The premiere of the FX series "American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson" became the most-watched premiere in FX history last week.
Episode two, which airs Tuesday night, is devoted to the famous slow-speed white Bronco chase, with Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. Simpson and Malcolm-Jamal Warner as the man behind the wheel, Al Cowlings, known as AC.
From the beginning, producers knew they couldn't just shoot the scene on a soundstage — it had to be done for real.
"The question for us all along was how are we going to mount something this insane," executive producer Brad Simpson told the Frame's Michelle Lanz. "But to shoot it on a stage would just feel like the little TV movie that we definitely didn't want to be."
The O.J. Simpson chase raced down the 5, 91 and 405 freeways on June 17, 1994, and it was one of the most televised events of the 20th century. At the time, its broadcast pre-empted the NBA finals, Domino's Pizza saw Super Bowl Sunday-level sales and Angelenos lined up on overpasses to wave signs saying "Go Juice Go" as the Bronco sped by.
That morning, O.J. Simpson had failed to turn himself in to police after being charged with murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. The Los Angeles Police Department declared him a fugitive and issued a bulletin for his arrest.
Producer Brad Simpson told the Frame about what went in to recreating the events of this day and this iconic car chase.
1. They shut down a SoCal freeway, but not the 405
We obviously couldn't shut down the 405 Freeway, which is a massive freeway — we needed a freeway we could control. We picked the 710 Freeway. We were able to have a two-mile stretch that we could shut down and control that had an overpass over it. We had to rehearse well in advance with big maps and Matchbox cars the stunts that we were going to do. We had to plan each section of the day to the smallest nut.
2. A lot of the dialogue is real
We had audio recordings of cell phone conversations that were happening in that car, because there was an early cell phone in that car and O.J. was calling people, including the police. We also had the archival footage, so we wrote an entire episode based on that.
3. The shoot was a hazard for other drivers
We were really worried we were going to cause wrecks in the other lane on the freeway, because we had a white Bronco driving down a span of road with 12 cop cars chasing it, and people kept slowing down on the other side. We were checking Twitter and we'd see people tweeting, "I don't know what's happening — I just saw a white Bronco running down the 710, it's being chased by cop cars!" That was a big part of the logistics, every time we did the run we'd have to reset all 12 cop cars and the Bronco and space them out accordingly. ... It had to match exactly to what the formation was of the cars on the video footage we were going to cut into.
4. Malcolm-Jamal Warner gave the stunt coordinator hives
It's really Malcolm driving. Malcolm actually gave our stunt coordinator hives because whenever you reset, which is to drive back to where you started, he would actually just back up all the way down the freeway at 60 mph. We kept asking him to stop, but he kept not listening to us.
5. It took a lot of people and gear to pull it off
We had 170 crew that day, we had 200 extras, we had probably 50 picture cars. We had an Ultimate Arm, which is a sort of crane that's on top of a Porsche SUV that allows you to circle cars as it drives up and down. We also had what's known as a "follow van." A follow van is what the director and his main crew stays in. It's a van that's completely blacked out that has a video tap connected to the camera, and it drives behind the camera car going just as fast hurtling down the freeway. You are inside and can't see out and can only see the picture, and it constantly looks like you're going to crash.
6. Producers played '90s music to calm Ryan Murphy's nerves during shooting
Ryan hated the follow van, he hates being in the tiny box, he hates going really quickly. He actually asked me to DJ for him during this time to calm him down, so I would take out my iPhone and we'd play Spotify. We'd play '90s hits, we were listening to TLC "Waterfalls" and other music like that, Ace of Base, anything that was a hit from this period, just to try and add some levity and calmness to the car, but he couldn't wait to get out of the car that day.