Cuba Gooding, Jr., John Travolta and 'The People vs. O.J. Simpson' Cast Reveal How Roles Impacted Them

Cuba Gooding, Jr., John Travolta, David Schwimmer talk about the FX mini-series.

ByABC News
January 30, 2016, 1:07 PM

— -- The captivating O.J. Simpson murder investigation, the White Bronco police case, the criminal trial that resulted in that infamous not-guilty verdict all felt like a made-for-TV movie.

Now, 20 years later, it is.

The FX mini-series, “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” stars Oscar winner Cuba Gooding, Jr., as O.J. Simpson.

“This was the hardest role I've done,” Gooding told “Nightline.” “It took me a good month or so after filming the show to finally get back into my right frame of mind.”

Filmmakers pull back the curtain on the dramatic saga beginning with that famous highway Bronco chase, when Simpson fled police with his friend A.C. Cowlings behind the wheel.

“When we tell people… we were doing a TV series on O.J. Simpson, the first thing they say to you is, "Let me tell you where I was when the Bronco chase [happened],’” said executive producer Brad Simpson.

Gooding, said he remembers watching the New York Knicks play the Houston Rockets during Game 5 of the 1994 NBA Finals when the TV broadcast cut into the game for the chase.

“They cut into the Bronco on the little small corner of the screen, and everybody's like, you know, ‘That's O.J. Simpson, he's got a gun in his mouth,'” Gooding said.

Two hours later, with the nation watching, Simpson was back at his Brentwood mansion and was soon under arrest and charged for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

In an instant, prosecutor Marcia Clark was thrust into the blinding spotlight.

“She had the courage of her convictions and wanted to go the distance to make sure that-- that this man was put away,” said actress Sarah Paulson, who plays Clark in the mini-series. “And to all the sudden be thrust on a national stage and have the predominant conversation be about what she looked like, and her manner, and was she feminine enough?”

Clark’s unmistakable curly hair would become fodder during trial coverage.

“I too was sort of going, ‘What are you doing? Why is your hair like that?" Paulson said. “The truth is, it was really just not the point, and should not have been on my mind at all.”

The harsh public reaction to Clark’s physical appearance is something Paulson regrets.

“I sort of feel like, as a woman, I failed her as a viewer of the trial during the time because I didn't rally behind her mentally,” she said.

The FX mini-series chronicles the nearly nine-month 1995 murder trial. Simpson defense attorney Robert Shapiro, part of his “Dream Team,” is portrayed by John Travolta, his first television role in decades.

When asked why he decided to take the role, Travolta said, “The material was powerful,” and it addressed “contemporary issues about the legal system, about the judicial system, about racism, about .. the 24-hour news.”

“Friends” alum David Schwimmer transforms into Simpson’s close friend and defense attorney, the late Robert Kardashian, Sr., who would gain worldwide fame during and after the trial.

“This painful and devastating trial and these terrible murders, inadvertently led to his becoming a celebrity,” Schwimmer said of Kardashian. “He’s just a regular man… who suddenly found himself one year later incredibly famous.”

Uncomfortable with notoriety himself, Kardashian never lived to see the explosive fame his daughters and ex-wife Kris Jenner would later enjoy. He died of esophageal cancer in 2003.

To prepare for the role, Schwimmer said he spoke with Kris Jenner, who is played by Selma Blair in the mini-series, and learned some things about what O.J. Simpson was like in private.

“He was incredibly loyal, and compassionate, and generous, and perhaps the most valuable thing to me, was learning that he was a man of deep faith, very religious man,” Schwimmer said. “He prayed every day at every meal, before every important event or meeting, and I think had a very personal relationship to God, which I believe informed his decision to stay by OJ… and I think his feelings and beliefs did change during the course of the trial.”

One of Schwimmer’s scenes, where Kardashian is trying to prevent a distraught Simpson from taking his own life in Kim Kardashian’s bedroom, was filmed in the real-life former Kardashian home.

“That [scene] was really-- it was very emotional,” Schwimmer said. “One of your closest friends has a gun to his head and is about to kill himself. What do you do? You do everything to stop it.”

The series also shows how a high-profile murder trial soon became a racially-charged courtroom drama tearing at the country. It goes into the “Dream Team’s” strategy of pointing fingers at the LAPD, which has a history of alleged misconduct. Suddenly, the officers were essentially on trial, accused of planting evidence, mishandling it and framing Simpson.

In the mini-series, the actors heard the real, explosive audio tapes of former LAPD Det. Mark Fuhrman spouting racial slurs.

“Just the bile that this man said about black people,” Gooding said. “The frustration and anger I felt … to know that I have two sons that are now at that age where they have to deal with, not just gang violence but police brutality, it gets me.”

With a spate of recent case alleging police brutality, the Simpson story may strike a chord with viewers and also prompt the question many are uncomfortable with -- is O.J. Simpson guilty of murder?

“I'm not convinced either way,” Gooding said. “He was found innocent by a group of his peers, and so I let that be what that is. But my opinions are all over the place now.”

O.J. Simpson has long denied he had anything to do with the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. Now 68 years old, he is currently serving a prison sentence for a 2007 robbery and kidnapping conviction in Las Vegas.