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The People v. O.J. Simpson's Sarah Paulson: One Particular Scene "Made My Skin Crawl and My Blood Boil"

Plus: Are sparks flying between Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden?

Liz Raftery

Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) just can't catch a break on Tuesday's episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Stuck in situations that range from cringe-worthy to truly heartbreaking, the lead prosecutor is falling apart at the seams by the end of the hour, with good reason. While working on the biggest case of her career (and juggling it with a divorce settlement at the same time), Clark has become little more than tabloid fodder in the public eye: criticized for everything from her hairstyle to her child-rearing decisions, teased by strangers at the grocery store while purchasing feminine hygiene products and, most appallingly, made a victim of a nude photo scandal by none other than her ex-husband.

"I wish I could put my finger on exactly why people were so horrible to her," Paulson tells TVGuide.com. "I don't really know. It's, I think, a very embarrassing time in our country's history, I have to say."

TVGuide.com chatted with Paulson about what it was like filming some of the more difficult courtroom scenes in "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia," as well as the relationship between Clark and her co-prosecutor Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown).

The People v. O.J. Simpson: Meet the players and their real-life counterparts

The People v. O.J.Simpsonseems to be making people see Marcia Clark in a new light. Did you have misconceptions about her going in to the project, and what were you hoping to bring to the role?
Sarah Paulson:
All I was hoping to bring to the role was honesty. I absolutely had some previous, what I now know to be real misconceptions about who Marcia Clark was and what she was about. I really think I drank the Kool-Aid, and everything that we were sort of fed during the actual trial is what I ate up and believed. And, it was really only through the research that I did, [Jeffrey] Toobin's book [The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson] and reading Marcia's book, and watching copious amounts of videos of Marcia and just really immersing myself in that world -- not to mention our scripts, which made it very clear about who she was to me. So, really all I had to do was honor what I had learned. I wasn't trying to reorient any way of thinking about Marcia. I just thought, I'm going to play this as I see it and as truthfully as I can, and I hope that people will be open enough to let this version of her in -- which I think is much more accurate a depiction than what we were made to believe at the time.

What do you think it was that made her such a target for entertainment show fodder and the like? The commentary about her was really unlike anything we'd seen before, in terms of being directed towards a private citizen.
Yes. Well, I think the whole trial became such a circus. And I think Marcia was the kind of woman that didn't sort of play into anybody's version or idea of womanhood that most people are comfortable with, which is soft, easy, loving, maternal. Marcia had a real job in front of her, and that was to try to convict a person she believed was guilty of a double homicide, murdering two innocent people. So, what was she supposed to do, come in there in a flouncy hoop skirt and a bow in her hair, and try to be as pleasant as possible? She was working with some very tough men, and she knew she had a tough case ahead of her. She had to buckle down and put everything aside other than the task at hand, which was to try to get justice for Ron [Goldman] and Nicole [Brown Simpson]. And in doing so, she was certainly not going to placate anyone by giving them a version of prosecuting this trial in a way that would make anyone comfortable. She was only interested in convicting [Simpson]. She believed him to be guilty. She had all of the evidence to prove that to herself, and she wanted to prove it to the jury. I just think she just wasn't terribly interested in appeasing anyone's notions or ideas about what she should be and how she should behave. And people didn't like that. They didn't want to see that.

What can we learn from The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story?

But in some ways, she's caught between a rock and a hard place. We see in this episode that even when she does try to show that side of herself -- saying she can't stay late because she needs to be home to take care of her kids -- she's criticized almost more harshly.
Paulson:Oh, yeah. That was the hardest scene actually for me to shoot. It made me so enraged. I was so enraged that she would have to stand up in front of that court and say that. And it was obviously very painful for her to have to do so, because she didn't want to bring her private life in here. Her own private trial, her own private hell that was happening outside of the courtroom -- she didn't want to have to put that on the table, but she didn't have a choice. And then to be accused of using it to the People's advantage was very, very, very upsetting to her. And for me, as an actress playing it, it really made my skin crawl and my blood boil. It was very hard for me to do that scene without spitting anger. I really wanted to just spit nails and fire them right at Johnnie Cochran's [Courtney B. Vance] head. [Laughs]

