FX’s popular TV series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, directed by Ryan Murphy and Anthony Hemingway, as a part of the anthology series American Crime Story is now streaming on Netflix. It dealt with one of the most controversial and sensational cases of the ‘90s that dealt with the famous NFL player O.J. Simpson was convicted for allegedly murdering his wife Nicole Brown and her lover Ron Goldman.
This award-winning show that received 22 nominations and nine wins at the Emmys, besides winning big at the Golden Globes, saw brilliant and spine-chilling performances from the huge ensemble cast that included the likes of Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown, Courtney b. Vance, Nathan Lane, John Travolta, David Schwimmer, Cuba Gooding Jr., Christian Clemenson and more.
The series did not sugarcoat facts and lacked subtlety which made it refreshing, informative and riveting. Risky, nuanced and well-executed, the series still prevails as one of the finest crime documentaries about a case notorious for its controversial premise and verdict.
Out of the various names involved, here are the six best performances from the show:
The People v. OJ Simpson: The 6 best performances
6. John Travolta as Robert Shapiro
Narcissistic and calculative, John Travolta’s hubris-driven performance as the exuberant attorney is nothing short of sheer perfection. His tight, hollowed-out jaw and sneers add a different layer to his character. He constantly analyses the situation and nothing misses his eye. He knows how to manipulate the circumstance to his favour and does not lose his elitist attitude even in the gravest situations.
Travolta is brilliant as Shapiro. He overemphasised the phrases and undergoes a full transformation that is not just limited to prosthetics and makeup; his spiritual and emotional transformation into the cold and menacing attorney whose magnetic presence and effect is undeniable on-screen is absolutely commendable. It is undoubtedly Travolta’s finest performance since Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
5. David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian
Ater FRIENDS, David Schwimmer was more or less off the grid. His role as Robert Kardashian, O.J. ‘s best friend helped resuscitate his career and establish him as an actor beyond his nerdy and awkward role as Ross Geller. This is undeniably Schwimmer’s best performance as the middle-aged Robert who lends unwavering support and loyalty to his best friend who stood by him like a rock in his times of distress. He dons his lawyer’s coat once again for his friend and gets dragged into the notorious and crazy media battle.
Schwimmer does an incredible job as Rob Kardashian as he slowly begins to suspect and question O.J. ‘s moral compass. The conflict and turmoil between choosing his friend and sticking to his morality are well-documented by Schwimmer’s pained expression that is palpable in his meaningful stares. He is powerful and incredible as the jaded lawyer who sticks by his friend in person yet slowly loses faith.
4. Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. Simpson
Cuba Gooding Jr. was the finest choice for the role of O.J. Simpson. While he looks nothing like the “iconic” footballer and his huge build, no other actor could have executed such a complex character with such intricate perfection and perseverance. His face reeks of torment, agony and secrets. He is angry and frustrated and not used to being at the end of the interrogation. After he gets handcuffed briefly in the first episode, he breaks into tense bouts of rage where Gooding Jr.’s voice cracks are convincing and add to the high-strung tension.
As the series progresses, so does Simpson’s character narrative. His dismissive head nods, quintessential to celebrities, his empty threats of committing suicide, his scowling demeanour and impatient nature show the utter confusion and hatred brewing inside O.J. He is no longer fighting to defend himself. It is a fight that is taking place inside his conscience and Cuba Gooding jr. does an exceptional job of bringing that pain to the surface.
3. Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden
Brown had us at “I vote babe” when he called the radio show hosting Marcia Clark: Bitch or Babe? His incredible support towards his co-worker during her times of distress is unparalleled. But Brown’s Darden is much more than being Marcia’s mere supporter. Bold and seething for justice, Darden is absolutely antithetical to Vance’s Johnnie Cochran. While Cochran wants to use the situation to bring in racial politics, Darden is brave enough to voice his contempt towards the likes of Cochran at the end of the verdict.
Brown’s incredible potential and prowess as an actor is palpable at the sheer vulnerability he presents even via his silence and blank stares. He is tormented by his inability to aid the situation. He is brimming with words but somehow remains restrained which adds to the cutthroat tension in the series.
2. Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran
You might not like Johnnie by the end of the series but his pervading impact is undeniable. He starts the conversation about the broader reality involving racial relations. While it might be difficult to comprehend his cynicism at first as well as his motive to transform a homicide case into a debate about racism and politics, the backstory behind Johnnie being humiliated by a white cop in front of his family is harrowing. The rage, agony and humiliation culminate into a terrifying hatred and cunning shrewdness that drives Johnnie. And Vance is incredible in his role.
He is stellar in his portrayal of the self-indulgent attorney who knows what he is doing. He takes down Marcia and her team strategically, never losing his footing or calm. To see Vance depict the smooth-talking soothsayer who hides within himself the burning rage against blatant racism plaguing the country is an absolute delight. If Marcia is the gendered lens, he provides a look into the racial politics and starts a very important and necessary conversation regarding the same.
1. Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark
Nobody but Sarah Paulson could have pulled off the character of Marcia Clark and with such a compelling attitude. Paulson is powerful, angry and frustrated. She is a single mother trying to balance the weight of the world on her shoulders while being plagued by a divorce. She is clearly affected by how O.J.‘s fame helps him get away with his brutal assault of his wife. She wants justice for Nicole but, somewhere deep inside, it is a personal battle.
It is a personal battle for black people, for the rioters, for the mobs on the road as much as it is for Marcia. She is appalled by how the justice system fails Nicole.
Marcia’s nudes are leaked and she is defamed. Paulson adds unthinkable vulnerability and raw emotions to the character, making her human. She is incredibly strong as the prosecutor who is crumbling beneath the iron-tight professional facade. She is formidable in the courtroom and becomes the epitome of the gendered lens in the series, bringing the culmination of rage, discrimination and pure fury towards the fragile justice system.