By Scott Huver1 day ago
You only thought you knew Marcia Clark.
Almost immediately after the then-Los Angeles assistant district attorney was tasked with heading the prosecution of former NFL standout O.J. Simpson for the 1994 murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman, she was bathed in an intense, white-hot spotlight of media attention and public scrutiny of a sort that no criminal litigator had ever experienced in the history of the justice system.
SEE ALSO: Marcia Clark has a theory about the knife found on O.J. Simpson’s property Her life, her legal tactics, her appearance and her persona were explored, examined, celebrated, ridiculed, dissected and commented upon routinely and in microscopic detail throughout the course of the trial, as much as the celebrity plaintiff himself. She became a fixed figure in the public consciousness that has endured to this day, some two decades after Simpson’s ultimate acquittal. But that’s the Clark you thought you knew.
Today, another iteration of Clark has caught the public’s attention: the truth-seeking, deeply committed, often challenging, empathetic and sympathetic version portrayed by Sarah Paulson on FX’s fascinating limited series, American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson. It’s an even more compelling and, if occasionally frustrating, admirable iteration of Clark, a woman navigating far more potholes and pitfalls, professionally and personally, than simply trying to win what became known as the Trial of the Century.
But as in-depth as the TV version has been, there’s even more to the actual Marcia Clark. Much of it can be discovered in the newly re-released edition of her 1997 memoir Without A Doubt, now in e-book form and with a brand new forward from a 20-years-later perspective.
There’s also a fully re-invented Marcia Clark, one who in the wake of the trial reluctantly left legal practice behind but translated her courtroom acumen into new careers as a legal analyst for television programs like “Entertainment Tonight” and as the writer of a bestselling string of legal potboilers, including her latest work Blood Defense, the kickoff of a new and even edgier book series that’s available May 1.
And then there’s the Marcia Clark who — just in time for the Clark-centric episode of the series titled, appropriately, “Marcia, Marica, Marcia” — joined Mashable for a lively, and insightful chat that reveals just a little bit more about just who this famous, formidable and often very funny woman really is. And perhaps, by the end, you’ll think you know her just a little bit better.
MASHABLE: Now that your memoir of the trial is available again, what was it like revisiting not just that period in your life? Tell me what it meant for you then, and what it means for you now.
MARCIA CLARK: Then, I was very torn about it. Very torn, because I did not want to revisit it. I really didn’t want to have to relive the nightmare. And of course I needed the money, but I [had]very mixed feelings. I wanted the press to go away, and you put out the book and that’s not going to happen. But my agent at the time said, “It’s not going to happen anyway for a few years, so give it up. Not writing the book is not going to make your life any better in the short term.”
And then, what was most compelling to me on the other side of things was “I’m going to forget. I’m going to forget the details, I’m going to forget all this happened. At some point, people are going to care what the truth is, what really happened, from the prosecution standpoint. And if I don’t write this book, it’ll be gone forever.” So I thought, “I’ve got to do it. I’ve got to do it, because I want people to know the truth. I want them to know what really happened with us, with the prosecution team and what we saw.”
And I can at least point to that and say, “Look, if you really want to know what happened, there it is. There it all is. Better than I’ll ever be able to do again.” So I can’t say that it was cathartic at the time. People told me it would be. In a way it was, because I could go through it all and reassure myself all the ways in which we fought so hard. But I knew that. I was there. So I knew that.
Tell me a little bit about sitting down to revisit it with a new foreword now, with the passage of time. Did your feelings about it magnify, change or evolve? What was your take looking at it again today nearly 20 years after you wrote it?
So I definitely have had a shift in perspective. That’s why I wanted to write the foreword. You know: “This is how I felt then, and here’s how I feel now.” And there is a difference in so many areas. Of course, one is race. Now we knew going into the trial, because all of us were trying cases in downtown Los Angeles for many years — I certainly was myself, 10 years before the Simpson case came along — and race was always an issue, always. It only got worse after the Rodney King verdict, and then of course the riots. But every time there was a black defendant, regardless that race almost never really played a role in a case. Never.
The number of times that you actually find a real hate crime — very rare, at least where I was in downtown Los Angeles, especially in Special Trials Unit, handling the high profile murders. They tend to be domestic violence, or I had the stalking case [Robert Bardo’s murder of sitcom actress Rebecca Scheaffer]. Bottom line: t was always an issue. So we knew it was going to be. Simpson is an African American.