Another really affecting scene in this episode is when she walks into the courtroom with her new haircut.
That was another scene, too, where I didn't have anything in mind in terms of how I was going to play it. And it was Ryan [Murphy, who directed the episode] who just said, 'I want you to walk in with confidence. I want you to feel pretty good.' And it's not just about, she felt good about her haircut. I don't think she was thinking about her haircut. She was thinking, here I am. I'm coming in today. I'm ready to try this case. I'm ready for this day. And, to immediately be teased and mocked by the judge in front of everyone was so humiliating. For me, as an actress, I think that very first take we did, I could feel the temperature in my neck and my face change. I could feel my pulse in my cheeks. It was one of those wonderful moments where I couldn't have prepared to act it. The actual doing of it made it very clear what was going to happen because I couldn't stop it. I just felt what I felt. And it was very moving to me when I think about all she had to endure, and that she was able to show up at work every day and put her best foot forward, in the best way she possibly could. It was an enormous amount of pressure she was under, and I really don't know how she did it.

Can you explain why you felt sadness in this scene as opposed to anger in the previous scene about her child care issues?
I think I felt very humiliated [in the hair scene]. When I walked into that courtroom and [Judge Lance] Ito says to her "Welcome, Ms. Clark... I think," and there's this smattering of laughter, and I'm being looked at by that table full of men to my left, all of a sudden it was very, very, very painfully clear to me that I felt very humiliated, embarrassed. Nobody likes to feel that. It didn't make me angry in the moment. It made me want to hide. It made me angry later, but in the moment, it made me want to hide.

VIDEO: Marcia Clark discusses the "physically painful" O.J. Simpson verdict

Did you have that reaction immediately? How many times did you have to shoot that scene?
That happened kind of right away, but we did do it a couple of times. Ryan saw that after the first take I was emotionally kind of on the brink of falling apart, and he just right away said, "Let's go again, right now, right now, right now," just so that we could stay where I was emotionally. So, that was good.

Thus far in the series, we've seen that there were a lot of red flags -- about the jurors' perceptions of her, about Fuhrman's personal history -- that Clark chose to ignore. Do you have a sense of what it was that caused her to dismiss these concerns? Was it naiveté, overconfidence, a combination ... ?
I don't think Marcia was overconfident. I think what she believed was that she had all the evidence that she needed to win the case. ... For Marcia and for the People, they knew how much information they had. They should have been able to convict [Simpson] 10 times over, but given the climate of the city of Los Angeles post-Rodney King, and O.J.'s fame, and the razzle-dazzle, I think -- me personally, Sarah thinks -- quite corrupt antics of the Dream Team, I don't think the case was in fact winnable. So, I don't know. I don't think of her as being overconfident. I think she had confidence that the evidence should be enough to do the job. To me, that was an appropriate amount of confidence.

The show implies that there was maybe a spark between her and Christopher Darden. Do you know if there's any truth to that?
Sterling and I both had our own personal opinions about what we think was going on between them. I like the word "spark" because I don't know if it was anything more than that. This is that kind of thing where neither Marcia nor Chris has ever come out and said that anything happened between them, so we certainly were not going to make a big statement that something had if we didn't know that to be an actual fact. But, I certainly think they were two people who were incredibly close during that trial, because they were in the trenches together and were there for each other. They were the only people in that place in time, in that space in time, that could possibly understand what it was like. And that was incredibly bonding. I think they had an enormous amount of respect for one another, and they spent a lot of time together. So, spark is probably an appropriate word.

Between Sterling and I -- I could not have done that episode without him. He was my absolute and utter backbone and strength and emotional rock. I think it probably lines up pretty cleanly with what was actually the truth between Marcia and Chris, that he and she both provided that for each other at different times during the trial when it was needed. [He was] incredibly kind and very supportive. I think, at least from what I had read and what Sterling had read, Darden had an enormous amount of respect for Marcia. To watch her be humiliated in that way just doesn't sound like something that he would stand for, stand by and let happen.

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on FX.

VIDEO: Sarah Paulson discusses how Marcia Clark was "vilified" by the media