The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story airs its much-anticipated finale on Tuesday, ten weeks after the acclaimed miniseries from Ryan Murphy began. That’s a tiny fraction of the time that lead prosecutor Marcia Clark (played magnificently by future Emmy-winner Sarah Paulson) spent living the trial.
Clark did not participate in the making of the show but has been watching it every week, along with the rest of America. In a conversation with EW, she reflects on her memories from 21 years ago and offers her best guess on the shape that the finale will take in its closing moments.
(For TV recaps of The People v. O.J. Simpson, click here.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your fifth novel, Blood Defense, comes out next month. As a storyteller yourself, can you appreciate the novelistic quality of The People v. O.J. Simpson? It’s like a big, textured, modern Charles Dickens book.
MARCIA CLARK: I know, isn’t it amazing?
And even in the way that small characters come to the fore, like Judge Ito’s wife and an aspiring screenwriter in North Carolina, to alter the whole course of the trial. That’s a Dickens specialty.
It’s all true and the truth can be a pretty strange thing.
So this is kind of like the end of Titanic. We all know what’s going to happen, but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling.
This is a credit to the filmmaking — or I guess TV-making, though it feels like we’re watching a 10-part film — that they can create all that dramatic tension even though you know what’s going to happen. And they’ve done such a nice job of getting the dynamic right. I’ve been very impressed with that. It’s not easy to do and I didn’t really expect it. I can’t resist seeing how it’s all going to end.
Sarah Paulson has admitted that even she drank some of the proverbial Kool-Aid regarding you — that you were shrill and aggressive. Do you feel redemption?
Well, I don’t know if I would use that word. That makes me seem like a criminal. [Laughs] But I know what you mean. I will say that it’s pretty incredible to feel finally somewhat understood. That’s it. And I’m so grateful that the show has put a spotlight on the sexism aspects, which weren’t discussed that much even in the aftermath of the trial.
Let’s go back to October 2, 1995. You got word that the jury had reached a verdict after just four hours of deliberations. Did you think it was a guilty verdict?
No, not really. That night I was with [deputy district attorney] Cheri Lewis and Chris [Darden]. We got together and Chris told us that the only evidence the jury asked to have re-read was Alan Park’s testimony.
He was the limo driver?
Yes, the limo driver who drove O.J. to the airport on the night of the murders. And he was a very strong witness for us. Which, of course, made us wonder, because he was one witness that the defense couldn’t touch. They couldn’t undermine him or discredit him. And I had told the jury, “If you believe Alan Park, and no one has given you any reason not to, then you must believe that Simpson did it.” Everything comes back to that moment when Park was waiting in the driveway, waiting for Simpson, and Simpson was not answering the phone. And then he saw a figure — Simpson — walking across the driveway and into his house. Meaning Simpson was out and about. Meaning the glove was dropped by him. Meaning it was Simpson who caused the bang on Kato’s wall. Meaning everything rolled back from that point.
Did you know what part of Park’s testimony was read back?
No, just that they asked for it. But even the judge was saying, “Well, I can read the tea leaves as well as anybody. This is a great question for the jury to ask.” And for a moment I thought, “Could it possibly be?” After months of feeling like I’ve been beaten to a pulp, emotionally. It was painful and damaging to watch the jury sit back and cross their arms, disinterested, when we stood up, and then lean forward and smile when the defense stood up. And it didn’t matter who — anybody on the defense side.
And since the jurors were never shown on TV, that’s an aspect that is really new for people watching at home to experience.
That’s true, but we experienced it every day. And after watching that for months, you kind of get a feeling that things are not going well. But, yeah, after hearing that they asked for Alan Park’s testimony, I got excited. And Cheri said, “Marcia, come on. Remember how the jury acted every day?” And I realized that I didn’t know what I was thinking. And that was my crusher moment. I knew that if we had a verdict and we had one this fast, what else could it be but not guilty.
So you were braced for impact when you walked into court the next morning?
I was in a real special mood that morning, as you can imagine. Then something interesting happened. I was very surprised when I saw Johnnie [Cochran] that morning and he looked sick and upset. He came up to me and he said, “Nice case, Marcia.” And I said, “Johnnie, why are you upset? You won.” And he said, “Oh, I don’t know, Marcia, I just don’t know.” He told me he was very worried about the outcome.
Seems crazy now to think that he was having such doubts?
But remember that the pundits, the legal analysts, everybody was predicting a conviction. It was kind of a universal opinion. Which makes it even funnier to me that in the aftermath everyone picked apart the prosecution in order to find ways to justify the verdict. You know, the evidence and our performance. And I wanted to say to all those experts, “But if we’re such idiots and stumblebums, then why were you predicting a conviction?”
There’s a line in the show Broadchurch where a prosecutor says to a defense lawyer, “Some verdicts help you sleep at night. And others keep you up.”
But I’d imagine you’d consider your conscience to be a lot clearer than, for example, F. Lee Bailey’s. He’s still going around saying that O.J.’s innocent.
[Laughs] Oh, isn’t that wonderful. He’s not doing himself much credit.
The public opinion polling now on O.J., even among black Americans, shows that more than 50 percent believe he did it.
Are there any mistakes in the case you presented that still gnaw at you?
In terms of what we did — no. We gave everything thorough consideration, so I don’t have those qualms. And I don’t know if our decisions had been made any differently, if it would’ve made any difference.
You’ve been asked what you thought would happen if the same trial were held today, in 2016.
I mean, look at what we can see. Look at what’s going on. I think it would be very iffy.
What about the Mark Fuhrman situation? Was that avoidable?
I have to say, from the very beginning the defense had to knock out that glove as a piece of evidence. They had to frame up somebody and it had to be Mark Fuhrman because he found the glove. So I got all that. But it was a ridiculous defense because there was no way Fuhrman could plant it. Twenty officers were on the scene before him.
