Thanks to the just-wrapped FX miniseries American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, former attorney Marcia Clark has been reliving the "trial of the century" that thrust her into the public eye just over a decade ago. Clark, who was the lead prosecutor in the trial, talked to us about her lifelong fascination with crime, why Mark Fuhrman was always going to take the witness stand, and her new novel, Blood Defense, publishing May 1 from Thomas & Mercer.
There was such a tabloid fascination with the Simpson case that, watching a show like American Crime Story, which attempts to put the trial in a much larger cultural and historical context, was really interesting. What did you make of this approach? And, in terms of the big picture stuff, what did the show get right...and wrong?
I really was impressed with the way they put the trial into a socio-historical context. The truth is, nothing in human affairs exists in a vacuum. There is a chain of cause and effect that impacts every event. The fact that the Rodney King acquittals and ensuing riots had happened so shortly before the trial was extremely important in terms of the attitudes toward law enforcement at that time, especially the attitudes of the minority communities. I thought the show got the big issues, such as the issue of race, right. And the issue of sexism. That was surprising because it really wasn't widely acknowledged either at the time of the trial, or afterward.
As for what they got wrong, I don't want to descend into minutiae. It was a fifteen-month case condensed into a ten-hour series. Liberties had to be taken. But there are some significant points that they didn't get right. First, the notion that we were "overconfident" in our case--that was never true. ... We were all well aware, from very early on, that we were facing a steep uphill battle with the African American community. ... They were [also] wrong about my being in denial that African American jurors--and particularly African American women--were not exactly big fans of mine. How could I possibly not know that? I watched those focus groups, I saw what they were saying about me. The only question was, what do I do about it? How do I reach them? ... Lastly, the show depicted discussions between me and [my co-counsel] Chris [Darden] about not calling Mark Fuhrman to the witness stand. This was never discussed. It would've been a disaster not to call Fuhrman. Had we even attempted to do that, the defense would've grilled every officer we put on the stand about the fact that they didn't actually find the glove, Mark Fuhrman did. ... Bottom line: our failure to call Fuhrman would've made it look as though we were trying to hide the racist cop who'd planted the glove.
I remember watching this trial unfold as young woman, and I didn't appreciate how unfairly you were treated in the media. I did after seeing the episode "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia," though, which highlights the misogyny you faced in the courtroom, and from the press. Was that episode gratifying to watch?
It was actually painful to watch. Sarah Paulson [who plays Clark in the series] is such an amazing actress. She nailed the sense of being battered on all sides. It's a testament to her genius that watching her made the feeling of being the press's pinata come back in full force. Ultimately, I was able to ignore the media focus on my appearance. And I even got a bit rebellious about it. Back then, the reporters and their camera crews were allowed to stand right outside the courtroom doors. I can't even remember how many times the makeup artists who were there for the reporters would beg me to let them at least use concealer on the circles under my eyes. But I never allowed it. It was my only way to push back against the insanity. Because really, to me, the worst of it wasn't the media. The worst was the way I was treated by the judge. I got much harsher treatment in the courtroom than any of the other lawyers. It wasn't that it hurt my feelings. One thing you learn as a trial lawyer is to have a thick skin with the judges and lawyers. The big problem is when a judge's behavior singles you out for particularly demeaning treatment in front of the jurors. That has a way of permeating the jury's view, whether they're aware of it or not.
Two years after the Simpson verdict, you signed a major book deal for your memoir. After publishing 1997's Without a Doubt, you started writing legal thrillers. Did that happen by chance, or had you long harbored dreams of becoming a novelist?
I'd dreamed of writing crime fiction since I was about nine years old. And I've been fascinated by crime practically since I was born. As young as four or five I was making up stories about crime; about the murder that must've happened in an abandoned shed in a field at the end of the block, or the rusting bicycle that'd been left in an empty lot behind the neighbor's backyard. So it was a longstanding dream to write crime fiction that I finally got to realize in 2010, starting with the Rachel Knight series, about a prosecutor. But what very few people know is that I started out as a criminal defense lawyer. So after four Rachel Knight books, I wanted to create a character that encompassed more of my experience. Plus, I wanted to create a character who was more...twisted, less constrained by what was legal or even ethical. And so I began a new series with Blood Defense, that has a criminal defense lawyer, Samantha Brinkman as the lead. It's been such fun to more fully incorporate all of my experiences as a criminal lawyer and tell the story from the defense side of things.
Given that you've now appeared as a character in a major miniseries, and that both of your literary heroines share your career, do you have to spend an inordinate amount of time distancing the real Marcia Clark from the fictional versions out there?
I don't think there's a way to distance myself from any of the characters. I've often heard it said that writers incorporate themselves in every character, whether they want to or not. I think that's absolutely true. So I make no effort to distinguish either my real self or any fictional selves from my characters. They are who they are, unique and distinct unto themselves.
This interview has been edited and condensed.