“I didn't care if he killed them or not -- I just wanted him to get off.”
Cuba Gooding Jr was a 26-year-old actor in 1994 when the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson, the ex-wife of celebrity footballer O.J. Simpson, and Ronald Goldman were discovered in Los Angeles.
Gooding recalls that despite the brutal murders, his reaction was motivated by anger and America’s deep racial divide. A year prior, 4 white LAPD officers were acquitted of severely beating black motorist Rodney King, igniting the LA riots and a widespread mistrust of police.
“You've got to remember that there I am a young 20-something black male celebrity living in Los Angeles, having witnessed the horrible outcome of the Rodney King verdict and acquittal of those officers,” Gooding told The Huffington Post Australia.
“I was just so young and angry that I didn't care -- all I focused on was that I didn’t want the police to roll another black man, specifically a black celebrity.”
Twenty-two years later, Gooding admits he feels guilty and ashamed that his only thoughts were with O.J. Simpson, and not with the victims and their families.
The trial of the former NFL star, which captivated the world, is the subject of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, a 10-part series in which Gooding stars as Simpson.
The combination of O.J.’s super confident legal “dream team”, led by close friend and defence lawyer Robert Kardashian and the LAPD’s history of racism essentially gave a jury what it needed to acquit Simpson of the double murder: reasonable doubt.
O.J.'s legal team including John Travolta as David Shapiro and David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian.
Gooding’s voice breaks slightly as he recalls filming the Nicole Brown funeral scene, where he re-enacted O.J. kneeling down to kiss her corpse.
“I remember going to my trailer and I started to cry. I couldn't stop, it was almost like I was having a nervous breakdown. I was talking to Ryan [Murphy the director] about it and I said, ‘You know, I gotta be honest with you, I felt such guilt and shame about feeling the way I did when I heard the ‘not guilty’ verdict’,” he said.
“I never grieved for those families. I was trying to celebrate O.J.’s release but I never felt for the Goldman family or the Brown family -- the fact that they’d lost a daughter, they’d lost a son, a mother -- and those kids. No matter who did the crime, those kids’ lives had changed forever.”
The question of whether Simpson was innocent or guilty is not something Gooding likes to explore.
“I don’t like to talk about my personal opinion because I think once you judge a character that you’re portraying then you miss out on all the other wonderful qualities that are emotionally available to them,” Gooding said.
Gooding shared Ryan Murphy’s vision that it wasn’t their role to determine whether O.J. was guilty or innocent, but rather to put that period in context.
Cuba Gooding Jr as O.J. Simpson portraying the 16-month trial.
“Ryan was really looking to put the trial on trial. He wanted to show the events during this time period that would go on to become a complete media circus,” Gooding said.
Judge Lance A. Ito was criticised for his decision to allow cameras in the courtroom during the trial which became so sensational that 150 million viewers -- 57 percent of the country -- tuned in to watch the live broadcast of the final verdict in October 1995.
On Sunday night, Australian audiences will revisit the infamous trial, with the series already breaking ratings records and earning critical praise in the United States.
“In any major tragedy or any crime, when you revisit it, the obvious question of ‘how did it happen’ comes up,” Gooding said.
“If you believe that he’s guilty and they found him innocent you want to know every aspect of that trial to see what went wrong. It’s such a brilliant dissection of that courtroom and all of the lives of the people sitting in there.”
One of those people in the courtroom was prosecutor Marcia Clark, who received unprecedented media attention during the trial and was attacked for her appearance and personal life.
At the time she was in the midst of a divorce and six months into the trial faced public humiliation when topless photos of her were leaked to media.
“It shows Marcia Clark dealing with the fact she’s going through a divorce and how women were marginalised and treated professionally in that time period in America,” Gooding said.
Gooding said the series reflects ongoing social injustices, such as gender inequality and police corruption.
“There are so many relevant issues that are reflected from that court room that we’re still dealing with in the United States today.”
Cuba Gooding Jr as O.J. Simpson in 1994.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story airs on Channel Ten on Sunday night and follows Simpson’s 1994-5 murder trial through its 16 months.