The new FX series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story has people recalling where they were when Simpson led the police on a freeway chase in his Ford Bronco. That episode airs this week, but we’ve already been introduced to the key players. The series premiere ends with Marcia Clark lamenting how bad she’ll look that Simpson even escaped custody, let alone nearly escaped the state.
Sarah Paulson plays Marcia Clark, the prosecutor of the Simpson murder case. Coming up, you’ll see the media put Clark’s personal fashion on trial, and Clark argue with her team over some courtroom tactics. I got to speak with Paulson at a reception for the Television Critics Association. The People v. O.J. Simpson airs Tuesday nights at 10pm on FX.
Sarah Paulson Interview:
Marcia really thought the evidence was in her favor. Is there a certain point where she realizes she’s through the looking glass?
Sarah Paulson: “Episode seven is when O.J. tries on the glove. Marcia begs Darden not to do it and it’s Darden who introduces the glove. Marcia’s big argument is you never do anything in front of a jury that you’re not 100% sure of the outcome. Since nobody’d ever seen him put the glove on before, him putting the glove on for the first time was never going to be a good idea unless they knew for sure. A glove that has dried blood on it, has been wet and everything, leather shrinks we all know. Anyway, I don’ want to get started on that. I think Marcia could feel as the whole case was going on that the jury was not on her side and that they had already made up their minds.”
You’d played historical characters before, but is this very different to have someone who is still living?
Sarah Paulson: “Well, I did it in Game Change too. I played Bunny Yeager also but those women were not iconic. I remember talking to Jay Roach about playing Nicole Wallace because I could listen to her voice and her voice was more in the front of her head. He said, ‘You don’t have to worry about that. No one has any attachment to that sound so you can do whatever.’ With Marcia it’s very different.”
I don’t remember Marcia soundbites as well as the Johnnie Cochran bites. Did you still have to be very exact about the way she spoke and exactly what happened in the courtroom?
Sarah Paulson: “Yeah, every day before we were shooting, I was watching footage of her until the moment they said action.”
Did you learn anything from the writers or Jeffrey Toobin that you felt Marcia got wrong in her accounts, in the book she wrote?
Sarah Paulson: “No, because I could never judge who got anything right or wrong. That’s the point of the Rashomon idea is that it’s your experience. That’s the thing about memory. It’s all completely subjective to the person who’s having it. So I don’t think anyone’s memory is right or wrong. It was what they experienced but we were telling the story of the Toobin book. I’m sure there will be things that Marcia, Chris or anyone who would watch it would go, ‘I didn’t feel that way.’ I can’t focus on that.”
What was your take on the theatrics of the trial, and did Marcia participate in that?
Sarah Paulson: “No, I think to the detriment of the prosecution’s case, Marcia did not. To me, I find that personally very inspiring because Marcia had the courage of her convictions and she is a moralist and has great integrity and felt that all that needed to be done was to have the evidence in front of the jury and that should be enough. She was not like Cochran or F. Lee Bailey and she was not a fireworks kind of prosecutor. She put the evidence in front. It’s the prosecution’s job, they’ve got the burden of proof. All the defense has got to do is poke holes in it. So they had a harder job.”
Do you think they needed a Johnnie Cochran to fight Johnnie Cochran?
Sarah Paulson: “I don’t think anyone could have won this case. Not in that time. Given the climate of Los Angeles post Rodney King, given O.J.’s celebrity and fame, given some of the botched work by the Los Angeles Police Department, it’s not a winnable case.”