A month ago I wrote that I’d been allowed to see the first six episodes of The People vs. O.J. Simpson, the ten-part “American Crime Story” miniseries (exec produced and co-written by HE pallies Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and directed/co-produced by Ryan Murphy) that debuts tomorrow night — Tuesday, February 2nd — on FX. Let me repeat what everyone has been saying, which is that this it gets everything right except for one awful casting choice. Otherwise this is one of the most arresting true-crime miniseries I’ve ever seen. Bracing. Crackerjack up and down, and really well acted. Sharp writing, tightly cut, keeps the ball in the air. There are even a couple of jokes about the brassy young daughters of O.J. friend and counsel Robert Kardashian…love it!
Cheers to Alexander and Karaszewski for having written an on-target, carefully-measured, sometimes hilarious script, and to Murphy for delivering the whole thing with a completely realistic and recognizable tone.
To a very large extent almost all of the actors strikingly resemble their counterparts — especially John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, Nathan Lane as F. Lee Bailey, Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, Courtney Vance as Johnnie Cochran (great!), Robert Morse as Vanity Fair reporter Dominick Dunne, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, Kenneth Choi as Judge Lance Ito, Billy Magnussen as Kato Kaelin, Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden, Bruce Greenwood as Gil Garcetti and Rob Morrow as Barry Scheck. The whole resemblance + dead-on performance dynamic is quite enjoyable. Total approval on this end.
Except for the casting of Cuba Gooding as O.J. Simpson.
I complained about the Gooding casting on 12.9.14, to wit: “The midsized Gooding (around 5′ 10″) played a football player in Jerry Maguire, of course, but he doesn’t have that agile, broad-shouldered, brawny big-guy quality that Simpson (who stands around 6′ 2″) had in his prime. Plus you need a square-jawed, Fred Williamson– or Robert Hooks-resembling actor who can deliver that cool, studly, possibly malicious vibe…a guy who just might have an Othello complex going on inside. Gooding doesn’t have the vibe at all. He’s about charm, smiles and occasional glares, but he’s not a rage-aholic.”
And that was before I’d seen anything, of course. Now that I’ve watched 60% of the series I’m even more dug in.
Cuba is too small. He looks older than OJ did at the time. OJ had relatively trim, clean features while Cuba looks weathered, saggy, baggy-eyed. Cuba has the wrong nose — OJ’s nose was straight, almost Romanesque. Cuba is whiny and raspy-voiced, his shoulders are too narrow and small, he’s too short and too wimpy. I appreciate that Cuba is giving it hell, but OJ had a strong, deep, resonant voice. He had largeness, presence, force. He was a formidable football guy. Cuba looks like his assistant, his trainer.
Why did Murphy do such a great job of casting everyone else, and totally get it wrong in the casting of OJ Simpson?
Does Cuba do well performance-wise? Yeah, I suppose. He does his best, he acts the hell out of the part. But he’s not studly enough. Not big enough. Not broad-shouldered enough. Not deep-voiced enough. Not OJ enough.