There's an old joke about leaving criminal justice in the hands of people who are too dumb to get out of jury duty. As seen in Tuesday's episode of FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, a significant number of jurors on the O.J. Simpson case were actually looking forward to fulfilling their civic obligation - at least at first. Getting put up in a fancy hotel, all expenses paid (and then some), while they participated in the trial of the century? Sounds like a pretty good deal.
That is, until the trial - which was supposed to last a couple of months - gets stretched out to the better part of a year, with the jurors sequestered from their loved ones and the rest of the outside world, unable to use the hotel pool or go anywhere else without their every move being monitored by police guards. And they're not getting along swimmingly either. Both inside and outside the courtroom, the jury is essentially split along racial lines, and they can't even agree on which TV show to watch (Martin or Seinfeld) in their downtime.
But many of the disgruntled dozen are not long for the jury world. They start dropping like flies - either voluntarily (by having a breakdown during lunch one day) or involuntarily (for infractions including failing to report domestic abuse, going to the same arthritis doctor as the defendant, and shopping a book deal). And for every black juror that gets dismissed, the defense tries to make sure a white juror is nixed as well (and vice versa when it comes to the prosecution). Eventually, so many of the jurors are dismissed that the pool is down to just four alternates, and there's talk of a mistrial.
And the jurors aren't the only ones coming apart at the seams. After the glove debacle, District Attorney Gil Garcetti (Bruce Greenwood) is apoplectic and Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) just can't with Chris Darden (Sterling K. Brown) anymore. And on the defense side, Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer) slides further into his crisis of conscience. During tedious expert DNA testimony, the jurors' eyes are glazing over, but Kardashian is all ears. A statement that there's basically a one in 170 million chance that someone other than O.J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) committed the murders seems lost on the jury. Kardashian, however, looks horrified - even more so when he asks his best friend to account for how Nicole Brown Simpson's blood got all over his vehicle and house, and O.J. can't offer a credible explanation.
TVGuide.com chatted with Schwimmer to get insight into Kardashian's mindset during the trial, and find out whether that kitchen scene with Kris Jenner (Selma Blair) really happened.
A lot of people have a negative perception of Robert Kardashian and his role in the trial, but your portrayal of him is very sympathetic. Was that intentional?
It was the intention of the writers and Ryan from the beginning that Robert Kardashian was going to be kind of the heart and soul, and really the conscience, of the whole series. For me, I was really fascinated by that. As an actor, I was kind of intrigued. I knew nothing really about who he was or what his motivation was, and I have to say, when I followed the trial at the time, I just couldn't get why this guy was standing by [O.J.'s] side and what the deal was. So, I was really intrigued as an actor just to explore that and find out what made this guy tick.
The thing that really struck me - I should say, moved me - was the idea that Kardashian was the one person who had nothing to gain. Every other character, every other player, had something to gain, professionally or in terms of publicity, or career-wise, or financially. Kardashian was the only guy that just had nothing to gain by choosing to join the team and stick by him the entire time. So, I thought that was quite interesting, whether it was a kind of blind faith on his part, or for religious reasons or whatever. Just trying to get inside the head of that guy was, I thought, a real challenge, and that's why I was excited by it.
We really see Robert start to have some significant doubts in this episode. A lot of people might say, "Oh, he's stupid for ignoring the evidence." But the series shows that there was more to it than that. O.J. was his best friend, after all.
When [the creators and I] first met, I was trying to figure out and work with them to understand and to kind of carefully chart Robert's arc, his dramatic arc. I wanted to make sure he had one, otherwise it's not very interesting to play the guy. The thing that they were talking to me about was ... the fact that their friendship really ended after the trial, and also [Robert's] reaction, if you watch the video of the verdict being announced. There are certain things happening that I think altogether made me and the whole creative team feel that, by the time the trial ended, Robert had had serious doubts about his friend's innocence. And I think in playing him [so] that religion and his faith played a giant part in his decision to stick by O.J., my choice and the writers' choice was that he started to have a profound crisis of faith - not only in his friendship and in his choice to stand by [O.J.] and in O.J.'s innocence, but his faith in, I think, his God. I think it's an existential crisis he's actually having. His whole worldview and his beliefs are being kind of shaken and tested. That's what we were going for, at least.
Did you meet with Kris Jenner or any of the other Kardashians to discuss the role?
I actually have not. I've not met with anyone. I had one conversation with Kris Jenner, and she was incredibly generous with her time. We had a two-hour conversation, [which was] really illuminating about who Robert was as a husband, as a father, as a businessman, as a man of faith, as a family man. It was really informative and really helped me personally kind of understand who he was.
Robert and Kris have an intense scene at the end of this episode. Did she tell you anything about the doubts he had during the trial?
I don't recall specifically what we talked about [with] his having doubts, and whether they ever spoke about it. That's one of the things that we dramatize in the episode. But I do remember [she said] that from the beginning, there was a chasm in the sides that they chose. She definitely felt that O.J. was guilty and felt that Nicole had been murdered by him. So, there was a big divide in their relationship, not only because of their divorce. They were quite friendly and loving even after the divorce. This actually was a significant breach in their friendship. She just couldn't understand why he was choosing the way he did.
Inearlier episodes, Robert seems so righteous in giving his kids lessons about fame and humility. In your sense of him, what do you think he would think of his family today?
I can't begin to speculate. ... I just have no idea.
After the DNA evidence comes to light, we see O.J.'s friends start to drop off of his visitors list. As far as you know, is that accurate?
Yes, I believe that's completely accurate.
So, what was it about Robert that made him stay?
The key to it for me is something he articulates in that emotional scene with Kris when he comes to the house to pick up the kids. It's the fact that they're so deep into the trial, and the media attention on the trial was so pervasive and immersive, that had he decided that late into the trial [to] just jump ship, the perception of the public, and possibly the jury, would be, "Even [O.J.'s] closest friend thinks he's guilty." So in other words, if Robert had bailed on him and left the case, he actually could be responsible for a guilty verdict. And he didn't feel that that was his place. It was almost too late for him to do anything. He didn't feel like he could handle being responsible for that verdict, both in the court of public opinion and the actual courtroom.
The People v. O.J. Simpson airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on FX.
VIDEO: David Schwimmer reveals how he got into character as Robert Kardashian