Not long after the O.J. Simpson trial rocketed Marcia Clark to unlikely stardom, the prosecutor left the district attorney’s office behind and began writing fiction. (Her new novel, Blood Defense, will be out May 1.)
But now that The People v. O.J. Simpson has premiered, Clark is doing something she does not enjoy — reliving the events of the murder trial.
Having seen the first episode, Clark spoke with EW about the experience of watching her life become television drama all over again.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This all must be really strange for you. I can’t even imagine what wrapping your head around the miniseries must be like.
MARCIA CLARK: It’s so weird. It’s so frickin’ weird. It’s like an out-of-body experience. “I’m sitting here in the living room. Wait, I’m [on the TV].”
What was your initial reaction to hearing that this was going to be a narrative miniseries?
Misery. Absolute misery. I kept hoping and praying, “Please, please don’t let this happen. Make something go wrong. Make someone think this isn’t a good idea.” Projects in Hollywood, as you know, go away all of the time.
Is that because you imagine this miniseries going as badly as possible?
No, it’s just a very painful memory. The whole experience of that trial was a nightmare. It tore me up. I can’t tell you. I watched justice get thwarted from almost day one. It was a runaway train from the start. Things happened that should never happen. It was crazy. It got crazy really fast, and it only got crazier as the days and months went by. Everybody seemed to forget that two innocent people were slaughtered — not just killed, slaughtered. It was hideous. No one seemed to remember that. The prospect of reliving it and having it all over the world again, not a happy one.
How did meeting Sarah Paulson change your outlook about the show?
In life, you never know when something good is going to come out of something horrendous. It was one of those. When I found out that she was going to play me, I thought, if this has to happen, then the honor is huge. I’ve been a fan of hers for years. I just love her. To get to meet her— by then, shooting was just about done. It was just a dinner. I was a little apprehensive about it, to tell you the truth. They say never meet your heroes because you’re doomed to disappointment. It was the exact opposite. She was even more wonderful in person. Has she ever been anything less than brilliant? Never. She could play a rock and make it interesting.
Where was your head when you pressed play on that first episode?
It felt pretty awful, not because of anything the series might have done, just reinvoking all of the memories of it. What got me through it was being able to watch Sarah’s performance. I was able to distance myself from it a little bit and enjoy a brilliant actress, and that helped. It really helped.
Where were you when you watched? Was anyone with you?
I sat down in my living room with a couple of friends. I had a couple of friends with me so that I would not climb out on the balcony — “We need restraints!” — and also to give me a perspective on it all. When I watch it, all I can do is think about what went wrong and what was crazy about it. I go back into the nightmare. I needed people there to kind of balance me out and say it’s all right, to get a normal person’s perspective on it because I don’t think I am.
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Could it ever be just television to you?
No, never. That’s the problem. This will never be entertaining to me. I watched it with my stomach in knots. As much as I could, I focused on Sarah and the other actors. I tried to enjoy what they were doing and enjoy their craft, but to be honest with you, it’s not entertaining to me. It’s just extremely painful to watch.
What was your opinion of how this show dramatized the events?
I hope people can remember that this is a dramatization. It is not a documentary. They weren’t trying to “get it right” necessarily. They have a message to send, and I applaud them for that. If the series provokes important discussions about race and apparently sexism, about celebrity media and the courtroom, that’s wonderful and good for them. But I want no one to forget that these important discussions are happening at the expense of two innocent people, who are dead. I hope they honor Ron and Nicole in some way.
How do you think they handled Sarah’s styling?
I think she looks better than I ever did. That gave me a little giggle when I first saw her on the screen. “I look like that? Damn, I wish.” Honest to God, she manages to somehow rock that hair, which looking back is one thing. What was I thinking? I know what I was thinking. I do. I had two little boys in diapers. I wanted wash-and-wear hair, and I didn’t want to be bothered. A perm seemed like a great idea.
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What did you think of the other performances?
I think Courtney Vance is terrific as Johnnie. I think he gets an essence there that’s really important. What I felt from him that I don’t know necessarily came through during the trial is that the issue of race and police corruption and injustice when it comes to the African-American experience in the criminal justice system was a very heartfelt issue for him. He wasn’t just “playing the race card.” Cuba Gooding is interesting as Simpson. It’s kind of difficult. Like, they were in the Bronco, and they showed him with Al Cowlings. I thought, “How do you know?” Al Cowlings never spoke to anyone. How do you know? That is a possible take. That’s one way it could have gone. And Chris Darden, Sterling Brown did a great job.
What in the first episode stuck out as poetic license?
In the first episode, the death penalty was never on the table. That was never true. It was not even discussed. No one even thought about it. And I chose Bill [Hodgman]. Gil [Garcetti] didn’t put Bill with me. There was not even one second that I ever thought that I wanted to try this case alone. You’ve got to be kidding me! I never even wanted to imagine.
Was there anything that was surprisingly accurate?
Overall they captured the feeling of “Oh my God” when the Bronco chase happened. I’ll never forget, [detectives Chris] Lange and [Phillip] Van Atter came to talk to me about the interview they had done with Simpson. They had just left him, and they came to see me to tell me what had happened. They pinned him down about nothing. Nothing. So I said, “Where is he?” They said, “He’s home.” “What? Do you have somebody following him? Do you have somebody sitting on the house?” “Where’s he going to go? What’s he going to do?” “Are you kidding me?” Of course, that’s how the Bronco chase happened.
Are you going to watch the rest of the series?
That’s a toughie. It has nothing to do with the series. The series is a quality effort. I think Ryan Murphy did a beautiful job, just from what I’ve seen in the first two, no question. And of course, Sarah, what a wonderful actress! But I don’t know if I can make myself do it. I don’t know if I’ll survive it. It’s just so awful.