We found out pretty early, like within a couple months of the murders, exactly how they were going to do it. At the time I wrote the book, my strongest feeling was that the verdict was a payback for the Rodney King verdict — and I think that’s true in part. I think for some jurors it really, really was. One of the jurors left the jury box on the day of the verdict with his fist raised, so there’s no mistaking that.
SEE ALSO: ‘American Crime Story’ star Sarah Paulson on Marcia Clark’s most trying hour yet
But I think others at least began the case with the intent to do the right thing, to be fair-minded, to be unbiased. I do. But I do think that over the course of nine sequestered months, with all kinds of racial slurs, racial epithets, little digs and jabs, and, of course, the huge sewer that was the Mark Fuhrman tapes came pouring into the court room … I think there came a point after which even the fair-minded jurors just couldn’t really trust anything enough to believe anything beyond a reasonable doubt.
That’s probably when payback seemed like the best option, in a sense.
I’m not sure. No, I don’t think that they were. I think some were, certainly. I think some came into that jury box determined. I know that some were, because one of the jurors actually said so … It was towards the end, and I said look, “I want you to know our office prosecuted the Rodney King officers. We thought they were guilty. We prosecuted them. We did lose that case. But I want you to know that acquitting Simpson, regardless of the evidence, is not the right way to go. It’s not payback time. Believe me, the message will not be delivered. So you’ve got to follow the evidence. Can you follow the evidence?” That sort of thing.
One hour later, an African American woman on the jury was overheard saying, “It’s payback time” — and that’s before we called the first witness. So yes, some absolutely were determined to make this a payback occasion. But others were not. I think others on that jury really did intend to do something fair and evaluate the evidence. I think it became impossible. The trial simply became overrun by the race issue. And if that wasn’t enough, of course, celebrity.
And I think it’s like in the ocean when you kick up the sand under the water and it completely clouds everything. You can’t see anything anymore. I think it became like that. I just think there was so much mistrust about everything that came out of a cop’s mouth, that it was impossible, I think, to get past that. And, of course, Johnnie [Cochran] played to that. He never really was able, of course, to show that there was really any evidence planted, any evidence truly contaminated. Especially not to the degree, consistent degree, that they claimed.
They never did have to prove it though, because the jury fundamentally didn’t trust the cops anyway. So he just played to that mindset. I think that at the end, even the ones who came in to be fair, wound up unable to trust anything enough to see the evidence for what it really was. That goes to my changing view, as I sat down to write the foreword. Having seen the police shootings, having seen some of the police brutality that’s now being captured on dash cams and body cams and surveillance cameras and cellphones, you can’t deny what you’re seeing.
It’s one thing to know. We all knew — prosecutors, we all knew. We had a unit devoted to prosecuting police officers. We all knew that bad shootings happen, and some cops are not good, and some cops are guilty of excessive force and brutality, of course. But when you see it in front of you like that, it gives you an understanding on a whole different level. I felt that, though. I understood better why there was so much mistrust, and why the defense was able to play to that mistrust so effectively.
Tell me a little bit more about the … I guess I would say corrosive effect of celebrity, as you mentioned, in the middle of all of this. It felt like at the time of this trial, that sort of phenomenon had been building with the Menendez brothers and Heidi Fleiss and Tonya Harding and those kinds of things. And yet it was also the big kickoff for this world that we live in now, where high profile crime is a cottage industry. So tell me about that effect on what you were doing then, and your thoughts on where it’s gone since.
Well, back then, there really wasn’t a cottage industry, right? At least I wasn’t aware of it, when it came to celebrity cases. There was a certain degree: I prosecuted the stalking murderer of Rebecca Schaeffer, who was an actress at the time and was just on the brink of stardom. It generated some publicity, it was covered by Court TV, which then I think was broadcasted into, like, three households. But there was no precedence for this, let me put it that way. There was none. The most you could expect with a high profile case was they spell your name right, maybe, if they even mention your name. They certainly never take your picture — or if they do, you’re way in the background because they’re focused on the defendant.
So what celebrity did in the course of that case was a number of things. I mean, there was no precedence of the level of media attention at all. It never happened in any case that I ever saw in Los Angeles, so there was no preparing for this. A field of satellite trucks behind the court building and reporters standing outside the courtroom door with all these anchors and their makeup people. It was crazy. I mean, it was truly a circus. You know about [the media’s]“Camp O.J.” across the street [from the courthouse]. It was nuts. So that wasn’t great, because more media attention doesn’t necessarily mean good media attention.
