Every Secret and Fascinating Fact You're Dying to Know About The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Answered
The curiosity of seeing A-list actors portray well-known figures in FX’s new series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story has been at an all-time high since pictures first leaked from the set a year ago. But once you get over seeing John Travolta go full-on Shapiro or David Schwimmer’s hair transform into Robert Kardashian’s, it’s all about the mesmerizing story of the unraveling of one of America’s most famous athletes and the trial that captivated the nation and unearthed some ugly truths about race in America.
“This story is one of the great American stories,” says lawyer, legal analyst, and author Jeffrey Toobin. It is his comprehensive book The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson that is the basis for American Crime Story. The series, which premieres tonight on FX and runs for 10 weeks, is a story about “race, sex, violence, sports, Hollywood”—and, as Toobin ironically states, “the only eyewitness [to the murders] is a dog.”
It’s natural to watch the premiere (and next nine episodes) and think, “Did that part really happen?” But, as you’ll see from the secrets and truths we’ve uncovered, most of it did. Executive producer and director Ryan Murphy went as far as to say that he’s never done a project with more legal vetting than this one: “I’m really proud that we got it right.”
But the series isn’t entirely about whether or not O.J. Simpson committed the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman (though that will no doubt still be debated). It’s about understanding how, when the evidence was so stacked against him, Simpson managed to receive a not-guilty verdict. “100 million people watched that Bronco chase and 100 million people watched the verdict,” states executive producer Brad Simpson (no relation). “It brought America together and then tore America apart. [The series is about] how do you go from a place where everyone thought he would be convicted, and then he got off?”
As the most-talked about series of 2016 gets under way, we spent countless hours with the producers, writers, and actors to uncover secrets behind the scenes and what really happened versus what was assumed. Here’s what we learned.
Producer Brad Simpson Didn’t Think John Travolta Would Do the Series: “I was dubious,” says the executive producer. “When Nina [Jacobson, executive producer] and Ryan [Murphy] told me they were having lunch with him, I actually did the thing where you go, ‘That’s great,’ and you’re smiling, but in your head, you’re going, ‘There’s no way John Travolta is going to sign on for this.'”
Ryan Murphy Was Responsible for Getting John Travolta to Say Yes: EP Nina Jacobson took old friend Travolta out to lunch in Brentwood with Ryan Murphy, and it was Murphy who helped seal the deal. “They had great chemistry,” reveals Jacobson. “Ryan is such a true fan [of his], and there was no way John could miss that. And Ryan, as a creator and as a director, has an extraordinary reputation with actors. Actors love him. He takes incredibly great care with their performances and with giving them the time they need to feel safe doing so.” Even so, Travolta took another few months before he said yes.
Why the Series Opens With the L.A. Riots: Creator and writer Scott Alexander explained that the decision to start the series with the Rodney King beating and L.A. riots was because, “at the end of the day, this is what the case is about.”
Why Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s Casting Was a “Home Run”: According to creator and writer Larry Karaszewski, “What was important to us was that in Jeffrey Toobin’s book, he uses a term that O.J.’s main job was being O.J. He was this funny, nice celebrity, so the reason people couldn’t believe he committed murder was that O.J. couldn’t do that. The great thing about Cuba is, Cuba couldn’t do that. We wanted the iconography being so perfect that people would think, ‘He’s such a good guy, how could he do that?’ as opposed to casting someone who was more an action guy. Cuba was the first person cast, and I thought that was a home run right off the bat.”
But Cuba Doesn’t Look Like O.J. the Football Player: According to creator and writer Scott Alexander, “Someone at one point said, ‘Wait, can [Cuba] play a football player?’ We went, ‘Wait a second, he won the Academy Award for playing a football player!’ So who are we to judge? One of the greatest performances in cinema history is him playing a football player [in Jerry Maguire].”
A Crazy-Awesome Cuba Idea: Alexander wanted to show Cuba as a football player so much that he actually mentioned the idea of pulling clips from Jerry Maguire, where Cuba was portraying Arizona Cardinals player Rod Tillman, and change the color of the uniform to match the one O.J. wore during his football days. “Everyone thought I was joking, but I thought it was such a good idea,” exclaims Alexander. “No one would take me seriously!” Apparently not even Cuba: When we informed him of this plan, he started cracking up and said, “Is that true? Really?! That’s awesome!”
