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John Travolta is about to make his return to television in the FX miniseries The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. The last time Travolta spent any time on a TV was, of course, during his four seasons on the 1970s hit Welcome Back, Kotter. And, after years of being approached to work in television again, Travolta notes that something special about this story made him finally take the step.
The thing that sold me finally was not the sensationalism of the piece but more that it was going to be an echo of how it changed society.
He spoke with Entertainment Weekly about his eventual desire to take on the role of one of O.J. Simpson’s defense attorneys, Robert Shapiro, in The People V. O.J. Simpson.
It’s telling that the sensationalism of the story isn’t the main thing that attracted John Travolta to the production. It would be difficult for many people to ignore the sensational aspect of the story. As a refresher, in 1994 actor and former professional football player O.J. Simpson was arrested and then tried for the brutal murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and waiter Ronald Goldman. Robert Shapiro initially led Simpson’s defense team.
The case has been described as the most heavily publicized criminal trial in American history. News reports during the time were filled with information about the trial and the evidence, or lack thereof, that came to light as the trial went on. Even though Simpson was acquitted after the eight-month trial, people may never stop debating his guilt. The case captured the national consciousness and brought matters of race, domestic abuse and the validity of the criminal justice system to the forefront all at once.
The producers of The People V. O.J. Simpson, Ryan Murphy and Nina Jacobson, had a meeting with John Travolta to try to convince him that appearing in this miniseries would be a good move. It turns out, though, that Murphy may have won Travolta over by fanboying his way through most of that meeting.
I was trying to do the unexpected piece of casting. We never in that meeting talked that much about the project. I think he wanted to feel us out. I just talked to him about the movies I loved that he did. I remember we had a 15-minute talk about my obsession with Perfect and I think he thought that was funny. Then, he read the scripts and was obsessed with them. Once he said yes, creatively it was a lot about points. I gave up points to get him. I just wanted him. I think it was a smart decision because I think he adds some great piece of sizzle to it.
Unexpected is a good word to explain having John Travolta star as one of the key players in the O.J. Simpson trial. But, sometimes unexpected casting is just what you need to make a story come alive.
The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story premieres on February 2 on FX.