The People v. O.J. Simpson Scott Alexander interview

FX’s miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story was such a sensation, they presented a second panel on it for the Television Critics Association. Now all ten episodes have aired, more than reporters got to see in advance of the premiere, and it is nominated for Emmys, so the creators and stars came back to discuss it.

At a cocktail party following the FX panel, screenwriting duo Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski got separated. I got to speak with Alexander about their work crafting the series based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book The Run of His Life and real events. I’m still obsessed with the jurors, as the episode on their sequestration seemed like the biggest tent in the whole circus. Alexander and Karaszewski have some more true story screenplays in the works, and Alexander told us the extent of their work on the Death Wish remake in our interview. 

The juror sequestering episode was spectacular. Were there even more juror shenanigans you couldn’t even include in that?

Let me think, let me think. The room service did not get in. This cracked me up. You saw the scenes where the jurors had to go down into the banquet room and eat the same cafeteria food three meals a day. They just start getting really sick of it, so one of the jurors got fed up, refused to eat dinner, went back to his room and then noticed a room service menu sitting by the phone. He didn’t really know what would happen so he picked it up and they go, “Yes, can we help you? Room 1202, what would you like?” “Oh, can I get prime rib?” “Sure. Anything else” “Lobster bisque?” “Sure.” “What do you have for dessert.” “Chocolate lava cake.” “Okay, yes.” “I’ll have that right up.” So he discovers this weird loophole so he starts eating really good food and then he tells a couple of the other jurors. Then they start doing it, so everyone starts going around the bailiffs and just ordering these really expensive meals. Then the bill gets to [Judge Lance] Ito and he just blows a gasket because it’s this ridiculous tab that he’s responsible for because it’s his juror. So he shuts it down. It really cracked me up. I was always rooting for it but ultimately we could not fit it into the 42 minutes.

Did one of the jurors really try to leap over security in that banquet hall?

No, her meltdown was somewhere else. I’m trying to remember. I’m a little fuzzy. There was a field trip to Catalina where everybody got seasick. I think it might’ve been right after that but shooting on a boat going to Catalina was too much trouble so we didn’t include that.

You were accurate down to the detail of when they read the verdict, the forewoman mispronounces his first name.

Yes, everyone was becoming a YouTube fanatic. If the woman in the court mispronounced it on YouTube, well, that’s how it’s going to happen on our set.

Did Johnny Cochran’s encounter with the police officer come from research?

I believe that Johnny’s encounter with the police came out of one of Johnny’s books. Johnny tells that story in his book, being really difficult for him and the fact that his kids were in the car when it happened. It seemed really important. It’s one of the few flashbacks we do in the show.

How carefully did you choose when to flash back to something outside the trial?

We tried not to. We were talking about trying to show the audience who O.J. was before the trial because all of our kids now know O.J. as the chunky guy in the Nevada prison eating oatmeal cookies who’s always got a sour expression. Those of us of a certain age grew up with O.J. with a big smile who everybody loved. So we put the opening scene in episode one where O.J. gets into a limo which was just trying to have a glimmer of that magnetic O.J., the charismatic star before he goes bad. We do have the flashback in episode four where you see him in the disco which is him and [Robert] Kardashian dancing with girls where O.J. is the life of the party. We wanted to be able to remind the audience that there was a time when O.J. was that guy.

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