Marcia Clark on Episode 6 of The People v. O.J. Simpson: ‘They Get the Big Stuff Right’

Prosecutor Marcia Clark At O.J. Simpson Trial
Deputy district attorney Marcia Clark on January 24, 1995, during the murder trial of O.J. Simpson. Photo: Getty Images

Last Friday, Marcia Clark woke up in Los Angeles to news that a knife reportedly found on the former property of O.J. Simpson in the late ‘90s had surfaced. “It reminded me of what it was like during the trial,” she told Vulture. “Every single minute something was blowing up my phone. People back then had pagers and I had one, and every day, all day long, some crazy thing was exploding.”

Although LAPD is testing the knife for DNA, according to news reports it doesn’t seem likely it’s the missing murder weapon. But the possible developments in the Simpson case still left Clark feeling thrown, just as she was starting to be more at ease with watching herself fictionalized on FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Tuesday night’s episode, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” focuses heavily on Clark’s family life, the media criticism of her appearance and style, and her relationship with co-prosecutor Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown). In her typical candid way, Clark spoke to Vulture about the personal challenges she faced that were addressed in the episode, the makeover she never got, and whether she really danced with Darden in her office. (Read our first conversation with Clark here.)

When we talked before the series premiered, you were a little anxious and nervous. It was a very strange feeling for you to be seeing this part of our life on your TV set. How has it settled?
So much better. Now I get a sense of what they were doing. Before, I was really hung up on Did they get everything right? They can’t get everything right. But they get the big stuff right. And God, what more can you ask than that, seriously?

In some cases I think they don’t even try to get it right. They’re kind of trying to make a point in some places, right?
There you go, exactly, exactly. They have to make a point. They have ten hours to deliver on a 15-month trial. They never pretended to be a documentary. And they really make great points. So all I can say is, at the end of the day I think it’s a really terrific series. It’s impressive.

Do you agree that they humanized all of the people we thought we knew in a different way?
Chris Darden is delivered beautifully. Johnnie Cochran is delivered beautifully. Of course, Sarah. She’s a genius, and I’ve thought that for many years.  I don’t like watching myself, but there’s a remove to that. If it was really me, I could never watch this. And I never watched myself during the trial. When they show real trial footage, I turn off the TV. I can’t even bear it. When it’s her, somehow that gives me a layer of remove. I can watch it and I appreciate the amazing performance that it is. Ryan Murphy pulling out the sexism is an amazing thing. I never expected anyone to do that. I think it’s incredible that he did it not in a heavy-handed [way], but in a way that is real.

The episode began with a tough courtroom scene related to your child-custody battle. You were actually going through that during the trial, right?
I was going through a custody battle. And a divorce. And, yes, it was very difficult. On that particular subject, both of us voluntarily don’t talk about it because it’s better for the kids. So, if you don’t mind.

I understand. One of the reasons this comes up in the episode is because on one of the nights that Marcia has to work late, she’s not able to. And Johnnie Cochran is making some cracks — “Well, I don’t have child-care issues.” Did Johnnie really behave that way?
This is where I suck, Maria. I really do. I’ve blocked out so much of that time in my life because it was so painful. It was unbearable. And I can’t remember. Could it have happened? Oh, yes. It certainly could’ve happened. And if Johnnie had smarted off at me, I certainly would have had a retort. So all I can say is, it’s probably true.

