Los Angeles Times: 'The People v. O.J. Simpson' cast connected with their characters

Matteo Perin dresses John Travolta for the Los Angeles Times

Matteo Perin dresses John Travolta for the Los Angeles Times

It’s the TV drama that reminded us truth can be more sensational — and eerily prescient — than fiction. 

Twenty-one years after the trial of the century, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” managed to reignite in dramatic fashion the nation’s obsession with Simpson’s trial on charges that he killed his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman — provoking Google fact-finding, countless tweets and numerous think pieces.

The Envelope gathered its stars — Cuba Gooding Jr. (playing O.J. Simpson), John Travolta (Robert Shapiro), Courtney B. Vance (Johnnie Cochran), and Sarah Paulson (Marcia Clark) — to talk about living within that strange fictional reality in the FX anthology series. 

When your agent says Ryan Murphy wants to meet with you about a TV project, what is your reaction? What sorts of questions do you ask?

John Travolta: I said no right away. We’ve seen it. We experienced it. We lived it. It’s just a guilty pleasure of some sort and I’m not interested. My manager called again and I said, “I’m really not interested. I don’t want to do this.” He said, “Would you just meet with them?” We met at a restaurant for about three hours. I was grilling them. I mean, I’ve had tragedy in my life. I just don’t like the feel of this. “Tell me what else we’re saying other than the obvious.” They said: “The birth of 24-hour news, the birth of reality shows, the race issues that are still happening.” “OK, we’re getting warm.” The first script said it all. It said these people are serious about a multi-messaged communication that has great care in the way they are telling untold truths.

Cuba Gooding Jr., who played O.J. Simpson in the series, says he had a "love-hate relationship" with the courtroom set. (Christina House / For The Times)

Sarah Paulson: I was terrified not so much of what was going to be required of me, energetically. I was just terrified I wasn’t going to be able to pull off the Marcia thing. I think when you sit down and you imagine taking on a real person that many people have an immediate, iconic image of in their mind, an assessment that has been made — and I was guilty of that myself — I thought, “God, this seems like a terrifying opportunity to fail in a way that wouldn’t be a quiet fail. This is going to be the thud heard around the world.” But because it was Ryan, who basically didn’t give me a choice, he called me and was like, “You’re doing this.” And because I had already done stuff with Ryan that, to me, seemed impossible — playing a double-headed person — I just sort of felt: “If he thinks I can do it, I’m going to trust it.”

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Rick Krusky