“The more we looked at that case, the more we saw it had a lot to say about things today,” says Larry Karaszewski as we chat via webcam (watch above) about his work on the TV adaptation of Jeffrey Tobin‘s bestseller “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” He, along with Scott Alexander (who joined us) shepherded this first installment of the FX anthology series “American Crime Story.” The 10-part series takes viewers inside the O.J. Simpson murder trial, which dominated the airwaves back in the mid 1990s with its lurid mixture of race, sex, and celebrity.
The duo are no strangers to true stories, having penned “Ed Wood” (1994), “The People vs. Larry Flynt” (1996), for which they won a Golden Globe, “Man on the Moon” (1999), and “Big Eyes” (2014). “Anytime we do one of our biopics, we always look for what is that bigger idea that we find fascinating, that we’re going to want to commit a year or two of our lives to,” reveals Alexander. “O.J. had so many issues on the surface and issues under the surface that we could explore in the ten hours.”
The pair praised Toobin’s bestseller, which was the basis for the show. “Jeff has a love for the weird detail that we do,” says Alexander. “There was a lot of strange, interesting material about the backstage lives of these people.” And he adds, “once these people started to come to life for us as more than those flat images we had all seen on Court TV, we became really excited about it.”
The show is led by Cuba Gooding Jr. as Simpson with his “dream team” of lawyers — John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran and David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian — facing off against Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark andSterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden. All of this cast get their turn in the spotlight. “Because we had 10 hours,” reveals Karaszewski, “we could tell it from all these different points of views, and we started discovering that people had contradictory views. We didn’t have to pick a narrative or a side: we could show it from everybody’s point-of-view.”
Alexander and Karaszewski penned five episodes of the series: the pilot, “From the Ashes of Tragedy,” which establishes the mystery surrounding O.J.’s involvement in the deaths of Nicole Simpson Brown and Ron Goldman; “The Run of His Life,” which dramatizes the infamous Bronco chase; “100% Not Guilty,” co-written with Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky, in which O.J.’s team starts to lean heavily on racism as a defense; “Manna from Heaven,” where that defense comes to fruition with the reveal of the Mark Fuhrman tapes; and “The Verdict,” in which a not guilty vote does little to clear O.J.’s name. They submitted “From the Ashes of Tragedy” for Emmy consideration.
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