It was necessary to work late because of the whole Rosa Lopez situation.
What really happened was that day was going to be a short day for us. They were going to bring in Rosa Lopez early, and we’d take care of it and be out of there by noon. I told them, “Good, because I need to be home for the kids, because their father is going to pick them up to have his night with them, and last week I wasn’t there when he came to take them and they got really freaked out.” So I told [Judge Lance Ito], “I’ve got to be there, so I have to leave by about 4 o’clock.” And he said, “that will be fine, we’re gonna be out by noon.” That was the understanding. Then, Rosa Lopez doesn’t show up, she takes forever. As we know, she had her problems. In hindsight, I know she was probably afraid to come in. But they finally brought her in, and it was really late. And the hearing was going on and on and on. They didn’t want her to come back the following day, they wanted to go into the night. I think they were afraid they were going to lose her. And they might also have been afraid we’d have more time to dig up stuff to impeach her with. So they were insisting on going to 8 or 9 o’clock at night, and that’s when I had to say, “Hey, wait a minute. Remember you said I could go? I can’t be here?” And Lance said, “Yeah, that’s right. I’m sorry, I forgot.”

The way it was presented in the show is that Marcia’s all ready and confident to put Mark Fuhrman on the stand and Johnnie sidesteps it by introducing the Rosa Lopez problem. So Fuhrman wasn’t testifying that day at all?
No. That’s one of those things where they compressed time. It was a necessary device, and it actually worked pretty well, I thought.

Does watching Fuhrman bring up anything for you?
Oh, Jesus. The name brings it all up for me, you know what I mean? I don’t have to see anybody doing it. It was horrifying. And to say that I was ever confident about anything to do with Mark Fuhrman? Nope. Not after the preliminary hearing. I found out that he had something in his history, and then he became the lightning rod for all of the defense claims. The problem with that trial was everybody was coming at us from all sides, all day and all night, trying to get into the case. People were claiming that they saw things they couldn’t have seen. We were putting witnesses on polygraph almost every day, because that’s how much we were getting in terms of people trying to insert themselves into the case. The real witnesses didn’t want to convict Simpson. But the fake ones were dying to. I refused to even talk to them until they were polygraphed, which saved me a lot of time. We also got reports, not a ton, but some, of people that claimed to hear Mark Fuhrman using racial slurs. I didn’t know quite what to make of them. He certainly was somebody the defense had targeted. Fuhrman denied it all. I didn’t have a third party to corroborate either side. So the only thing I can do is let him testify and let the defense have at him. And that is a very uncomfortable place to be, but there was no other choice. What happened that made it all so horrible were those tapes that came out later with his voice audible.

The show has had quite a few scenes between Marcia and Chris discussing whether Furhman should be a witness.
That’s not true. That’s what comes from [Jeffrey Toobin’s] book and is just absurd. And Toobin doesn’t know. He made that up. Toobin’s idea was, why did we even have to call Fuhrman? And that comes from somebody who really doesn’t know a thing about trial work. We cannot get away with not calling Mark Fuhrman. That’s a silly, ridiculous thing to say. So the question never was: Should we put Fuhrman on the stand? The question became, who is gonna put him on the stand? Truth is, when Bill dropped out of the case, I pushed all of his witnesses to Chris. Fuhrman was one of Bill’s witnesses.  It was never, We’re targeting the black guy to put on the racist. 

And did Chris actually feel uncomfortable doing Fuhrman?
Yes. Eventually, he did. At first it was okay. He did a good job of preparing Fuhrman. He spent days, maybe weeks preparing him for his testimony.

Poor guy.
Yes, truly. Poor guy. He was muscling through it and then ultimately said, “I just can’t do this.” And I said, “Fine.” I wasn’t upset with him. I was like, “I get it. Give it to me, I’ll take it. It’s fine.” And I did. Fuhrman was just part of Bill’s lineup. And then around that time we started finding the domestic violence witnesses, so Chris wound up with those, too. We had split up the cops because there was so much physical evidence to collect.

They also dramatized Bill’s exit.
He didn’t really collapse, and what happened was not in the courtroom, of course, or everybody would’ve known that. Again, it’s fine. They’re illustrating something here. They wanted to do it in a dramatic way and that’s what you do with a show like this.

