The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story's Sarah Paulson on Marcia Clark: "Why Weren't People Saying, 'You Look F-cking Hot?'"
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story got the best publicity campaign boost on Friday when news broke that a knife was found years ago on the Rockingham property belonging to O.J. Simpson and apparently the LAPD did nothing about it. While that development will no doubt be debated for weeks and months to come, one thing was absolutely certain in tonight’s episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: If Sarah Paulson doesn’t win her first Emmy ever for her role as Marcia Clark, then justice will not have been served.
Paulson has been nothing short of perfection in her portrayal of prosecuting attorney Marcia Clark in the FX limited series. In tonight’s episode, as Clark dealt with custody issues and an ill-conceived makeover, Paulson brilliantly captured the pain, heartbreak, and embarrassment that Clark no doubt suffered at the hands of the media, Judge Lance Ito, and total strangers. From her quivering lip to her determination not to let the tears start flowing, Paulson delivered one of the finest, most emotionally charged performances of her career.
And after sitting down with the actress, it became quite clear that this is a role that has changed her and challenged her in ways like never before. It’s also a role that remains quite current in today’s landscape—from the way the media dissected Clark’s appearance to what it means to be your authentic self. We sat down with Paulson after watching episode six to talk about the challenges Clark faced, what happened when she came face to face with the woman she was portraying, and what surprised her most about O.J. Simpson. Prepare to be utterly fascinated.
Glamour: What was it like to look in the mirror and see yourself as Marcia Clark?
Sarah Paulson: I really found it very liberating. It was scary, don’t get me wrong. I’m a 41-year-old woman wearing that, like, Chia Pet, broccoli-looking thing on my head. It was hard, but it was liberating. It really was. But why were not more women rallying around Marcia Clark during this time? I was 19, so I forgive my 19-year-old self, but women who were Marcia’s age, why were they not saying, “You’re good enough! You look f–king hot. You don’t need a makeover. You don’t need to be softer.” Any of the words used to describe Marcia would be positives when describing a man. As women, no one came out and said, in her defense—not lawyers, not judges—cut this shit. The woman is trying to put a man who she believes to be guilty behind bars for murdering two innocent people. Let’s not forget that.
Glamour: In recent years, there’s been this dialogue about how important it is to be yourself and not to let anyone else determine how you should look. Yet still, so many are quick to judge when you don’t conform to certain societal standards.
Sarah: I was talking about this with my friend, Amanda Peet. All we want to do is be comfortable, so it’s this constant battle of how do I not look like a garbage pail? At the same time, we’re obsessed with clothes and buy shit we never wear. So for me, the freedom…I’ve never been so tired in my life. I did [American] Horror Story and [American] Crime Story at the same time. I was wrapping at 7 A.M., and then I would have two hours of sleep before I had to be at work at the other. I mean, it was crazy. The good news is one [character] was a junkie and the other one, Marcia, hadn’t slept in a million years. So I was able to get away with it. The freedom of waking up in the morning and not having to worry [about what I looked like] was quite liberating. Meryl Streep, I think, said “vanity has no place in acting.” It’s really true.
Glamour: In the scene after Marcia’s makeover, when she walked into court, did Judge Lance Ito really say, “Here comes Ms. Clark, I think?”
Sarah: That was absolutely true.
Glamour: Have you ever felt pressure to look a certain way?
Sarah: Never from anyone other than myself. Only because when you’re first starting out, you’re trying to figure out the mystery to unlocking the [lock] that lets you in the room where you get to work. You think there’s some special combination if you could just learn it. I think Elizabeth Banks said something about this recently, where originally she would always dress as the character in auditions. I did the same thing. Then I remembered a beautiful actress, who shall remain nameless, and [the role] was to play some doctor in an inner city hospital, and she was sitting in the waiting room with me. I was wearing scrubs, and I had no makeup. She had full hair and makeup and something you’d wear on the red carpet. I didn’t get the part. Guess who did. I had a shift of going, “Oh, you want the movie version of the doctor. You don’t want a doctor, so I shouldn’t look like a doctor that works in the ER.” It was disheartening. And yet, I did it, and I did start [booking roles]. It’s crazy.
Glamour: You had dinner with Marcia Clark. What was that evening like?
Sarah: I’ve never been more nervous in my life. It was like meeting Emma Thompson or Meryl Streep—it was like meeting an idol. I had immersed myself [into] Marcia’s life so much. I read her book and I watched so many interviews and clips with her that I felt very connected to her. Tina Fey played her in [Unbreakable] Kimmy Schmidt, but that doesn’t really count. This hasn’t really been done before. And here I am representing her, and I don’t want to f–k it up. I read so much about her and watched every little nuanced moment that when she walked into the restaurant, it was like a romance novel. It was like, “She walked through the revolving glass door of this restaurant, with the sun setting in the background…” and as soon as I saw her, I recognized that walk. There’s that mole. Oh my God, it’s Marcia. I took my shirt and pulled it up over my head and started to squeal and make these crazy noises. She’s like, “What?!? and I said, “Oh my gosh, I’m sorry! I don’t think I can look at you for a couple minutes! I’m totally starstruck.” She was so generous with me and said such nice things about me. It was just too much [in the best way possible].
Glamour: What did you want to ask her first and foremost?
Sarah: If she was OK. I wanted to know that she was OK. As an actress, you sign up knowing that [people will look at you, judge you]. Marcia was a civil servant. She tried 20 cases as a deputy district attorney, winning 19 of them before this 21st case. She had never been in the limelight in this way. It was like going into battle without any armor. Whereas with Johnny Cochran, F. Lee Bailey, Robert Shapiro, they were used to being in front of the cameras all the time. That’s just what they did.
Glamour: What about O.J. Simpson or the case that surprised you?
Sarah: I didn’t know he was such an idiot, I’m sorry. [Laughs] But everything stunned me—the removing of personal items from Nicole’s place, the lie detector test. Also, a lot of the stuff that stunned me was a lot of the information that Ito did not deem admissible in court, and it really hurt the prosecution. Everything was kind of this smack in the face with cold water. I mean, if you wrote it and we didn’t know what all had happened, you wouldn’t believe it.
Glamour: What was your process getting into character each day? How did you go about embodying Marcia’s drive and intensity to get this done?
Sarah: To me, it just spoke to me because I feel that way as an actress. It’s how I approach my work and approach my life, really. I’m very driven. I would watch her, and I would think about Nicole and Ron. I would think about them. I would think about the tragedy there, and Ron’s father, and it’s that famous thing about how Ron became a footnote in his own murder trial. He was a human being, and his whole life was smacked out before it was even able to begin. It’s so upsetting, and sometimes I would have to think about that and it would just make me put my head down and go to town.
Glamour: Aside from Marcia Clark, is there anyone from the trial or the case that you wish you could sit down with and ask them questions?
Sarah: In this particular trial, I would be interested in talking to Mark Fuhrman. Only because I find him very perplexing. I find him to be a very scary man and would like to talk to him.
Episode 7 of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story airs Tuesday night on FX.