For many Americans, the People v. O.J. Simpson was the trial of the century. When the well-liked professional football player and actor went on trial for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman, and was found not guilty, pretty much everyone watched. But that was in 1994, over two decades ago — and given how young-skewing some of Ryan Murphy's recent shows have been (Glee, Scream Queens), the audience that may be drawn to his most recent effort will likely be surprisingly unfamiliar with the particulars of the case. So the cast of American Crime Story may be many viewers' first impression of the real people involved in the infamous trial.
Good thing, then, that the show looks like it's sticking very close to real life when it comes to the eclectic cast of characters. The roster of talent is uniformly impressive, from Oscar winners to up-and-comers, from actors new to the Ryan Murphy stable to long-standing veterans of his shows — but almost all of them will be nearly unrecognizable under those fabulous wigs and ridiculous '90s fashion that filled the seats of the Los Angeles County Superior Court during the trial.
In advance of the American Crime Story series premiere this Tuesday night, here's a quick look at some of the show's major players and how they stack up against their real-life counterparts.
Cuba Gooding, Jr. as O.J. Simpson
The 48-year-old Bronx native is a Murphy newcomer — as well as a newcomer to starring on television. Although Gooding, Jr. has appeared in a number of TV movies (including Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story and The Book Of Negroes) and guest arcs (on the likes of Empire and Forever), this will be his first series regular role. The actor is, of course, more famous for his film roles, including Boyz N The Hood, A Few God Men, As Good As It Gets, and his Oscar-winning supporting role in Jerry Maguire.
The real Simpson was one month shy of his 47th birthday when his ex-wife was murdered, making him just one year younger at the time than Gooding, Jr. is now. But while the actor portraying him hails from one coast, Simpson himself hailed from the other, born and raised in San Francisco. Perhaps the biggest difference between the men is their height: while the former football player is 6'1, Gooding, Jr. is reportedly only 5'10 — a fact that viewers familiar with O.J.'s build will have to learn to look past. Now, 26 years after the trial, Simpson is serving 33 years in prison after being convicted of numerous felonies unrelated to the Brown Simpson/Goldman murders, including armed robbery and kidnapping, to which Simpson plead not guilty, as reported by CNN. Most recently, in September 2015, Simpson's appeal for a new trial was denied, according to Fox Sports.
Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark
Paulson's is a face that will be familiar to anyone who's tuned in to any of American Horror Story over the last five years. The 41-year-old actress has appeared in each season of that Murphy production, most recently as the drug-addled Hypodermic Sally in Hotel . In American Crime Story, the actor will sport a frizzy brunette 'do to more closely resemble the woman she's portraying.
Just like Paulson was no stranger to Murphy shows before signing on to The People v. O.J. Simpson, Clark was no stranger to high-profile murder cases before tackling the People v. O.J. Simpson. Three years prior, Clark successfully prosecuted Robert John Bardo for the murder of TV star Rebecca Schaeffer. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Bardo was convicted of first-degree murder and "the special circumstance of lying in wait to kill the actress" after pleading not guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. The case also led to the establishment of the United States' very first anti-stalking laws. Clark was 40 when she faced off against Simpson in court, putting her within a year of Paulson's current age.
John Travolta as Robert Shapiro
Travolta first gained attention for his starring role on the 1975 ABC sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter. He left the show after three seasons, since his Oscar-nominated performance in 1977's Saturday Night Fever rocketed him to worldwide fame. American Crime Story will be Travolta's first series regular role on television since his debut, a hiatus of nearly four decades. In the meantime, the now 61-year-old actor has starred in countless movies, earned a second Oscar nomination (for Pulp Fiction), and memorably butchered Idina Menzel's name.
52 when the Simpson trial began, real-life defense attorney Shapiro was a good decade younger than Travolta is now; but the actor still bears an uncanny resemblance to his counterpart. (It's the eyebrows.) Shapiro made the most of his successful defense: he founded LegalZoom.com in 2001, and published a book about the Simpson case in 2009, titled The Search For Justice: A Defense Attorney's Brief On The O.J. Simpson Case — a book that Travolta told TV Guide he used in his research for the role.
David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian
Welcome back to the small screen, Ross! American Crime Story will be 49-year-old Schwimmer's first starring role on television since Friends aired its series finale in 2004. The ensemble of that classic sitcom may have been a comedy dream team, but this time Schwimmer will be joining a "Dream Team" of a very different sort: namely, Simpson's cadre of all-star lawyers.
Kardashian passed away in 2003 of esophageal cancer, leaving behind his four children: Kourtney, Kim, Khloé, and Rob. When the Kardashian patriarch was defending Simpson at the age of 50 (with that distinctive streak of white hair, so perfectly evoked in Schwimmer's American Crime Story appearance), his offspring were just a gaggle of precocious tots ranging in age from seven to 15. It will be fascinating to see how Murphy decides to portray the future celebrities-in-training.
Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran
55-year-old Vance is an accomplished stage actor with three Tony nominations (and one win) to his name... but he's probably most recognizable to casual TV watchers for his starring role on Seasons 1-5 of Law & Order: Criminal Intent as A.D.A. Ron Carver. His half-decade's' worth of experience on that legal drama likely prepared him for the extensive courtroom scenes of American Crime Story, in which he plays another member of Simpson's legal "Dream Team." (Vance also had an "in" with this Murphy production since his wife, Angela Bassett, is a star on sister series American Horror Story.)
Cochran, who was 57 at the time of the trial, is perhaps the most famous member of Simpson's defense team by virtue of the catch phrase he coined: "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit," in reference to the bloody glove that became a linchpin in the case. Shortly before he received worldwide fame for his role in Simpson's defense, Denzel Washington interviewed Cochran as part of his research into his role as a lawyer in the 1993 Oscar-winning drama Philadelphia. In 2005, Cochran died of a brain tumor at the age of 67.
Nathan Lane as F. Lee Bailey
Like Vance, 59-year-old Lane is just as well-known for his work on Broadway as his work in Hollywood — he has appeared in 20 productions on the Great White Way and has two Tony Awards to his name. But his onscreen roles will probably remain his most iconic, whether it be the voice of Timon in The Lion King or Albert Goldman in The Birdcage or the scene-stealing Pepper Saltzman on Modern Family.
61 at the time, Bailey was the last and eldest member of Simpson's "Dream Team." After Bailey unsuccessfully defended Patty Hearst in her 1976 bank robbery trial, she described him as "fatigued," "disjointed," and claimed he was hungover while representing her in court in an affidavit, which he adamantly denied, according to People. Hearst's conviction was a rare defeat for Bailey, but two years later President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence, and in 2001 President Bill Clinton gave her a full pardon.
Kenneth Choi as Lance Ito
At 44, this is Choi's second regular role on television, after NBC's one-season KGB thriller Allegiance . He has previously recurred on shows ranging from Sons Of Anarchy to Glee, and has popped up in supporting roles in the likes of The Wolf Of Wall Street and Captain America: The First Avenger.
Simpson's case had four defense attorneys, two prosecutors, and multiple witnesses... but only one judge. As the sole constant in the ensuing media circus, 44-year-old Ito became instantly recognizable to Americans everywhere. Like his portrayer, Choi, who first studied to become an accountant before switching careers, Ito has also found a new line of work since his most famous trial: he retired from the bench last year and now teaches at the Judicial College of California, according to CNN.
These are only some of the famous faces who will take on, well, famous faces when American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson premieres on Tuesday night at 10 p.m.
Images: Michael Becker/FX (7)