In tonight’s episode, we see the haircut. At what point did you decide that you would play along and change your look?
I didn’t [Laughs]. That was a media creation. In the very beginning of the case, before opening statements, our press person said, “You need to get a haircut. You look kind of messy.” And I did. I was kind of scraggly. So I got my hair cut. That was it. And after that point — the media goes crazy with this shit — it’s just so weird. There came that point in the trial when my perm grew out. I didn’t have the time to go and get permed again. That particular morning I looked at myself and I said, Just blow it out and stop trying. You can’t keep it up. You’re never going to have time to go back to the hairdresser now. And I have straight hair. So I blew it out. Thus began the media parade about the makeover. And my girlfriend gave me a concealer pencil, which my youngest son then stuck down a sprinkler pipe, because it fit. That was my makeover. How could I have had a makeover and still looked that bad?  I just don’t understand.

On the show, Gil Garcetti is the one offering a stylist.
Well, Gil did help me. Behind the scenes, very quietly, he got suits donated to me that were much nicer than the ones I had. The suits were a quality I could never even have dreamed of, let alone buy.

Did he do that because of what the public was saying?
He did it, I think, because the media was kicking me all over the place about my off-the-rack suits. I think they were some of his supporters that he got to do it. It was really nice. [He] was the only person who really stood up to help me out with that. The jury consultant said to wear pastels and talk softly. Thanks, dude. That’s very helpful (Laughs). Wear a pinafore.

It’s been sweet to see the relationship they’ve portrayed between you and Chris. Does that mirror how you got along?
He was so important to me. If you’re gonna be in the middle of a war like that, you have to have a good trench mate, and he really was. I’d drag up from court every day, miserable. You have to keep a poker face all day long in court, but at the end of the day when you go back to your office, you can let yourself fall apart, and I did. Not in the sense that I’m weeping, but just deflated like a balloon. It was so awful. We’re never gonna make it. It’s never gonna happen. They’re never gonna convict him. Every single time we would present evidence, they would say, “Oh, planting, we don’t believe it, they fabricated it.” And it didn’t matter that there was no rational explanation for how these things could have been planted, how this could have been done, how Fuhrman could even have planted the glove. But no one cared. Rational explanations just went out the window. It didn’t matter what we did. So you can imagine how defeating that is, day after day, over a period of 15 months. Chris was like the rock. He would say, “You know. It’s going to be all right. We’ll give them the evidence. It’ll be okay.” He was an important sense of moral support.

Did you guys really dance in your office?
No, but again, that’s a great moment because they’re delivering the essence of our relationship, and that’s nice. It’s an essential truth even if it’s not a literal truth.

We haven’t gotten to the glove fiasco yet in the show, but Sterling K. Brown told me in an interview that there’s a huge fight scene between Chris and Marcia that was very hard for him to film.
That was such a terrible day.

Did you fall out after that? Or did you just fight in a moment of frustration?
It was in the moment. I did write about it in my book. It was a debacle, no question. On the way out of the courtroom, Chris said, “I’m sorry.” And I said, “Forget about it, you know, if this lost it for us we never would have won.” Because I knew we were going to counter with other experts who were going to say, “Look, hey, those gloves did fit.” The gloves had been frozen, Simpson was wearing latex, they had shrunken. I mean the fact that he could get them on at all shows you it’s the right size. And we did counter with all that expert testimony. In any other case, a jury looks at that and says, “Yeah, of course! That makes sense. And why would you let Simpson put on the gloves anyways.” Why would you let someone who has every interest in making this experiment [have] full control of it? There were so many reasons why it was a doomed experiment from the start, but the jury should have known all these things, too. If you don’t remember, this jury certainly saw expert testimony that said that those gloves really did fit. The fact that this jury didn’t do that should tell you something about this jury that has nothing to do with the evidence in the case. At the end of the day, people will not believe what they do not want to believe. That’s it.

