Hemingway brings a personal perspective and respect for the truth to The People v. O.J. Simpson
It was named the Trial of the Century when O.J Simpson stood trial for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and Ron Goldman. Twenty years later, Ryan Murphy’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story tells the story of the trial. The critically acclaimed series is based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book “The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson.” Director Anthony Hemingway reunites with Murphy to direct several episodes of FX’s smash hit series. I sat down with Hemingway to find out more about working with the cast and what it was like to direct an important scene in the series.
Awards Daily TV: You’ve worked with Ryan Murphy before. What was your reaction when he said he wanted you to work on The People v. O.J. Simpson?
Anthony Hemmingway: Ryan didn’t ask, he told me I was doing it. [Laughs] Before I accepted I needed to know more information like why this story? Who’s point of view is it from? Who else is involved? And after I sat down with the writers Larry [Karaszewski] and Scott [Alexander] my questions were answered and I was all in.
ADTV: The appeal of the show seems to be people remembering the trial and the Bronco case. How did you reconcile directing this with your memories?
AH: First, truthfully and respectively. This was the most galvanizing trial in history but what was interesting to me was the stuff I didn’t know. Therefore it needed fresh eyes. This allowed me to help highlight the humanity it needed, balancing the complexities of life as it even reflects today’s headlines.
ADTV: I can’t single out any one performance because everyone is so superbly cast from Sarah Paulson to Cuba to Travolta. Did any performances stand out for you?
AH: It’s as hard for me to single any one person out as you. They’re all so undeniably amazing. I am happy that the rest of the world will see the brilliance in those that have been underrated like Courtney B. Vance, Sarah Paulson, and Sterling Brown.
ADTV: You directed the courtroom scenes, how much of the trial did you go back and revisit when directing those episodes?
AH: I referenced a little of the footage we had to study, but I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with it. This isn’t a documentary so I didn’t feel it was that necessary. I only wanted to homage a few of the key moments – the glove episode I directed.
ADTV: You also directed Johnnie’s visit with O.J. in jail. It was a powerful moment as far as that relationship goes. What can you tell us about that?
AH: This scene is incredibly powerful. It highlighted the genius of Cochran and how he helped transform the case. He finds O.J. who no longer believes in himself. A lost soul. Cochran can’t win the case if O.J. has given up. So Cochran takes it upon himself to remind O.J. of what he means to the world. To instill hope and pride back into O.J. We need more of this support in our the world and in our communities.
ADTV: What were your own memories from that actual time?
AH: A fun fact – I was working with our Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson). We were both 19 years old working on a TV show called American Gothic in Wilmington, NC. I remember watching my parents and the rest of the black community celebrate after the verdict. This was the first time I had actually experienced and seen through my own eyes a racial divide. This trial was about race and privilege in America – which in the justice system is in favor of rich white people. And for the first and pretty much only time, a black man beat the system.
ADTV: What else are you working on and what can you tell us about that?
AH: I have a new show premiering March 9th on WGN titled Underground, an inspirational action adventure about a group of revolutionaries who fought not just for themselves but for a nation. Their courage and ingenuity led them to become true american heroes. It’s pulsating, aggressive storytelling, mixed with an in-your-face musical component and a visual style that drags the past into the present. Currently, I’m prepping a pilot for A&E titled The Infamous, a crime series examining race and music in a city torn in two: 1990’s Los Angeles.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story continues Tuesdays at 10pm ET/PT on FX.