Nathan Lane Like You’ve Never Seen Him Before: The actor shaved his head and put on a wig to play the role of defense attorney F. Lee Bailey (he appears in upcoming episodes). “You won’t even recognize him,” admits executive producer Brad Simpson.
Why Selma Blair Was Cast as Kris Jenner: Jacobson and Simpson didn’t mind casting an unknown to play Robert Kardashian’s ex-wife, but Murphy wanted “someone who’s part of the culture,” says Brad Simpson. Enter Selma Blair. “Her scenes are serious scenes,” explains Simpson. “Her friend has been killed, and you need a dramatic actress to pull that off.” (To see how ACS‘ costume designer perfectly transformed Blair into Jenner, click here for all of those details).
How the Producers Got the Original Kardashian House for the Series: Yes, having a great location manager helped (John Agoglia gets the credit), but as it turns out, the current owner rents out the property, which belonged to Robert Kardashian. “We went in, and it was actually incredibly cinematic too, the way it looks,” explains Simpson. “It had this great grand staircase, and it was a no-brainer. It was amazing.”
You Can Actually Rent O.J.’s Ford Bronco: But who would want to, right? Yes, the O.J.’s white Ford Bronco (the one that had the blood drops in it) is available to rent. “But we did not use the original Bronco,” says Simpson of the car scene in the series. “I don’t know why people would want to rent it. There are morbid people out there!”
The Original Locations Are Still Major Tourist Attractions: One of the first things producers did before shooting began was go around to all the original locations and photograph them as they look now. But as producers soon learned, time hasn’t erased the public’s fascination with the crime scene. “There are Hollywood death tours,” explains Simpson. “Here it is 20 years later, and while we were there for maybe 15 minutes, one tour van came through and at least three people took pictures.”
Producers Think Marcia Clark Will Be the Star of the Film: “I think people will have compassion for Marcia,” says Jacobson. “I [also] think people will have compassion for Chris [Darden]. Our hope is that no matter how you felt or how you end up feeling, that will you have compassion for all of them.”
Ryan Murphy Was Most Surprised by Episode 8: That episode (which even journalists haven’t seen yet) centers around the members of the Simpson jury. Explains Murphy: “The entire episode is from the perspective of the jury and how they got to this verdict. I didn’t know about any of that,” he says of the time the jury spent sequestered. “I think that’s something that people will be very interested in.”
Getting the Facts Right: “There was an endless obsession to get the facts right,” explains creator and writer Alexander. In fact, Murphy revealed that he’s never done a project with more legal vetting than American Crime Story: “Every line of every script and every cut has been gone over by at least five lawyers. I’m really proud that we did do our research and got it right.”
John Travolta’s Mesmerizing Performance: There’s no denying you can’t take your eyes off John Travolta when he appears on the screen as Robert Shapiro. “I actually couldn’t wait to work like that and perform in that voice,” says the iconic actor. “That’s the joy of acting. I try to give as much reality of Robert Shapiro as needed.”
Why Cuba Gooding Jr. Didn’t Want to Talk to O.J. Simpson Now: “I had no desire to visit O.J. in his present condition: incarcerated,” states Gooding. “[Being imprisoned] breaks a man’s soul and his spirit. If Ryan [Murphy] wanted to do a series about O.J. today, then I’d sit with him. But [the O.J. I was portraying] was a flamboyant, charismatic movie star and marquee athlete, so I let that propel my research. That braggadocios, egotistical man is what I looked at.”
Why John Travolta Is a Producer on the Series: Basically, being credited as a producer allowed Travolta to have some creative control over the project in case he felt it veered into sensationalism. Turns out, he had nothing to worry about. “I never needed to assert that producer card because everyone was so excellent in their department. I was only doing it to assure that the product wouldn’t go in a sensationalist way.”
Cuba Gooding Jr. Says Playing O.J. Was the Hardest Role Ever: “It took me a month after I finished the role to [come out of it]. I gained a lot of weight. When we started filming in March  I was in shape and tan, but by October, after being in that f–cking court room and jail cell, it took me a month to get me out of that mind set.” Look for more with Cuba Gooding, Jr. about playing O.J. coming soon on Glamour.com.
O.J. Simpson Really Did Take a Lie Detector Test: “Yes, that’s all true,” says Jacobson. “It’s from Jeffrey Toobin’s book.” And yes, he failed it miserably.
