More than 20 years after O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder, Cuba Gooding Jr. is portraying the embattled former football star in FX's "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" -- a role that the Oscar-winning actor said led him to rethink his opinion of the Simpson verdict many times.
Gooding told HuffPost Live Monday that he breathed a sigh of relief when he first heard the "not guilty" verdict in 1995, thanks in part to the historical context at the time. He said he had wrapped "Boyz in the Hood" and watched the Rodney King riots unfold, both of which prefaced Simpson's trial and created a "hotbed of racial tension" in 1990s Los Angeles. But Gooding's stance on the trial has since wavered, he added.
"When they said, 'not guilty,' I celebrated because I didn't care if he did it or he didn't do it. It was like another black man seeming like he was set up for something he didn't do," Gooding said. "But shooting this series -- 10 episodes, so 10 screenplays -- every time I got a new script, my opinion went back and forth. I mean, it was like all over the place."
Gooding was hesitant to share his opinions about the trial because it could color viewers' perspectives on the character. Instead, he urged those who watch the show to evaluate it "like we created the performance on a blank space."
"[Executive producer] Ryan Murphy was very specific about keeping his personal feelings vague, even though it's based on Jeffrey Toobin's book, who believes [Simpson] did do it," he told host Alex Miranda. "I think the series in a whole is more [of an] examination of this time period and putting the judicial system on trial, because we know what verdict was announced."
In crafting their roles for the series, some of the "American Crime Story" stars connected with their real-life counterparts, but Gooding made the "conscious decision" not to sit down with Simpson, who is now serving prison time for a 2007 armed robbery and kidnapping conviction. The actor said the former athlete's current state could have interfered with the star character he aimed to portray.
"This was a moment in his life when he was an international movie star. He was a Heisman Trophy winner, he broke records in the NFL, and I needed that braggadocious nature about him," he said. "I didn't want the shell of a man that is incarcerated today to get into the psyche of the performance."
Watch the full HuffPost Live conversation with Cuba Gooding Jr. here.
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