Sterling K. Brown says former prosecutor Christopher Darden wasn't interested in helping him prepare for his role in the critically acclaimed The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, an FX limited series based on the highest-profile trial of Darden's career.
The small-screen drama focuses on how beloved football legend Simpson was found not guilty of brutally stabbing to death his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1994. The verdict came after Darden, along with Marcia Clark and William Hodgman, unsuccessfully prosecuted Simpson in a racially charged, media-saturated trial, which saw Simpson defended by a Dream Team of powerful and expensive attorneys.
Simpson was, however, found liable for the deaths in a 1997 civil trial, and he is currently behind bars for armed robbery and kidnapping for an unrelated incident.
Best known for his performances in TV's Supernatural, Army Wives and Person of Interest, Brown is a Missouri native who earned degrees from Stanford University and New York University. He talked to UPI in a recent phone interview about how he tried to contact Darden before starting People v. O.J. Simpson and how he moved on after the lawyer refused to meet him.
What did you initially think when you heard FX and executive producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk were planning a miniseries about the Trial of the Century?
There is this kneejerk response of thinking that it's just going to be just about pop culture and sort of a popcorn-entertainment event. I am really proud of the producers for finding something that is entertaining -- and it has to be entertaining in order for people to pay attention -- but also educational, informative and it is looking to lead people to a deeper conversation than just about Kardashian kids and where they were when this whole thing went down. It was the first trial that really sort of pointed to the divide between black and white America and the disparity of which we saw in the United States, particularly with regards to law enforcement.
It seems like the real Darden was in an impossible situation at the time. Did you attempt to speak with him to get his perspective on the case and how it played out?
He was very much in an impossible situation and I think, because of that, he has been reticent to talk. I tried to reach out to him in a couple of different instances and he declined both times and I don't hold it against him. I don't take it personally because, walking around in his shoes for a few months, I can understand how he is not necessarily eager to relive this whole incident once again. So, no, I haven't [talked to him.] Maybe at some point in time in the future -- if he does watch the show -- he may reach out to me and we will get a chance to sit down and talk.
How did you find your way into the character's head without being able to talk to the man himself?
The first thing that everybody did was read Jeffrey Toobin's book The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson. That is sort of an overview of what our show is based on. The next thing I did was read Christopher Darden's book In Contempt, which sort of sets up who he was as the person coming into the trial and his experience throughout the trial, which was fascinating. It is very interesting to hear what somebody says about you and then it's interesting to hear what you say about yourself and sometimes those things sync up and sometimes those things are wildly divergent. And, besides reading those two books, I watched as much footage of the trial as I could possibly find. There were too very big interviews he did right after the trial with Charlie Rose and with Oprah Winfrey that I have referenced constantly -- not just for insight, but also for speech patterns and vocal intonations, etc.
Did you have any anxiety going into this since the man you are playing is still alive and well and possibly watching it on FX?
I felt a sense of responsibility. My hope was always that if and when Christopher Darden watches the show, that he can see some resemblance of himself in my portrayal of him. Even if it's not an exact replica, but at least the essence, the struggles that he was working through at that time as he was trying to navigate his way through the Trial of the Century. I felt a sense of responsibility and I hope he is pleased in that, as much as possible.