There’s a moment near the beginning of American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson when prosecutor Marcia Clark is told that, because she runs “too hot,” one of her male co-workers has been assigned to try the high-profile murder case alongside her.
Even if you were someone who mocked Clark’s hair, dress, manner, etc. while watching trial coverage back in the 1990s, the moment is a gut-punch. You feel bad for Clark — and Sarah Paulson, who plays her in the FX drama, says, “You’re supposed to.”
The FX drama, which counts Ryan Murphy among its producers, is the story of two murder victims and the sports hero who may or may not have killed them. But it is also the story of Clark’s experience as someone unexpectedly thrust before the public eye, with her every move, decision, word and hemline up for criticism.
“As women, none of us were really standing for her,” Paulson tells TVLine. “We’re going, ‘Why aren’t you making this work? What are you doing wrong? Why are you failing? Why does your hair look like that? Why are your skirts short? Why don’t you put on some concealer?’ And she’s going, ‘Two people are dead, and I’m trying to put the man who did it behind bars. Why do I have to think about anything else?'”
And the tough moments Clark goes through at the beginning of the 10-episode run — including a rough divorce — are nothing compared to what’s ahead, Paulson previews.
“Her naked pictures were sold to the tabloids, and [she’s] going through a terrible custody battle with a 3- and 5-year-old while trying this case,” she says. “On its own, it would be difficult. Imagine having to do that and then having to publicly show up in a way that you were not trained to do.”
Clark’s perceived shortcomings are thrown into even sharper relief in comparison to Simpson’s “dream team” of big-name attorneys whose flashy dress and camera-friendly demeanor were made for the 24-hour news cycle.
“She was not [Johnnie] Cochrane or [Robert] Shapiro or F. Lee. Bailey. She was not well-versed in the world of all of that. She’s a public servant,” the actress says. “So she didn’t have the razzle-dazzle that they had. She wasn’t a showman. She was there to put the evidence in front of a jury.”
Re-creating Clark’s journey through the highly publicized trial was no easy thing, Paulson adds — but thanks to her past with Murphy, she felt ready.
“I’ve been doing American Horror Story for five years,” she says, laughing. “I don’t have a problem with maintaining intensity.”