But it wasn’t a surprise that Chris was going to ask him to try the gloves on, right?
That was our big fight. It was his witness. Whoever got the witness up controlled the testimony. I can weigh in with my opinion, but I can’t stop him. We went to sidebar and the judge suggested that Simpson try on the glove. And I objected, on the record. I said, “No! No! It’s not a proper experiment. The latex will screw up the fit.” And Chris said, “Yeah, I want to do it.” And then we step aside and had the biggest fight we’ve ever had about ten feet away from the court reporter. I said some very unlovely things about what a stupid idea that was. And he said, “But if we don’t do it, the defense will do it.” And I said, “Let them! Let them.” Then we’d be able to say, of course it doesn’t work, Simpson doesn’t want it to work, and the gloves have been affected by all the other things I already mentioned. But Chris didn’t feel that way.

But you know what? I really wish people could stop hammering on this glove thing. Chris is a great lawyer. He’s a smart guy. He did a great job. That was kind of a visually impressive mistake. But there were so many days where he was on it and fantastic and smart. I don’t want all the good work he did to be so overshadowed by one day.

When you look at the footage, Simpson is so obviously mugging. He had the time of his life.
Yes, exactly. And by the way you’re wearing the gloves of the person who murdered your wife, and you’re mugging?

Oh, that gave me the creeps right now.
It is very creepy. I was feeling that way myself when I was sitting there watching him, thinking Dude, how can you be smiling? How can you be doing this? It was stomach-turning, really.

I know everyone has been asking for decades, and I’m sorry but I have to ask you too, were you …
I know what it is. No, I’m not going to answer because we both decided we just didn’t want to give that subject any traction. And if we say one way or another it goes off to the races. So I’m going to continue on a long tradition of “no comment” regarding our relationship. (Ed note: Neither Clark nor Darden has ever disclosed whether their relationship turned romantic, as was rumored, while they were working together).

You mentioned you admire Ryan Murphy for tackling sexism in the show. Were you conscious of the sexism around you at the time or did it only sink in later?
Obviously I was aware that the media was giving me a bad time about my appearance. They slammed my hair, my makeup, and I didn’t care. Because what I cared about was that jury. And so what was hugely upsetting to me was the sexist treatment I got from the judge. That was happening on a daily basis, and nothing could be worse for a lawyer than to be undermined in front of the jury by a judge because the jury takes their cue. To the extent that the judge treats you like an idiot, the jury says, She’s an idiot. And he treated me like a second-class citizen.

He didn’t treat Chris that way?
Nope. He didn’t dare. He was very sensitive to the race issue that was constantly swirling around the courtroom. The other part is that Chris is a man! But he felt very comfortable kicking me around the courtroom, and that was the upsetting part. It’s not that I’m taking it personally. What is this jury seeing? That was the upsetting thing. And it was so apparent that Tammy Bruce, who was then president of the National Organization [for] Women, went in to talk to him about it. And she told him she was worried about the jury, too. Lance, the judge, did not believe it. He didn’t believe her. So she put together video clips showing the way he was talking to me and the way he was treating me differently from all the men. He copped to it, and for a few weeks things were actually kind of nice for me.

Were you ever in tears in court? There are a couple of moments in the show where Marcia is.

Did Judge Ito really say sarcastically, “Ms. Clark, I think” when you entered court with a haircut?
That was the day I blew my hair out straight. It was silly. I was like Whatever, dude. Let me call the next witness. That was not so upsetting to me. I didn’t care. If the jury wasn’t there, I didn’t care what he said. It was when they were in the room that things got hairy. That’s when it was upsetting.

As the series has gone on, have you felt more and more like Sarah Paulson captured your essence?
Oh, that’s so hard. I don’t know. I can’t tell you how people perceive me. I love what she’s done. I hope people perceive me like that. I hope so. All I can say is I love Sarah and if people see me the way they see Sarah, yay.

Are you going to keep watching?
I think so. I’m still alive. I think now I have to. The truth is, it’s a good show. Even though it’s a painful subject for me, the show is very good. It’s very compelling. I don’t think I can resist it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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