always treated everyone as they are the stars of their own scenes. Everyone is a lead character.”
Scott Alexander: “Shapiro thinks he’s the star and Kato thinks he’s the star.”
What don’t we know about this highly publicized case?
Scott Alexander: “Most everything. Our goal was to constantly surprise the audience with goodies and weird backstage storytelling that they’ve never heard before. Sure, everybody watched the trial because that was on TV. There was a lot of weird stuff going on backstage that nobody knew about. Just the lead-up to the Bronco chase is so nutty. Before reading the book, I never knew any of that.”
Larry Karaszewski: “We joked that for a case that’s 20 years old and was watched by so many people, our show has so many spoilers. There’s still so many things that wow, really, that happened? That’s what they were doing?”
Even the entourage holed up in O.J.’s mansion before the Bronco is insane.
Scott Alexander: “At times, it became like a Marx Brothers stateroom scene. The doorbell rang so many times. Doctors and nurses.”
Did you come in with any biases that were challenged?
Larry Karaszewski: “I think we came in with the biases everyone comes in with and I think that’s one of the big challenges of this piece is we felt that if you had preconceived notions of Marcia Clark or Chris Darden or Johnnie Cochran, that by doing all this research, we found that there were these other sides to these people. Marcia Clark, the fact that she was in the middle of a divorce, there are so many unseen things that people don’t know about these characters that we feel like if you think one thing about a character, we’re going to show you a different side.”
Scott Alexander: “Also, a lot of the in fighting among the defense team is really kind of crazy and interesting. That was kept pretty quiet at the time of the trial.”
Did it change your opinion on the verdict?
Larry Karaszewski: “It made me really understand the verdict.”
Scott Alexander: “It made us understand why the jury only deliberated for four hours and they just wanted to go home.”
Larry Karaszewski: “I think that’s the thesis of Toobin’s book. There was a phrase we used to say a lot in the beginning stages. We used to call it ‘the unraveling of certainty.’ After the first few events like the Bronco chase and all the evidence Marcia has, she just feels it’s such an open and shut case that how could things go wrong? Slowly everything they had surmised just gets picked away and proven wrong.”
Scott Alexander: “And if you take just the court directive of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’ you can see that Johnnie introduced enough so that they couldn’t cross that line.”
Are there famous moments you just have to do, like the glove?
Larry Karaszewski: “That’s what the movie would’ve been, just those famous scenes because you can’t do it without the glove. You can’t do it without the Bronco chase.”
Scott Alexander: “Yeah, we have the glove but the stuff that really makes us giddy is all the weird lead-up to the glove. The fact that they discovered credit card receipts from Nicole that led them to a Bloomingdale’s in New York City, that led them to a glove purchase years earlier. All the weird stuff that got the police and the DA to that glove in the courtroom.”
The decision to have him try it on seemed like the most foolish decision. Is there more reason to that?
Scott Alexander: “There’s a lot of fighting about that decision.”
Larry Karaszewski: “It all gets played out in a big way.”