Leave it to the lawyers to get the last word in edgewise as the “stars” of a hot new series about one of the most notorious legal wrangles of the 20th century, the O J Simpson murder trial.
There’s absolutely no shortage of drama in American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, which debuts Sunday on OSN First HD, as it details the behind-the-scenes dealings and maneuvring by both the prosecution and defence as they try to convince the jury to side with them in what was dubbed “the trial of the century”.
Critically acclaimed with healthy ratings following its US debut in February, the series went on to garner a stellar 97 per cent approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website for its “top-shelf writing, directing, and acting”.
The all-star cast here includes Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr (Jerry Maguire) as the Hall of Fame footballer, John Travolta (Pulp Fiction) as lawyer Robert Shapiro and Nathan Lane (The Producers) as lawyer F Lee Bailey in this 10-episode FX true crime anthology series based on Jeffrey Toobin's book, The Run of His Life.
Also watch for Friends alumnus David Schwimmer as lawyer Robert Kardashian, the father of Kim Kardashian and her reality TV star siblings, who appear as kids, Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story) as prosecutor Marcia Clark, and Courtney B Vance (The Closer) as high-powered black attorney Johnnie Cochran.
“This is a story about everything that obsesses the American people,” says the lawyer and author Toobin, who served as a consultant during production. “This is a story about race, sex, violence, sports, Hollywood, and the only eyewitness is a dog. This was the most famous event in American history that had never been dramatised.”
Simply stated, the facts of the case are that the on the night of June 12, 1994, the slaughtered bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson, the ex-wife of the former National Football League superstar and actor, and Ronald Goldman, were found at the entrance of Brown’s Brentwood condo in Los Angeles. O J Simpson was charged with both murders. After a nine-month trial that gripped America and beyond – a legal odyssey fraught with racial overtures – he was acquitted by a jury on October 3, 1995 at Los Angeles County Superior Court. The controversy continues to this day.
What began as an open-and-shut case against Simpson, at least on the surface, soon devolved into a bizarre spectacle in which every single piece of evidence was debunked by his defence team, leading to his shockingly unexpected acquittal. The series doesn’t ask so much whether O J did the deed, but rather, how ever did he get acquitted?
“It’s about the unraveling of certainty – you could just see it kind of slipping through the prosecution’s fingers,” says series co-writer Larry Karaszewski.
Today, Simpson, now 68, is cooling his heels in prison in Lovelock, Nevada, eight years into his 33-year-sentence for armed robbery and kidnapping, crimes which involved his former sports memorabilia, in Las Vegas in 2007.
Gooding Jr had no desire to meet with “the Juice” to help him prepare for his role.
“I had no desire to visit him in his present condition, being incarcerated, being a shell of a man,” says the 48-year-old actor. “I have friends who are incarcerated and it breaks a man’s spirit. At some point you start to believe whatever reality, even if it’s not truth. If [the network] wants to do next season about OJ today, and cast me again, then I’ll sit with him every day. But I knew that this portrayal should be of a flamboyant, charismatic movie star.”
One of the delights of the series is Schwimmer, 49, who renders a nuanced, sympathetic portrayal as the Kardashian patriarch, who passed away in 2003, and who in life was very much Simpson’s friend as well as lawyer.
“Robert was not a criminal defence lawyer, he was a business lawyer,” says Schwimmer, “so he was really only on the defence team to babysit O.J., and represent him and look out for his best interests. For me, the appeal of the role was Robert being the heart and the conscience of the whole thing. He’s the only key player who has nothing to gain from this.”
• American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson airs at 11pm on Sunday, May 29 on OSN First HD