And also Fuhrman couldn’t have known that O.J. would even be home.
Right, thank you. Or even in Los Angeles. Simpson could have had an airtight alibi, in which case Fuhrman is risking his career and his life to frame … who? This civil-rights firebrand that was O.J. Simpson?
Have you interacted at all with Fuhrman since the trial?
No, no. Which is a good thing. That is a very good thing.
The show seems like it hasn’t returned to Kato Kaelin again after the first couple episodes.
Did you really want it to? [Laughs] I’m just asking.
Well, kind of. I wonder if viewers are missing out on what an absurd stooge he was.
I gotta tell you this. This was really incredible to me. A year and a half ago was the 20th anniversary of the murders and Dateline did this big anniversary thing. And I did not take part in it. But when the FX show started Dateline came back to me for an interview and I sat down with them. I’d never seen the anniversary special and so then I watched it after the fact and I saw that Kato claimed that he was cooperative. And I was staring at the screen, just saying, “You have got to be kidding me, dude!” This was the guy who, from the moment I first met with him, came in with a lawyer. I told him, “Kato, you’re a witness! What are you doing with a lawyer?” And he stonewalled and he danced and he played around. I had to get a judge to order him to testify — and then he took the fifth. In what world is that cooperative?
And it’s a shame because he had crucial information.
He really did. And much of it was about the domestic violence evidence, which he witnessed and which he withheld completely. He told the defense everything. Me, not so much. So, yeah, I guess he was cooperative — with the defense team.
What do you think will be final images we will see of O.J. in the finale?
That’ll be an interesting directorial choice on Ryan Murphy’s part. It’ll be so interesting to see how the show deals with that. But you know what I think it could be? I have this memory of one witness I’ve been thinking about lately. During the trial I got wind of the fact that there was a woman in the parking lot of the Riviera Country Club, where Simpson was a member. And she heard him on the phone, arguing loudly. It was an angry tone and it was clear he was talking to Nicole. So I wanted her to come in and talk to me but instead her husband showed up.
And he said, “I’m not going to let her take the stand. Please don’t do this, because every witness who takes the stand gets their lives trashed and we don’t want it. And you can’t win this case. There’s no way you’re going to win, so it’s not worth doing that to her. But trust me, he’s going to get punished by us at the very least.”
Oh, so this guy was in a small way responsible for getting O.J. ejected from the country club?
From the way he was talking, not in a small way. In a big way. And we’re talking about a wealthy white guy sitting in front of me and telling me I was going to lose the case. But sure enough, what happened? Simpson was ostracized, he was thrown out of that country club, he was thrown out of his life, which he had become so accustomed to. So when I think about what the show might depict him as in the final moments, it could be something like that.
Does it bother you that the show has taken a more ambivalent stance about O.J.’s guilt or innocence?
It feels to me like they’re kind of assuming he’s guilty, doesn’t it? Though maybe that’s the prism I’m seeing it through. You understand I have a pretty subjective lens here. [Laughs]
You met O.J. Simpson a few years ago, didn’t you?
I did. I was covering his robbery case in Las Vegas for Entertainment Tonight, the hard-hitting news agency that it is. And I was sitting in the cafeteria and Simpson walked by. “Hi, Ms. Clark,” he said. And I said, “Mr. Simpson.” But that was it. We acknowledged each other.
And, I mean, what could you possibly say?
Exactly. We’re not going to catch up like old friends.
Do you see the Kardashian family around Los Angeles?
I never see them. They were so young during the trial and Kris never brought them to court. Why would she do that? But during the trial I saw Kris and I saw Caitlyn Jenner. And Kris was very helpful in helping me out with the domestic violence witnesses. She really wanted to testify that Nicole told her that Simpson had said he was going to kill her. Kris was very frustrated that I didn’t put her on the stand but the problem was that it was hearsay. Unless it was an excited utterance, as evidence of imminent danger, like during the course of a 911 call, for example, we couldn’t use it. But it was Nicole telling Kris something that she believed to be true — and of course Nicole was absolutely right — but that’s still hearsay. And I’m not sure Kris ever fully understood why I couldn’t use it as evidence. Believe me, I would have loved to.
All while her ex-husband was on the defense. The show depicts Robert Kardashian as having doubts about O.J.’s innocence.
Did you ever speak to him about it?
Well, in court we talked all the time, but not about the case. He couldn’t do that because basically everything he thought was privileged. We’d fight over the dark chocolate and the candy that people sent in. I really liked him, actually. He was a very good guy.
Did you see him after the trial?
Yes. I’d see him at various restaurants and we’d exchange pleasantries and smile. And the last time I saw him was at Stanley’s for lunch and he was there and he came by my table and we chatted about how we were both doing. And two weeks later he passed away. I said goodbye to him that day and I didn’t even know I was saying goodbye forever. I felt terribly for him.
When you and Gil Garcetti and Chris Darden held a press conference after the verdict, I remember Darden doubled over in front of the microphone. He couldn’t speak.
Oh, it was so raw. It was such a horrifying, miserable day.
You spoke, though, and told people not to lose faith in the justice system.
Yeah, I really wanted to try to speak to everyone at the same time. To our team of young, passionate lawyers, who were just starting out — and this is what they see. As well as all of the people out there. I needed them to know that this was an anomaly. I’d been watching the justice system work for 14 years, really pretty well, all things considered.
Have you been able to consider how the trial changed America? Ryan Murphy has been criticized for including the Kardashian kids but I think it’s great. They were like this big egg laid by the O.J. trial.
[Laughs] That’s definitely one way of putting it. It’s kind of a disgusting image but, well, anyway. Accurate.