“I was scared of taking on O.J. overall, as a white person, knowing this was a polarizing case. We made every effort to have an inclusive team, but ultimately, the people who began the project, it started with a bunch of white people,” Jacobson told THR.
The People v. O.J. Simpson producer Nina Jacobson admitted she was hesitant to take on the infamous murder trial at the heart of the show during The Hollywood Reporter‘s Drama Showrunner Roundtable.
“I was scared of taking on O.J. overall as a white person, knowing that this is a polarizing case,” Jacobson said. “We made every effort to have an inclusive team, but ultimately, the people who began the project — it started with a bunch of white people. And we know that the case means different things to different people.”
She mentioned that while she felt comfortable addressing issues of feminism and sexism in the workplace (“When you know it, it feels easier and safer”) in certain episodes centered on Marcia Clarke, she approached issues of race more carefully.
“It’s actually more scary when you know that you’re a bit outside of your own experience,” Jacobson revealed. “How do you get that right? And how do you make sure that you’re addressing complicated subjects that you know are divisive in a way that feels provocative, honest, but also self-aware?”
On finding the right actors to play the real-life characters in the series, Jacobson revealed it took a “lot of convincing” for John Travolta (who plays lawyer Robert Shapiro) to join the cast and return to TV after 30 years.
She noted, “It was a long courtship. It was a long process of him finding peace with coming back to television and doing so with subject matter we knew was provocative and could be controversial.”
The producer went on to explain why the role of Christopher Darden was the hardest to cast, saying, “There were a lot of black dudes who were just like, ‘No way, I’m not playing that guy. I hate him. I’m not gonna play him.'”
The actor Jacobson was searching for had to be the right balance of charaismatic, sexy and likeable, and she admitted it took her some time to realize that Sterling K. Brown was a perfect fit.
“I had to go and look at his other work because I was like, ‘God, he’s so great. But is he sexy enough?'” she said, before adding, “He is a hottie! And I had no idea, based on his audition, that he was that guy.”
More roundtables featuring comedy and drama actors and actresses, comedy showrunners, and reality hosts and producers will roll out throughout June in print and online. Tune in to new episodes of Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter starting June 26 on SundanceTV, with the premiere of the Drama Showrunners Roundtable on Sunday, July 24. And look for clips at THR.com/roundtables with full episodes on THR.com after broadcast.