And you have some journalists are really worthy of the title, and some are not. And when it comes to a case with that much notoriety, there’s such a rabid desire to get the scoop, that the quest for reliability and accuracy was forgotten. You’re supposed to tell the truth, not just tell stories, and that was forgotten. So there’s a lot of misinformation out there. That’s the general media thing.
Celebrity also, unfortunately, was the siren song for our judge, who could not resist mugging for the cameras. He sits down for a six-part interview of his life during the trial, had a steady stream of celebrities go in and out of chambers, was so slavishly devoted to the defense side of things, the famous side, that we lost evidentiary ruins that were mind-blowing from a whole legal standpoint that’s too nerdy and ridiculous and boring to get into. The case was out of control because really, the rulings were handed to the defense. So, really, celebrity just kind of spread its tentacles out through every aspect of the case.
For you, obviously, it had a personal impact and that comes through loud and clear in the book. Because it was still pretty fresh and raw when you wrote the book, tell me about picking up the pieces and reclaiming your life after becoming essentially a pop culture commodity for as long as that trial went on.
It was a daunting thing to have to try and find a regular, a normal life after all that. After being so overexposed, it was really, for quite some time it was impossible to go out without being stopped and asked for autographs. I’m not complaining — please, please, no, I’m not complaining, Scott. I was lucky. I had no negative experience with anybody coming up to me to say any nasty thing or ugly thing. It didn’t ever happen.
But it’s weird. I never…my life was not supposed to be like that. It took a while, and I definitely did kind of find a way to live a quieter life. I moved away. I moved to a quiet place behind gates. I was careful about where and when I went out. Eventually, it went away. Eventually, it did die down, and life did eventually get normal, peaceful.
What was your first reaction when you heard about American Crime Story, discovered that it was in the planning stages?
I was really apprehensive. I was really wishing it wouldn’t happen. “Please make this go away. Please make it go away.” And you know, Scott: You know very well in Hollywood, things do go away. Yes. So I thought, “Somebody’s going to come to their senses. Surely they will, and this will go away.” And it didn’t.
I think the reason it didn’t is Ryan Murphy signed on. There you go: You have somebody who’s revered, he’s extremely talented. He’s huge. If Ryan says he wants to do something, it gets done. So when I saw that he was going to do it, I thought “Okay, it’s going to happen. Well, he’s a great director, so that’s good. But still…” Then I found out that Sarah Paulson was going to play me. Then it was like, “Wow! It doesn’t get any better than this.” She’s amazing. I’ve been a fan of hers for a million years. I just thought, “Wow, that’s so cool. If this must happen, at least you have the greatest quality you can imagine.”
Still, I was apprehensive about what are the writers going to write? You don’t know. But ultimately, watching it, I found myself really impressed at how amazingly big the series is in terms of attacking the big issues and trying to say something profound about the case and the trial and the time in which it took place. Really impressive. Really an amazing series. And of course, the performances are stunning. Just amazing. Sarah — of course, she always is brilliant, and of course, she is again. Courtney Vance, Sterling Brown — they’re phenomenal.
You were, with all your apprehension, gracious enough to meet for dinner with Sarah — and shots, as I understand.
Tell me, first, what did you want to communicate to Sarah when you sat down with her, and what did you take away from your encounter with her?
I didn’t have anything in mind to communicate. This is so goony, don’t be disgusted, okay? But it was just a fangirl moment for me. It really was. I was a little nervous about that because you know they say, don’t meet your heroes. That’s for real, right? You’ve probably had the experience a million times where you thought somebody’s really talented, you thought they were cool and you meet them and they’re really, really not.
Oh dear God, yes.
[Laughs] Yes. It’s disgusting. It’s a bad moment in life when that happens. I thought, maybe I shouldn’t. I really have this amazingly glowing feeling about Sarah and her brilliance, and then I thought, but I’ve got to do it. A chance to meet somebody that you revere so much, got to do it. So it was just that. I wasn’t thinking about what I wanted to tell her or hear from her necessarily. It was just, “I’ve got to meet this person.” And she turned out to be so wonderful. She’s incredible, incredible. Brilliant, and funny, and charming, and warm, and empathic, insightful. She was incredible. So it was, “Phew!” What I took away from that is, “How lucky am I to get the chance to meet her?”
And you can both hold your liquor.
And we can both hold our liquor, man! She turned me on to a brand new drink. How can you ever repay somebody for that?
