Sarah Paulson
Sarah Paulson stars as Marcia Clark in "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story." (FX Networks)

Sarah Paulson: Marcia Clark is a hero

Sarah Paulson thinks Marcia Clark got a raw deal during her prosecution of O.J. Simpson—from the press, the public, defense lawyers and Paulson herself.

“I sort of believed a lot of what the press was telling me to believe about her at the time. I just didn’t take the time to delve any deeper. Nobody did,” said Paulson, who was 19 years old at the time of the 1994-95 trial. “The truth of the matter is we got a lot of two-dimensional versions and media spitting out ideas about what she was—which was sort of an aggressive, hard-nosed bitch.”

Paulson plays the former assistant district attorney in “People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” debuting at 10/9c Feb. 2 on FX. Adapted by Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander from Jeffrey Toobin’s book “The Run of His Life,” the 10-episode miniseries examines the trial and acquittal of former football great Simpson for the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman.

The production also takes great care to humanize all the participants, including Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and his defense Dream Team—Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance), Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane) and Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer)—and assistant district attorney Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown).

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That dedication to creating multi-dimensional characters is never more evident than in Paulson’s portrayal of Clark, who was pummeled with sexist attacks about her hair, her clothes, her manner and her private life while leading Los Angeles County’s prosecution of the case.

In a scene from Episode 6, Clark returns to court with a new hairdo—one of three wigs Paulson wears in the miniseries—that she believes looks great. Clark’s wounded confidence and disappointment play across Paulson’s face when Judge Lance Ito (Kenneth Choi) says, “Welcome, Ms. Clark, I think,” and the courtroom crowd begins to giggle. It was the kind of humiliation with which Clark had to contend throughout the trial, Paulson said.

“Having two small children and a husband who betrayed her and the public nature of all that scrutiny, which she was completely ill-prepared to handle, was like walking into a battle without any armor,” Paulson said at a recent TV Critics Association gathering in Pasadena, Calif. “She just didn’t have the skin for it. She just wasn’t designed as much for public life.”

Paulson didn’t meet with Clark until she finished filming that episode, she said, because she didn’t want the meeting to color her performance. Before filming began, though, the actress devoured books about the case by Clark and Toobin and watched Clark’s interviews with Barbara Walters and others. She searched on eBay for the formulation of the perfume Clark wore—Lancome’s Magie Noire—dabbing it on her skin before her scenes. By the time two met for dinner, Paulson was a huge fan of the lawyer.

“I had just come to completely revere her and … I just felt so much empathy for her and compassion for her,” she said. “I actually feel as women we all kind of let her down. Nobody really rallied for her. If it happened today I would like to imagine that we all would have sort of [defended her].”

Sarah Paulson
Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” (Michael Becker/FX Networks)

Like Paulson, executive producer Ryan Murphy was surprised by how much he didn’t know about the ordeal Clark faced at the time of the trial. The scripts, he said, really opened his eyes to what she was going through personally and the sexism that she endured. Murphy knew immediately who he wanted as his Marcia Clark. He frequently has collaborated with Paulson in the past, casting her in six different roles over five seasons of his “American Horror Story” anthology series, most recently as Hypodermic Sally McKenna in “AHS: Hotel.”

“When we were casting, the only person that, for me, was just like ‘this person is playing this part, and that’s it,’ was Sarah Paulson, who I obviously have a long relationship with,” he said in Pasadena, joking that Paulson “had no choice” but to play both roles.

Paulson filmed both series over six months last year, with the two production overlapping for much of the time. She would leave work on “Horror Story” at midnight and start work on “Crime Story” at 7 a.m., she said. Paulson had no complaints about the heavy work load, saying that the more exhausted she is from work the better she feels. Still, after wrapping “Horror Story” on Dec. 19 she took a much-needed vacation until early January.

“I just got back from the Caribbean, so that was nice,” she said. “It’s been a nice little bit of a rest but now I’m starting to get antsy.”

This story has been syndicated by Tribune News Service.