Writer D.V. DeVincentis turned his back on television after a bad first experience. Fortunately for us, he came back to give the world “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.
D.V. DeVincentis first received widespread attention as the screenwriter of two John Cusack films: 1997’s Grosse Point Blank and 2000’s High Fidelity. However, it’s his collaboration with Ryan Murphy and Sarah Paulson that has produced what is perhaps his most acclaimed work to date – producing and writing credits on FX’s blockbuster limited series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. We have DeVincentis to thank for the brilliant “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.”
DeVincentis recently returned from New Orleans to conduct interviews for the upcoming second season of American Crime Story, which will focus on the events and horrific aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He wasn’t able to go into specifics, not because of confidentiality reasons but mostly because it’s not yet a fully formed piece. It will, however, take its cue from The People v. O.J. Simpson by featuring fact-based storylines based on real characters that, undoubtedly, will be used as a springboard to discuss larger, socially relevant themes.
The construction of such a springboard is one of the aspects of The People v. O.J. Simpson that impressed critics, viewers, and hopefully Emmy voters so extensively. The series was, of course, about the O.J. Simpson trial. It was also about race relations, celebrity, justice, and, perhaps most unexpectedly, the everyday struggle of working mothers. This final theme was personified by Sarah Paulson’s blisteringly amazing performance as lead prosecutor Marcia Clark. As strong an actress Paulson is, though, she could not have achieved such heights without the insight and vision of D.V. DeVincentis who scripted the series-best episode “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” one of three Simpson scripts in Emmy contention.
D.V. DeVincentis, you saw a lot of success in with High Fidelity and Grosse Point Blank. How did you get into the John Cusack business?
Well, John and I were old friends. We sort of started doing what we did when we were in high school. We just didn’t know that that’s what we were doing. John became a movie star, and we kept doing things together and kept talking about things. It became a natural progression between what was happening with him and what was happening with me. I started making films and went to film school… It kind of totally made sense.
How did you get involved with writing and producing The People v. O.J. Simpson?
Brad Simpson and Nina Jacobson initiated this project. They thought it was a great opportunity to tell an exciting story but also to delve into a lot of issues through it. They got in touch with Scott [Alexander] and Larry [Karaszewski] who are well known, extraordinary creators of stories based on real events. The People vs. Larry Flint. Ed Wood. On and on. [Simpson and Jacobson] brought them on, and those guys wrote the pilot. They reached out to me – I’d known them for ages through different projects we’d done in the past – and I read the script and loved it. I said, “Hurray, I’m coming on!” Like a shot. Basically, we sat around in a room, and we figured out what this show should be episode by episode and started working on it. And then this thing happened which was Ryan Murphy – this intense force of nature. He read what was going on and loved it and wanted in. That was the next phase.
How did Ryan’s involvement change the rest of the series? Or was it really baked in at that point?
No, it wasn’t baked in at all. It was one of the more interesting experiences of something developing that I’ve ever experienced. It was really fascinating. Ryan came at it with the things that we all know he’s so good at – the sort of big entertainment, the big moments. What Ryan arrived with besides his particular version of showmanship was his previous life as a reporter’s acumen. It was really extraordinary the way he plumed the ideas that we had to find really essential truths and moments and helped us stretch out even further to discuss issues that, lucky for us, arrived in a way that we were able to explore before the show came out. Particularly “Black Lives Matter.” I think that if that national explosion of consciousness had happened after we’d written the show and we’d shot the show without having that on our minds, the show would have been radically different, and not as good, I don’t think. Ryan pushed us in those directions a great deal.
Like I said, there was so much there for us, we were really lucky… The different characters represented so many issues so well without being issues… Marcia Clark and what she went through and the way we got to examine that is totally true and emotional and yet at the same time speaks volumes to what women in the workplace have to go through when they also have children. Right up to the way we saw Hillary Clinton eight years ago and the way we see her now.
Across all episodes, what was the bigger mandate: to adhere to the facts of the very public case or to create higher drama with truly fleshed out characters?
The truth is there was so much there to work with. There’s so much material and research in the [Jeffrey] Toobin book [The Run of His Life] and beyond that we could use to get to know the characters and to get to know the dynamics between them and the conflicts between them. Unlike writing something that’s 200 years ago where you have to create a lot of things, we had a lot to work with and a great deal of understanding that we could get about the real people. We’re always looking to create drama and create conflict, but it was really always in service of getting the dynamics of the story across and the dynamics of the themes across.
Like I said, there was so much there for us, we were really lucky… The different characters represented so many issues so well without being issues… while still being real characters. Johnnie Cochran’s past and his history and the things to which he dedicated his life were on the tip of everyone’s tongue last year. Marcia Clark and what she went through and the way we got to examine that is totally true and emotional and yet at the same time speaks volumes to what women in the workplace have to go through when they also have children. Right up to the way we saw Hillary Clinton eight years ago and the way we see her now. Again, it’s right there.
You’ve written three episodes of People v. O.J. Simpson – “The Dream Team,” “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” and “Conspiracy Theories.” How were the writing assignments made?
To be honest, it was sort of a long story, and there were a lot of moving pieces. I always was totally dedicated to the idea of writing “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.” It was something that really spoke to me, and I had a lot in my mind about it, even from my own background in being raised by a woman who had a lot of the same burdens and conflicts. I wrote episode three because Scott and Larry had already written episodes one and two. So, there wasn’t a great deal of specificity in who wrote what other than my intense need to write “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.”
Which is a great episode.
