I thought about the saying “you should never meet your idols” as I exited the elevator bank of an uptown publisher and paced the room next to where Marcia Clark was being interviewed in a segment for the National Society of Leadership and Success, which bills itself as the largest college leadership society in the country and for which Clark is an honorary member. Watching Sarah Paulson’s Marcia Clark on Ryan Murphy’s wildly popular true crime series, The People v. O.J. Simpson, introduced my generation to the prosecutor our parents knew as the unflappable hard ass with an atrocious haircut. But for us, Clark was something else entirely. Paulson reintroduced a millennial audience with a fresh set of empathetic eyes to a woman whose commitment to her case—the “trial of the century”—was met with unimaginable media scrutiny and a flaming garbage pile of institutional sexism. For younger viewers, Clark became our feminist hero.
You wouldn’t be faulted for presuming Marcia Clark to be a stiff and perhaps even inaccessible woman. After all, having lived through the hellscape that was the most widely televised trial in history is bound to leave anyone with battle scars. You would, however, be wrong. Clark turned the corner and situated herself at our conference table (next to, rather than across from me), and never dropped her warm, gracious smile for the better part of our half hour interview. Fresh off the release of her new book, Blood Defense, Clark—who departed from the legal world and began pursuing her career as an author following the Simpson trial—tells me she’s since returned to criminal defense, which provided the bedrock for the premise of her newest fiction crime series. Clark shared with me her insider knowledge of the O.J. Simpson trial, and her feelings on the genesis of the Kardashians’ rise to pop culture ubiquity.
Since you weren’t consulted on The People v. O.J. Simpson, how has the show sat with you since the dust has settled?
It was a nightmare from day one—endlessly, every day. But I thought they got it pretty right. It was really interesting because I didn't expect it to have the depth that it had. But they really went after the big issues: the involvement of race, the sexism. It was incredible to me that they did such a good job with it. And I thought the performances were phenomenal. Sarah Paulson? Just incredible. And Sterling Brown. They were just wonderful.
Since the show’s airing, you've become a feminist hero to a much younger generation. What is that like, for your name to be catapulted into the media spotlight for a much younger audience?
It's been kind of incredible, but it's also been really fascinating because I get to talk to people like you. Most of my interviews have been with millennials, and it's been a fascinating window into my kids’ world. It's been so wonderful to see a generation that seems so savvy in so many ways—and so much cooler than we were. The reaction across the board, male and female millennials were appalled at the sexism. They were like, "Are you kidding me? Are you serious?" Back then, nobody batted an eye about it. So to have this generation be so hip to it, that's progress.
What are your thoughts about the conversations around race that were happening during the O.J. trial, and now with our generation and the Black Lives Matter movement?
It's really upsetting to have to admit that if we were to have that trial again today, we would have the same problem. Could it be any better? I just don't know because we're seeing in all the footage—the dash cams, the body cams, surveillance cameras—we're seeing these people who get shot in the back. And this is a clearly ongoing problem that needs to be handled. I think that's one of the benefits of technology. Now that we see these graphic images, it's not just somebody's story. It's not just something you heard that can dismissed as a rumor. Hopefully, with that kind of graphic evidence, we'll start to make some real progress, but we've clearly still got the problem.
Overall, do you think progress has been made from when the trial happened to where we are now?
I wish I could tell you. There's been more discussion. I think that's always a good thing. But does that mean that sentiments have changed? I kinda doubt it. The reasons for those sentiments haven't changed. We used to call it playing the race card, and I had been facing the issue of racism and the distrust minorities viewed in law enforcement for ten years before the Simpson case. It got writ large in the Simpson case because he was a celebrity, but it was for sure going to be part of the trial, there was no question about that. And it probably would be again today.
How bizarre is it for you that now Simpson is incarcerated for something as ridiculous as robbery?
It's a ridiculous case. Craziness. And they caught him on videotape. So I mean, it's pretty good. I'd call it a strong case for the prosecution.
Why do you think he did it?
I think that it's very clear. It's somebody who doesn't have a lot of impulse control. And he feels very entitled. And it's beyond inexplicable to me that someone who got away with murder would get involved in something like this.
And you still believe with 100 percent certainty that that he murdered Nicole Brown Simpson?
Of course. It's been interesting how people try to float theories, but the truth of the matter is that the evidence stands. It's very clear. He was guilty, and the evidence proved it fifteen ways from Sunday.
What are your feelings about the upcoming ESPN documentary O.J.: Made in America?
It’s profound and powerful. It’s an examination of the issue of race viewed through the prism of O.J. Simpson's life. The filmmaker goes through things that were going on in Los Angeles, historically, between LAPD and the African-American community, as well as what led up to the Rodney King riots, then the trial. There's a continuum that he shows. It also shows in greater depth Simpson's life—shows his friends, shows where he grew up, shows his football career. It shows him being affable and charming and self-effacing, and this character that he created. It shows you that he's a better actor than anyone ever realized.
I used to watch that in the courtroom too. He could see where the camera was pointed. The camera was not the biggest thing sitting on the wall, it was an eye in the wall above the jury. But you could see the eye, the lens, move. And he watched it every day. So when the camera was on him, he was sweet-faced. The minute the camera moved off him, menacing face. It was like he went from Jekyll to Hyde.
That must have been so fascinating to watch him turn that character on and off.
Nobody in TV land would ever know that. And it's interesting to me that even people in the courtroom didn't seem to notice. Some for sure did. You'd expect reporters to report on that, and I don't know why they didn't because that was pretty obvious. But you'll see in this documentary, those two sides to him.
For Robert's family, this was sort of the genesis of the Kardashian-Jenner empire, right? This was the first time that family had really been in the public eye?
So you're going to blame me for the Kardashians? [Laughs.] It is my fault! No, no, you're right. And that's what's so funny. It's completely ironic, that because of that trial the Kardashian name became a known name, and that's why they manage to parlay that into this...career. I'm not sure what to call it because I'm not sure exactly what they do.
What is your take on the family?
Well, I never met them. Kris did not bring them to court, nor should she have. But I met Kris then. And Bruce came with her because she was very helpful in rounding up the domestic violence witnesses, the ones who saw him beat up Nicole and heard from her and witnessed the abusive behavior. I never did quite understand how releasing a sex tape turns you into a nationwide figure somehow. You parlay your dad's name involved in a double homicide because two people are dead and somehow that turns you into...anyway, I can't get there from here.
Has this whole revisiting been cathartic for you? Are you in a better place with everything?
The series really did put [the trial] in a context that I think people were not aware of before. The Rodney King riots had just happened. We were very aware of context. And I talked to the jury about that during jury selection. This is not payback time for the Rodney King verdict. And one of the jurors said, "Yes, it is. It's payback time." So we knew that was going on, but I don't think people were really aware of it, or how important an influence like that was. I think the series has really helped them see and understand better. I'm also very grateful to the honesty of Cuba Gooding Jr. and Sterling Brown for saying things like, "Back at the time of the verdict, I was just glad we won. I didn't care about the evidence. I just didn't care." Because they were looking for a symbolic win and the fact that two people are dead was dismissed. One of the most painful aspects of that trial was having everyone forget that day after day after day.