“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” won a number of Emmy awards Sunday, but there was one winner who didn’t take the stage: Marcia Clark, the prosecutor in the Simpson case.
LOS ANGELES — From the stars to the producers to the executives, no one involved with “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” seemed to realize the significance of where they were celebrating their triumphant Emmy night after the awards ceremony Sunday.
They were all at an after-party about two blocks from the courthouse where the Simpson case was tried. A couple of decades later, it was re-created on this FX program, which won the Emmy for best limited series, capping a night of triumph for the show.
When the Fox executive Dana Walden heard about the proximity of the courthouse to the party, she said, “That just gave me chills.”
But there was one person who understood the odd coincidence of ending up back where it all started, after a circuitous and sometimes torturous route.
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“I know where I am,” Marcia Clark, the prosecutor in the Simpson case, said gravely.
She was sitting on a couch, inches away from the actress Sarah Paulson, who was holding the Emmy she won for portraying Clark.
Clark, who was Paulson’s guest at the Emmys, said she could not help but think about how near the courthouse was on the ride over from the ceremony.
It was a bitter reminder for Clark, who was ridiculed in the news media in the mid-1990s — the perception being that she had blown the prosecution and let Simpson go free. She has found her public comeback only in the last year, after the explosive popularity of the series and the sympathetic portrayal from Paulson, who in her acceptance speech for her best actress award offered up a moving public apology to Clark.
“The world saw me in sound bites,” Clark said. “Now I feel like I’m more understood.”
As Ryan Murphy, the prolific television producer who shepherded this show, put it: “The great story tonight is Marcia Clark finally won.”
The FX show also won acting Emmys for Courtney Vance’s portrayal of the defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran and Sterling Brown’s depiction of another prosecutor, Christopher Darden.
The success of the O.J. show was not a sure thing. For decades, Hollywood did everything it could to stay away from the Bronco chase, Judge Lance Ito and the trial, in what proved to be a divisive national episode.
“Like most things, it’s a no-brainer in retrospect, but it wasn’t at the time,” said Brad Simpson, a producer of the show, with his Emmy in hand. “There was such a heavy saturation of O.J. that nobody wanted to hear about it again. When we announced the show, all the comments were, ‘Oh lord, don’t put the country through this again.’ But the show touched on things that obsesses America: class, race, the criminal-justice system.”
By turning it into a limited series, which requires a relatively easy time commitment, FX was able to attract actors including John Travolta, Cuba Gooding Jr. and David Schwimmer. (All were nominated for awards Sunday night.)
And though the Academy Awards have been criticized for their all-white lineup of acting nominees, the Emmys have done better with diversity: Three African-Americans won acting awards Sunday, including Vance and Brown from “The People v. O.J. Simpson.”
“Actors and directors follow the writing,” Vance said at the party. “The writers in TV are writing for different hues of color. Hopefully the movies start to see that if you want to get the people, you better do the writing.”
There was arguably nobody who benefited more on Sunday night than Clark.
Though Paulson was joined at the hip with Clark Sunday, the two did not meet until late in production.
They have become close since then, and Paulson provided one of the night’s stirring moments when she apologized to Clark during her acceptance speech, saying that the public in the 1990s was “superficial and careless.”
Clark seemed to be enjoying the rehabilitation of her reputation.
“I think the benefit of this miniseries was people got to see the fullness of everyone involved,” she said. “Not just me. Chris Darden, too. Everyone. As well as the historical context. I think everybody got more of what was going on, more than they did ever before.”
At a little before midnight, Paulson got up to leave with Clark. As they walked through a courtyard, a group of young women were gawking at them, but they weren’t interested in the one holding the Emmy.
“Oh my God, that’s Marcia Clark!” one woman said.
Clark heard it, looked over, pointed triumphantly and waved. She walked out of the party and toward an SUV with Paulson, and just a few blocks away from her first brush with fame, Clark finally had her Hollywood ending.