American Crime Story Isn’t About O.J.’s Guilt or Innocence: States Alexander: “After the first couple days with the Bronco chase and all that stuff, there seems to be so much evidence against O.J., and Marcia Clark is certain as ever. The story becomes how this all slipped through their fingers. It’s about how a bullet-proof case ended up losing. It lost because there was so much going on in the world and surrounding the trial, and those became all the themes of the show—the beginning of the 24-hour news cycle, the beginning of reality TV, the LAPD’s decades and decades of bad relations with blacks of Los Angeles. The difference between being a middle-class civil-service prosecutor and being an upper-class wealthy private defense attorney, and how all of these factors contributed to the verdict.”
Nicole Brown Simpson’s Open Casket: Yes, even after she was brutally murdered, there was an open casket for Nicole Brown Simpson at her funeral. “Yes, and O.J. came and kissed her,” explains Alexander. Adds creator and writer Larry Karaszewski: “We like facts, and that’s one of the reasons why we do these kinds of stories [because] truth is stranger than fiction. When you read these things and say, ‘That’s what went down? That’s what was happening?'”
Johnnie Cochran’s Clueless-Style Closet: Did Cochran really have a wardrobe closet that mimicked Cher Horowitz’s? “OK, you busted us,” jokes Alexander. “Larry [Karaszewski] and I made up the electrified clothes closet.” Adds Karaszewski: “I just think of it like the dry cleaner when I go to pick up my coat, and it takes five minutes to come around!”
The Kardashian Kids Kameos: Although it’s hilarious to see little Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe, the Kardashian sisters are only in “maybe five minutes of the entire series,” says Karaszewski. There’s a big scene in next week’s episode where Robert takes his daughters to L.A. staple Chin Chin, a local Chinese chain restaurant, and he tells his children that “fame is fleeting.” Did that really happen? According to Alexander, it was one of the few moments in the series where “We don’t know what the hell they were talking about [at that time], but it was Father’s Day, he’s a divorced dad, he had the kids that night, a Sunday night at Chin Chin, [and] you have to make up some stuff.” Furthermore, it turns out that though they shot that scene at the Chin Chin in Brentwood, “without ruining it for everyone, I think [in real life], they may have been at the Ventura Boulevard. Chin Chin [which is in the Valley],” says Alexander. That would make sense because Robert’s mansion was located in Encino—deep in the Valley.
Iconic Los Angeles Restaurants: When we first meet Robert Shapiro (played by John Travolta) having lunch at the trendy Mr. Chow restaurant in Beverly Hills, the producers actually had scripted the scene to take place at the original Spago restaurant on Sunset next to the old Tower Records location. “But that Spago is now gone,” says Alexander. “So we had to think, ‘What are other landmark restaurants from that time period that still look the same?'”
O.J.’s Tudor-Style Mansion on Rockingham: O.J. Simpson’s estate in Brentwood was torn down in the late ’90s and the address was changed by the new owner. Producers instead found a similar-looking Tudor-style mansion to use in Beverly Hills. Below is the original house from 1994.
Larry King Is the Only Person Who Plays Himself in the Series: Sure, we see actual footage of late ABC News anchor Peter Jennings and Bob Costas when the Bronco chase was happening, but Larry King was the only media personality who came back to shoot new scenes for ACS. “We actually rebuilt his 1990s set,” reveals Karaszewski. Adds Alexander, “He’s the only person who gets to do their own lines.”
Crazy “Memorabilia” From the Set: When the police head to O.J. Simpson’s house to tell him about the murders, they come upon a life-size statue of O.J. in his front yard. “When we heard that O.J. had a statue of himself in his backyard, we knew we had to include it,” says Karaszewski. “[It’s] such a symbol of his fame and his ego.” The art department on the series was responsible for creating the massive piece, but according to Kraszewski, it took a few tries to get the head right to resemble Cuba as O.J.. “One of the few bits of memorabilia we grabbed after production wrapped was one of the rejected heads, so now everyday in our office we stare at O.J./Cuba’s face.”
Where the Series Will End: We all know how the trial ends (and even what happened to everyone involved), but how will American Crime Story end? “We end with the verdict and the aftermath of the day of the verdict,” reveals Simpson. “It ends with the evening of the verdict.”
Stay tuned for plenty of additional interviews and more as The People v. O.J. Simpson: ACS continues over the next 10 weeks. Click here for where the cast was during the ’94 Bronco chase and here for how the costume designers transformed everyone into their characters.
Edie Falco on How She Got Into Acting:
Photos: FX; Getty Images