FX’s critically acclaimed miniseries “People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” nabbed 22 Emmy nominations on Thursday, with six cast members nominated in leading and supporting roles, including Cuba Gooding Jr.
And while Gooding Jr. may have played the show’s titular character, it’s definitely a stretch to call him the lead. His nomination comes as even more of a surprise since he was thought to be miscast, especially in the wake of ESPN’s masterful documentary “O.J.: Made in America,” which depicted Simpson as a charming, cunning and manipulative person who was very much involved in his defense strategy. This was in direct opposition to the character Gooding Jr. portrayed.
Though Gooding Jr. may have just been a poor casting choice altogether, the way he chose to play Simpson isn’t on him. You can blame Jeffrey Toobin for that.
The show is based on Toobin’s book The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, which claimed that Simpson was barely literate and had no idea what was going on in his case.
In a 1996 interview on “Charlie Rose,” author Lawrence Schiller, who was promoting his own book American Tragedy: The Uncensored Story of the Simpson Defense, argued that Simpson played a central role in his defense and claimed Toobin didn’t have the right information on which to base his opinion.
“He didn’t sit in the defense meetings. He didn’t listen to Mr. Simpson on the telephone talking to his attorneys,” Schiller said of Toobin. “He wasn’t there when the attorneys wanted to attack [Judge] Ito and Mr. Simpson said, ‘You can’t do that. The jurors love Ito, at this point. If you attack Ito, you’re attacking the jury.’ Simpson was brilliant on many, many occasions. Mr. Toobin is a very fine writer, but in this case, in his book he did not have good material in which to write from.”
Schiller had unprecedented access to Simpson’s defense team during the trial after he helped make the Fuhrman tapes available to the jury. He worked closely with Robert Kardashian, as well as lawyers Shawn Chapman and Carl Douglas, who proved to be his best sources.
Anyone who watched ESPN’s OJ documentary is likely to agree with Schiller’s account of Simpson. When considering Gooding’s Emmy nomination, it’s important to take into account the source material. He wasn’t playing O.J. Simpson, he was portraying Toobin’s interpretation of Simpson, which, it seems, was very, very different than what he was actually like in real life. So does the performance deserve to be celebrated? Maybe. But how authentic was it?