(Spoiler warning: Please do not read on if you haven’t watched the latest episode of “People v. O.J. Simpson” entitled “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.”)
You could argue that every episode of FX’s “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” is a time capsule, a reflection of Americans and their fascination with a pivotal moment in pop culture.
It’s also a snapshot of how people across race and gender were treated by various systems, and Tuesday night’s sixth episode of the limited series — titled “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” — is a jaw-dropping portrait of sexism and abuse suffered by defense attorney Marcia Clark.
Sarah Paulson, a long trusted player of executive producer Ryan Murphy who was cast as Clark, gives a stunning turn in the episode as a lawyer in the eye of an unprecedented storm: vilified and mocked for her looks and demeanor, the quality of her parenting paraded and weighed by opposing counsel and even snide comments from a checkout clerk on a tampon purchase.
Playing a woman on public trial, Paulson told TheWrap about her journey in Clark’s heavily-criticized shoes — and the hashtag she thinks would trend were the trial happen today.
TheWrap: For starters, people have been obsessed with this series for weeks but you mentioned you haven’t watched a single frame yet?
Sarah Paulson: For the first time in my life, I’m trying to enjoy the nice things people are saying without watching it, criticizing it and finding every flaw I’m liable to see. I want to let this one be something I can enjoy before I tear it apart.
I’m curious about your immediate reaction after seeing this script. It’s like dominoes for Marcia, one bad thing collapsing into another.
I had spent so much time reading about Marcia, and learning about her, so I knew all these things were true but I thought, “The world is going to get the Marcia Clark we deserved to know.”
There’s something about the way she was portrayed and presented in the media that removed her humanity. She became this two dimensional thing. So here’s this episode to show everybody what she was actually going through. But I do remember turning page after page [of the script] and thinking, “This is like a boxing match where someone is just getting pummeled every time they turn their head. At work, on the way to wok, at home.”
Every time she turned around she was getting sucker punched. [This episode] is an incredibly harrowing thing but a wonderful gift to her.
The sexism and emotional abuse is harrowing, I thought, “This would never happen today.” But would it?
I think it could, but the difference for Marcia is that she would be supported in a different way. God bless the Internet, whatever you want to say about it, but there would have been a Facebook page devoted to “#FreeMarcia.” There would have been a place where she could have been aware, culturally, that she was not the devil and ruining everything. That she was not only doing a bad job in the courtroom and her hair was bad, her clothes were bad, nobody liked her. This woman, who had worked as a civil servant for the County of Los Angeles in the District Attorney’s office for 10 years, winning 19 of 20 cases — and this is how it went down?
You and the real Marcia had dinner and were very fond of each other, I read. Was it hard to be objective about some of the realities of this case?
Any time, as an actor, when you’re playing a person, what you need to realize is that people never really have 20/20 vision about themselves. The thing I could connect to was what Marcia’s intention was to put a man she believed guilty of a double homicide in jail. The tireless commitment to that belief was going to make her fight until she fell on the ground.
Mistakes were made. They are made in every trial, they’re made every day. We all make them. We just don’t make them with millions of people watching and then talking about what failures we are.
Most of us, when we’re living our lives, are not aware of when we’re coming up short. I didn’t have a lot of time to be self-reflective as Marcia. I just focused on what needed to be done. What was the task at hand? It’s very easy for us outside of that courtroom to decide what could have been done differently or better. But none of us were there.
[Director] Steve McQueen really brought something home for me when I was doing “12 Years A Slave.” I was playing a really abhorrent person and he said, “You can not stand in judgment of her. She doesn’t know the error of her ways.”
Seeing a lot this rehashed often inspires questions like, “Did that really happen?” But so much of it is true. Is there anything that was accounted for that you wouldn’t put on screen?
With the shit I’ve done on “American Horror Story”? As if they could come up with something for “American Crime Story'” that I wouldn’t do?
But there’s plenty that completely shocks me — what ended up happening, there’s a scene in the courtroom where I have to tell the judge I can’t stay late because I have to go pick up my children. And then the backlash and the comments from Johnnie [Cochran] that led Marcia to make that statement in court the next day, where she basically decimated him — I remember doing that scene and it was very, very hard for me not to cry. But I didn’t want her to do that. It was right there in my throat, and I had to stop it from becoming a tearful rage.
I couldn’t believe that Cochran would say that publicly about a working woman, someone he knew absolutely nothing about. And to accuse her of using it to her advantage, the childcare situation, using it for the People’s case. One of Marcia’s Achilles’ heels is how moral she is, and that he would accuse her of doing that just cut me to the quick.