Malcolm-Jamal Warner on What It Was Like Filming the Bronco Chase and More Secrets From The People v. O.J. Simpson
After premiering to record ratings last week, all eyes were turned to episode two of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story as the infamous Bronco slow-speed chase got underway. Cuba Gooding Jr. and Malcolm-Jamal Warner spent two days filming the harrowing scene on the 710 freeway in Los Angeles. “It was surprisingly easy to do,” reveals co-creator and executive producer Larry Karaszewski. “The city worked great with us.” Adds co-creator and executive producer Scott Alexander, “They were driving up and down the freeway in circles for two days [to shoot this]. There were cameras mounted, and Malcolm was just driving in circles.”
Warner, in fact, had about a mile of freeway to use for driving back and forth. In actuality, the 710 freeway was never frequented by the Bronco on the afternoon of Friday, June 17, 1994 as Simpson and his best friend (and the Bronco’s driver), Al “A.C.” Cowlings, fled from authorities. According to records from the Los Angeles Times, Simpson reportedly made a 911 call from a cellular phone inside the Bronco (not the one with traces of blood, but Cowling’s Bronco, who had his own). Police traced the call to the Santa Ana (5) freeway in Orange County, where Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole, was buried just days earlier.
In fact, Simpson and Cowlings really did pull up to the cemetery. “But there was a crowd,” explains Alexander, “O.J. and A.C. were like, ‘OK, I guess we’ll drive away.'” It was then that the duo got back on the freeway, this time driving on the Artesia (91) freeway and then the 405, where they encountered much fan fare. According to police reports, once Simpson arrived back at his Brentwood home, it took 45 minutes for the police to issue an all-clear after taking him into custody.
The episode features plenty of stunning revelations for those who may not remember the details of the case. For one, defense attorney Robert Shapiro did hold a press conference in which Robert Kardashian read a letter from Simpson. Excerpts of the note reveal that it said, “Don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve had a great life, great friends. Please think of the real O.J. and not this lost person. Thanks for making my life special. I hope I helped yours. Peace and love. O.J.” Furthermore, the Bronco used in the chase wasn’t Simpson’s Bronco that he drove the night of the murders. The Bronco used in the chase belonged to Cowlings. “Isn’t that crazy?” says Alexander. “I love that line in this episode where Marcia actually gets confused saying, ‘Isn’t the Bronco impounded? The Bronco’s full of blood. How could it be on the 405? I don’t understand this!'”
It’s a monumental episode for Gooding and Warner, who portrays best friend (and former NFL defensive tackle) Cowlings (who turned 47 years old the day before the chase). Warner, himself 45, remembers being home folding clothes the night of the chase: “I kept thinking, ‘Where the hell are they going? Because they’re not driving fast enough to get away. They know they can’t possibly get away. So what is going on in that truck?’ That was reality TV at the beginning.”
We sat down with the former Cosby Show actor to talk about what it was like shooting those harrowing scenes with Gooding, his original audition for the role (it wasn’t for Cowlings), and what he feels Simpson knows.
Glamour: What was the audition process like?
Malcolm-Jamal Warner: I actually auditioned for the role of Chris Darden (played by Sterling K. Brown). It was a great audition. Never heard back, so I figured apparently someone else had a better audition. A few months later, I get a call from Ryan Murphy’s office offering me the A.C. role. It’s a perfect example of how it’s not always about the role you’re auditioning for. It’s about going in and bringing your A-game every time because though you may not be right for that part, there may be something else you’re right for.
Glamour: Had you worked with Cuba Gooding Jr. before, and how did you guys rehearse for the Bronco scenes?
Malcolm-Jamal: Cuba, Courtney [B. Vance; Johnnie Cochran], and I all worked on The Tuskegee Airmen together 20 years ago. So it was great for the three of us getting back together again, even though Courtney and I didn’t have any scenes together. Our running joke is that he should have been in the Bronco too!
Glamour: How did you and Cuba rehearse for the scenes in the Bronco?
Malcolm-Jamal: There wasn’t much rehearsal or prep for the freeway chase. It took two days to film, so there was a lot of footage to choose from.
Glamour: What was it like to film the car chase scene on the 710 freeway? I heard you went around and around.
Malcolm-Jamal: It was great. As an actor, you get to walk on a freeway that’s shut down for you for a whole weekend. So that part was fun. But the funny thing is, even though I know we’re shooting a TV show, and it’s take after take after take, there’s something very surreal about driving in a truck, looking in the rear-view mirror, and seeing 20 cop cars with lights flashing behind you. It’s a really unsettling feeling!
Glamour: How many cameras were in the car with you?
Malcolm-Jamal: It would vary. It took us two days to do that scene. There were cameras attached to the car, and then a truck in front of you with a camera and a crane on top of it, so it really took two full days to do it.
Glamour: How many mph were you going as you were filming?
Malcolm-Jamal: I think like 20.
Glamour: Doing that scene, it would seem like rubbing your stomach and patting your head. You have to drive, but you also have an intense gun scene going on in the back of the car.
Malcolm-Jamal: Yeah. It was cool. I guess the fun part was doing that with all of that going on, and also because that was a particular scene where we had to take creative license. No one but O.J. and A.C. knew what was going on in the car. So, for me, just the experience of, “This is my best friend. I don’t know if he’s guilty or not, but my first instinct is to be there for him.” Because they’ve been friends since eighth grade, A.C.’s first instinct was [to do as O.J. said].
Glamour: A.C. had his own Bronco, which many people didn’t realize. He looked up to O.J. so much that he wanted the same car O.J. had. Did you know that all along?
Malcolm-Jamal: I knew that all along. Because here’s the interesting thing: The research I was doing, and they had a whole lot on A.C., I was interested in that relationship. A.C. was always in O.J.’s shadow. He wanted to be O.J. Early on, there was a woman that A.C. was really digging, but he was too shy to express his feelings, so he asks O.J. to put a good word in for him. The woman turned out to be Marguerite [Whitley, who O.J. was married to from 1967-1979] O.J.’s first wife. And A.C. was still his best friend. So that kind of shows you the complexity of the whole thing.
Glamour: Having done this series now, has your take on O.J.’s guilt or innocence changed? Has your perspective changed?
Malcolm-Jamal: Not really. A.C. was not part of the trial, so I didn’t get to read any of the scripts I wasn’t in. Like everyone else who has not seen the show, I’m really anxious to see how the whole story plays out. What is really interesting to me, there’s that show, The Secret Tapes of the O.J. Case, and they released the tapes from the deposition of the civil case, and you just look at O.J. and think, “Oh my God, I think he might have done it.” Everyone who has seen the show, that’s their take on it because you just see his arrogance in the interview, his not wanting to be there. You see that arrogance. I’ve always felt that if he did not do it, he knows who did it and can’t say for whatever reason or refuses to say.
For more secrets about the filming of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, click here for our interview with the producers and writers. An all-new episode airs next Tuesday night on FX, and we’ll be talking to David Schwimmer and Sterling K. Brown about those upcoming episodes.