Episode 2 of FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story felt surreal in more ways than one. First, it took us back to a glorious time when members of the media had to verify the spelling of the unfamiliar surname Kardashian. (Cue the Kardashian Kids chanting "Kardash-i-an! Kardash-i-an!")
The installment also highlighted some of the more egregious absurdities surrounding the O.J. Simpson case, including the surreal press conference by Simpson's attorneys Robert Shapiro (John Travolta) and Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer), during which Simpson's purported suicide note was inexplicably read aloud to the media. But the episode's focal point was the infamous Bronco pursuit, the 35-mile-an-hour "chase" down a Los Angeles freeway, as the former footballer was pursued by police who were unwilling to disable his getaway vehicle and, later, allowed a murder suspect to have a drink and make a phone call to his mother in the comfort of his own home before arresting him after the day-long ordeal. Oh, and the whole thing was watched by about 100 million people.
Fun facts: Contrary to popular belief, the Bronco driven in the chase didn't belong to Simpson, but rather to his childhood pal Al "A.C." Cowlings (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), who had purchased a vehicle identical to the one owned by his best friend and idol. (Simpson's vehicle, at the time, had been impounded so that tests could be run on the bloodstains that were found inside.)
According to Jeffrey Toobin's book, The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, on which FX's docudrama is based, police found inside Cowling's Bronco a "travel bag" belonging to Simpson that contained his passport, a fake goatee, a fake mustache, makeup adhesive remover, receipts from a beauty supply shop dated May 1994, and a loaded .357 magnum handgun registered to an L.A.P.D. officer who was a friend of Simpson's. Police also found $8,750 cash in Cowling's pockets when he was booked.
TVGuide.com spoke with Malcom-Jamal Warner about filming the emotional sequence, and how much of the episode is rooted in truth.
Were you able to meet with A.C. Cowlings before filming the show?
Warner: No. I pretty much scoured the internet trying to find information on A.C., and there wasn't much on A.C. the man. Most of the information I got was based on A.C. and O.J.'s friendship, so I really based it off of that in terms of, they had been best friends since eighth grade. One guy is out there in the spotlight, the other guy is in his shadow, and just looking at the complexities and that kind of dynamic in their friendship.
Some of the scenes in the Bronco are incredibly tense. What do you recall about filming that sequence?
Warner: We shot that on the 710 freeway. We basically blocked off a leg of the freeway over the course of a full weekend, so we basically spent two days in that truck, going back and forth on the freeway. By the time we finished the second day, it was just draining. There was obviously a lot of emotion, doing that for two full days.
Ryan Murphy directed this episode. How did he prepare you and Cuba Gooding Jr. for the scene?
Warner: The way Ryan directs, he really gives you a lot of freedom. He tends to give you tweaks and notes along the way if there's something he wants to add to or extract from the performance. I think he did a great job in terms of keeping all the emotion in the context of the moment, because that could be a scene that you can overdo and overact quite easily. He was really good about keeping the performance as real and in the context of that scene as possible. Because as an actor, you want to have as much freedom as you need, but you also want to have a director that you can trust to keep you from just being out there flailing.
What would you and Cuba do between takes? Did you stay in character, or did you try to lighten things up a bit?
Warner: It varied. But we definitely never stayed in character between takes. I've known Cuba for a long time, and we worked together 20 years ago on The Tuskegee Airmen. Cuba is definitely one of those people who knows how to read the vibe on set, and he would be the first person to crack jokes or pull pranks, or do things to keep people upbeat and laughing.
People may not realize how distressed O.J. apparently was during that chase. How much of the dialogue in the episode are based on actual conversations, and how much was embellished for TV?
Warner: There's no official record of what went on inside the truck. There is a certain creative license that had to be taken, because of course no one knows what really went on in that truck but A.C. and O.J. ... A.C. stayed quiet about everything. I think A.C. is probably the only one in that whole situation who did not write a book. Even O.J. wrote a book.
Were you playing A.C. as if he had an opinion as to O.J.'s guilt or innocence, or was that not a factor for you?
Warner: During that moment, I think whatever A.C. felt, in terms of whether his friend did it or not, I think that took a backseat to his first instinct, which was to be there for him.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on FX.