Have you kept up with the show? How deep into it have you been able to watch?
About as deep as everybody else. In terms of, I have not seen the whole series. I have seen up until the last one that aired. I saw Episode Six at one point, because it was sent to me by someone. At the time I watched it, I was so nervous and scared and tired and everything. So I watched it with friends, but my memory is not entirely clear to be fair with you. So if you want to ask me questions, please feel free. But just know that I’m not trying to dodge, I just don’t remember a lot.
That’s the one that really focused on you and all of the external issues that you were dealing with at the time. I imagine that wasn’t an easy episode to kind of make it through.
As far as the details of any particular moment, I think possibly because it was such a painful thing to watch, and Sarah is so good, she is that good, that I started to feel all those same things again. I know you can only imagine the emotional undertow of that. If it weren’t such a fantastic actress, I wouldn’t be feeling that way. I would just probably be sitting back and going, “Huh?” But she made me relive it and so I think I had a pretty hard time with that.
One thing that stuck out to me while watching the show — and you made a similar point in your book in the trial – is how easily the victims could fall into the background. The show has really not depicted Nicole Brown or Ron Goldman specifically — as in the source material, Jeffrey Toobin’s book, everything picks up immediately after the murders. Is it important still now to remember those two victims in this case, with all of the other sideshow distractions that come of it, and still preoccupy us to this very day?
Oh, it’s so true, Scott. It is singularly the most painful aspect of the case, really, is the way in which the victims were forgotten. And I have to tell you, it happens in every murder case. It’s always something we struggle against because the defendant is sitting right over there. The victim is not. Never will be. Even the family of the victim is sitting way back there.
To bring the victims to life and to remind the jury constantly, this was a human who walked on the planet, walked on the Earth, and lived and breathed and had hopes and dreams, and didn’t expect the day to end the way it did, is always a challenge and it’s a difficult one because defense attorneys routinely block our efforts to bring in evidence that will humanize the victims, and to find a reason, legally speaking, to put in evidence of the victim is difficult, too.
You have to have some legitimate reason in terms of what happened the day of the murders. Also, you don’t, legally speaking, have a good reason to do that. In the Simpson case, it was far worse than most because you had this celebrity defendant, and you had all of the media attention focused on that, and of course the race card that permeated the trial. So all these other issues took the forefront, and more than any other case, any other murder case that I did, the victims got relegated to the background, and it was an incredibly painful thing to try and remind the jurors and remind the press every day.
We’d go out and say “Please remember, two innocent people were brutally murdered.” The line somehow never got printed, or very seldom did. So I always do find a way to remind people that it’s good that we’re having these important discussions about race, about domestic violence, about sexism. Thank you, Ryan Murphy, for bringing that out. Which, by the way, had nothing to do with the book. That was him. That’s great. But let’s not forget about at what price those conversations are taking place. Two innocent people are dead.
The themes of this show and then the themes of the real-life trial, as you obviously know, are so relevant today. Is that part of why this case still resonates in the public mind? Or is it simply that occupies a nostalgic kind of place in the public eye?
I think it’s both. I think it is a moment in time, there’s a pop culture aspect to it, in the sense that it’s the ’90s and what was going on in the ’90s. There’s that. But I think what keeps it, what would have made it so big right now, is the fact that current events have shown these issues to be still very much in the zeitgeist, very much in our world, in our society.
Like I said before, the shootings, police shootings and all of the footage that we’re seeing now — that we couldn’t have seen back then, by the way; we didn’t have the technology — makes it very clear that those issues that were floating through the trial are still very much a part of our world today. Which is why I think one of the most poignant questions posed at this point is: Would the verdict today be any different?
That’s such a tough question.
Isn’t it? I know. I don’t have an answer. And the fact that I don’t have an answer, and you’re saying it’s a tough question, Scott — think what that means.
It blows my mind. It blows my mind because there is no actual believable proof that anyone had the opportunity, let alone intent. Think about this. It’s a massive conspiracy they’re talking about, involving the cops, the crime lab. It’s so crazy.
In the conspiracy scenario, nobody benefits. Who benefits?
Right. Who benefits? Why? Why are people risking their lives, their careers, really, to frame this guy? Why him? This is hardly your civil rights firebrand — he’s not Malcolm X. He famously said, “I’m not black — I’m O.J.” The cops thought so too. It’s weird. Isn’t it, Scott? – Mashable.com via Google