American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson Exposes the Center of the Biggest Trial in America

Aubry D'Arminio
Cuba Gooding Jr
Ray Mickshaw/FX

The televised 1994-95 trial of popular running back-turned-actor O.J. Simpson for the murder of ex-wife Nicole and waiter Ronald Goldman changed many games. It marked the start of reality TV and sparked the public’s appetite for 24/7 news. (So you can thank O.J. for all the Real Housewives and Nancy Grace.) “And the reaction to the verdict also exposed a huge racial rift in America,” says Nina Jacobson, executive producer of American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson. “Looking back at O.J. helps us understand the world we live in now—20 years later.”

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But how do you cram all that into one limited series? First, read a good book: Jacobson and fellow executive producer Brad Simpson (no relation to O.J.) based the show on CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin’s nonfiction tome The Run of His Life. “The most intimidating thing was making sure our version was complicated and nuanced while still working as addictive TV,” Simpson says. “We solved that by having great source material.”

Then, Simpson adds, “always bet on talent.” Emmy-winning American Horror Story cocreator Ryan Murphy directed the pilot, which has a touchdown cast that includes John Travolta, Nathan Lane and Courtney B. Vance as O.J.’s defense attorneys Robert Shapiro, F. Lee Bailey and Johnnie Cochran; Sarah Paulson as Los Angeles prosecutor Marcia Clark; Jordana Brewster as Nicole’s sister, Denise Brown; Connie Britton as witness Faye Resnick; and Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. as the fallen athlete himself—who was the hardest part to cast.

“O.J. was a beloved figure in America before the trial, someone you would never believe could commit a crime of such violence,” Jacobson says. “So we needed someone with intense charm and warmth but who also had deep chops as an actor.”

And yes, Nicole and O.J.’s close friends Kris Jenner and Robert Kardashian (played by Selma Blair and David Schwimmer) are a big part of the goings-on. “No show is ever unbiased,” Simpson says. “But we tried to be fair to the different people involved in the case. We want everyone to understand what it was like for our characters to be at the center of the biggest trial in American history.”

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, Premieres Tuesday, Feb. 2, 10/9c, FX