The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story was the big story out of Emmy nominations in July, earning an astounding 22 nods. Those who missed the cultural wave in February can latch on ahead of the Sept. 18 ceremonies now that the anthology series arrived on Blu-ray on Tuesday.
The collection will feature a bevy of interviews with cast, crew, filmmakers, and Jeffrey Toobin, author of the book that inspired the FX series, The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson. The Blu-ray will also feature an interactive timeline of the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, Simpson’s trial, and his subsequent acquittal that matches events with clips from the series, which EW is exclusively debuting.
Toobin spoke to EW about the series, the case, and why it resonates nearly 21 years after the trial’s conclusion.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How have your feelings shifted in the 20-plus years since the trial?
JEFFREY TOOBIN: I think about the case in many different ways. I think about the injustice of a guy getting away with murder. I think about the public spectacle.
What’s one aspect of the case that the show faithfully dramatized?
The lasting significance of the case is what it says about race in America. I think the show dramatized how a domestic violence homicide turned into a national, racial melodrama, which has clear echoes in Black Lives Matter and what’s going on in the world today. I think in that respect, it’s highly accurate.
Can you draw more lines to what’s going on today in race relations? What’s more relevant today than maybe it was back then?
The defense in this trial was that O.J. Simpson was the victim of conspiracy by a racist police department. We are, daily, evaluating the state of race relations in terms the relationship between African-Americans and the police. That question, even though in this one, it involves a celebrity. The others, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, are not celebrities. But the issues are very much similar.
Robert Shapiro, one of Simpson’s lawyers, told you about the legal team’s “race card” defense. What was it like seeing that scene recreated for the show?
I wasn’t on the set all that often, but I happened to be on the set when those scenes were shot between Chris Conner [who played Toobin] and John Travolta [who starred as Shapiro]. It was definitely one of the more surreal moments of my life. I gave Chris one of the reporters notebooks that I carried with me at all times — and I have for decades — just so he has something, a Jeff Toobin notebook, with him as I did with my conversation with Shapiro all those years earlier. It was crazy and fun to watch it unfold. It also was highly realistic, as I remember.
To what extent did you consult for the show?
I was involved at an early stage as they talked about how to structure it. I talked to Scott [Alexander] and Larry [Karaszewski], the main screenwriters, about how they wanted to structure the show. Then I would read each script and comment on it, recognizing that this was not a documentary, that this was a dramatization. I was not saying, “This didn’t happen, this did happen.” Everyone understood from my place is part of the story. Once the show was cast, I spoke to the actors at some length about their character, which was very interesting.
Was there one actor in particular that dug in deep to get their character right?
They all had different approaches. Sarah Paulson became friends with Marcia Clark. Courtney Vance and I are college classmates, so we go way back. We had several lengthy conversations about Johnnie [Cochran]. Of course, Courtney didn’t have the option of talking to Johnnie. I talked to Nathan Lane at length about F. Lee Bailey. David Schwimmer [who played Robert Kardashian] spoke to Kris Jenner, and I also spoke to him. They all had different approaches, but it was just fascinating to me, because I have not really worked with actors much.
Most viewers would point to Paulson’s or Vance’s performance as the definitive highlight, but who else had one struck you?
Sterling Brown [who played Christopher Darden]. I have to say, I have a sentimental weakness for Sterling because he’s so much less famous than the others. I’m really hoping a star is born, a breakout for Sterling, in comparison with the others, who are really stars.
What under-the-radar jaw-dropping moment from the trial stands out to you most?
In terms of pure courtroom drama, the failed blood demonstration is hard to top. F. Lee Bailey’s cross-examination of Mark Fuhrman was certainly a dramatic high point. Barry Scheck’s incredibly skillful performance in terms of everything he did in that case. Barry has taken his fame and put it to the best use of anybody involved in the case by creating the Innocence Project.
Is there anymore on this case you can involve yourself in in the future?
Who knew that 2016 would turn into the year of O.J.? I’m certainly not going to write anymore books about it. Unfortunately, journalists have always written about the misery of others and tragedy is unfortunately a lot of what we cover. I never forget that two people lost their lives here. The enduring fascination of this case will continue to transfix people, I think. It wouldn’t be surprising if I was still talking and writing about it 20 years from now.
The entire season of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story is out on Blu-ray now.