Thank you so much. I appreciate that. I’m very happy about it. I have a background in writing and being around while things are made. I was on-set writing after episode two for the rest of the production. I got to stretch out into a lot of different stuff that I’m really proud of and happy about.
You were submitted for Emmy consideration for writing “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.” That’s the right call… It’s my absolutely my favorite episode of the entire series.
Oh wow, man. Why?
Why? Because it means so much as a father to a young daughter as a husband to a wife to see all the shit she went through. To sort of rehabilitate her reputation which is what, I think, this episode really produced – the writing and Sarah Paulson’s performance. People have such a massively different opinion of Marcia Clark after this series than they did 20 years ago.
Well, I’m glad to hear it because when one looks at what she went through and what she was up against, it’s really just a reflection of the time 20 years ago that she was looked on so badly. She was so picked on, you know? Nobody else in that case had to go through what she went through. You’re right, it’s awful to think how little things have changed. It’s lovely to think that things have changed a lot in the last 20 years, but, you know, stuff still goes on. You must see it with having a daughter and wife…
Absolutely. You mentioned Hillary Clinton… A lot of people comment about her aging and her physical appearance constantly. It reminds me of that moment in “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” where [Marcia Clark] gets that tight perm and walks into the courtroom feeling good. Everybody is making fun of her. Everybody is staring at her, and she doesn’t realize it until she gets all the way to her desk. The trajectory of Sarah Paulson’s face when she walks out of that elevator to the moment she gets to that desk is absolutely heartbreaking.
I totally agree. From the second I started working with Sarah in episode three, I started to get an understanding of what she was capable of and started to become so completely inspired by how she does what she does. It really became a partnership. Sarah is not only the actress that we all know she is, but she’s also kind of an incredible dramaturge. If she had a note or something that she wanted to discuss, I knew that it absolutely had to be discussed. There was no conversation that she and I ever had about a script or a moment or a beat that did not result in my writing looking better and getting better.
That’s amazing. That’s a great partnership to have.
It really is. It was so incredible. Besides just the acting in that episode, I owe her a great debt towards her getting my writing to where it was.
So, who was responsible for the line “Goddamn, who turned her into Rick James?”
[Laughs] I think somebody actually said it. When I heard that – I can’t tell you where I heard it or saw it – but I wrote it down in bold and was absolutely determined to get that line in. Even though there were times I was worried about the tone of that, but we played with tone a lot in the show in general because there is so much that is.. absurd. There’s a great deal of absurdity in the actual situation.
One of the things I was surprised about with the series was given Ryan Murphy’s predilection to tabloid culture, why was the decision made to not include in the series Judge Ito’s decision to allow cameras in the courtroom. There has been a lot of conversation around that moment, and a lot of people point to that event as being critical to the case. Why was that left out?
Well, I believe that we actually discussed it and wrote it. I just think that we either shot it, and it got cut or… I mean, I almost want to ask, “Are you SURE it wasn’t in there?” I know it was always on our mind, and it was always a big deal that he was very aware that what he was doing was being watched just like everybody. It did completely change the entire tenor of the case, and it was one of the factors that certainly led to so much material showing up in the courtroom…. God, now I want to go back and look and see if you’re wrong. [Laughs]
Maybe I am! I remember watching it, waiting for that moment, because I knew that was going to play into Ryan’s wheelhouse… Maybe I missed it, but I was pretty glued to the screen for all ten hours.
Well, then I’m going with your recollection. [Laughs] It’s a great question. American Horror Story, you know, is a fantasia. I think that Ryan indulges that part of his interests in that show, but he’s also incredibly interested in and passionate about social issues and what’s happening in our country and what has happened in it. I was not entirely surprised to see him more interested in that stuff in this work than in the more fantastical or tabloidy stuff.
Before The People v. O.J. Simpson you wrote/produced a WB show called Dead Last. Are there more TV projects in the future for you other than American Crime Story or is this 100 percent of your time?
Right now, it’s 100 percent of my time because it’s all-consuming. Yeah, I made this show called Dead Last with a couple of friends of mine maybe 15 years ago, and it was the classic ridiculous television experience of going in with one idea and being coerced into changing it into something entirely different. It turned me off of television for a long time until I became one of the last screenwriters to realize I could get much more done on television than I could on film and jumped onto this. As far as what’s in the future, I definitely am hooked on making television. My experience with it has been so rewarding, and, once I come up for air from this next season, I will definitely be trying to figure out what’s next.
Tell me about Where is Rocky II.
[Laughs] Where is Rocky II was one of those calls you get that sounds so crazy that you’re like, “Well, I guess I have to do this.” It’s sort of a creative, semi-documentary about the search for a lost Ed Ruscha sculpture that is rumored to be somewhere in the desert. The film was made by a man named Piere Bismuth who is a fine artist who also had the original idea for the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He wanted to make a film in which you saw an object being sought but also creators creating a story about the object being sought. So, he sort of prosecuted these two different cases and then blended them together into a film. It’s quite interesting. Even if you don’t like it, I guarantee you it’s not like anything you’ve ever seen. Guarantee.
I’ll have to check that out. Thank you so much for your time, though. Best of luck to you, and I think good things are coming your way this year because, again, I’m just a huge fan of “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.”
I have to tell you… Thank you. To that, there’s something that’s so gratifying about watching something develop over time for an audience. Watching people watch successive episodes. It’s so different than the movie business where you write something that gets made, it comes out, whatever reaction to it happens in three days, and then it’s over. And, hey, I’m coming after you if you’re wrong about that question…
He has yet to prove me wrong.