Scott Alexander Maslen is an English actor and model, best known for his portrayal as DS Phil Hunter in ITV's The Bill and Jack Branning on the BBC's flagship soap EastEnders. He has also taken part in the 2010 series of Strictly Come Dancing
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We also wrote: Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Big Eyes, and Man On The Moon.
You can ask about those too.
We'll be back at the top of the hour to answer your questions!
Thanks so much, the show airs Tuessday at 10PM on FX
What's the deal with Norm MacDonald? His comedy has a certain frequency that is hard to explain, but great to witness. Can you explain it? Was that a good collaborative relationship?
Norm is one of the funniest guys on earth. No one is a better talk show guest. Not sure acting is his thing... he is Norm!
How many hours of research did you guys put in to making the show? I feel like you'd have to read hundreds or thousands of different files, police reports, etc to make sure you didn't say anything wrong or be biased about the entire Trial, verdict, etc.
Edit: Also, how long did it take you to have everything together to start the show? I feel like it's something you would have to start studying as soon as the verdict was announced with so much information.
We did a million hours of research! Toobin was our principal source... but EVERYBODY in this trial wrote one, two, three books. We tried to read everything, to get everyone's point of view. We also found an insane website, walraven.org, which had compiled EVERY SINGLE COURT TRANSCRIPT. It was crazy! We kept going there.
We also went to tons of old LA Times stories, LA Sentinel stories, CNN clips, etc, etc.
We started off doing long think-piece salons with our fellow producers, Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson, to try and digest all this info. It was headache-inducing, to keep track of it all. Then we spent all of 2013 writing an outline for the 10-hour show, plus the pilot script (the one you watched last night).
As we started writing Episode 2, we then assembled a writers room, adding DV DeVincentis, Joe Robert Cole, Wally Wolodarsky, and Maya Forbes, to all discuss these ideas and flesh them out for six weeks. Then we assigned more scripts and were off to the races!
What inspired you to want to produce the OJ Simpson story?
It's a hell of a great story! It's epic. It's got gigantic themes and larger-than-life characters. But we would never have done it as a movie -- there's no way to fit everything in. It just would have been the Greatest Hits. 10 hours let us tackle so many themes... race and the police... celebrity culture... gender politics... the beginning of the 24-hour news cycle... the transformation of a trial about two victims into a trial about the police... so much...
Any historical subjects that you started to write or research, but found out there wasn't enough there to make a full narrative?
We actually rejected it twice! Years before Milos and Danny, we tried to write an Andy biopic but couldn't figure it out. So we discarded the plan.
Then those two heavyweights came to us and convinced us to write the script. So we struggled for six months, then gave up again! We called our agent and told him to send Universal back the money! He told us to grow up and hung up the phone.
We told Lynn, Andy's girlfriend, that we couldn't figure out the real Andy. She said, "Guys, there is no real Andy!" We said, "AHHH." And that became the movie! We said it'll be like CITIZEN KANE in reverse -- you're searching to understand this man, but when you get to the end, thinking you'll get an answer, you're actually left with a larger enigma. We thought Andy was a guy who kept putting up facades to hide the emptiness inside. The spooky metaphor was that the movie would be like peeling off layers of an onion, and when you get to the center -- it's hollow.
Milos said, afterwards, it's the only movie ever made where you know less about the subject than you knew before you went in!
Bela Lugosi Jr in particular objected to the portrayal of his father in Ed Wood. I guess the truth was the roles were flipped in their relationship from what you portrayed? Ed was a stumbling drunk who Bela helped more than vice versa? Can you clarify some of that?
We think we captured the relationship well. We'll stand behind the gist of Ed and Bela. Perhaps we exaggerated the swearing, but we thought it was funny. Also, we always felt it was a very loving tribute to Lugosi.
Since the time of the movie, Bela Jr. has come around and embraced the film. But we understand his objection -- we were focusing on his father's worst years. He would rather we had made a movie about the DRACULA glory years!
Can you educate me a bit on life rights and authorized vs unauthorized biographies? Say I want to make a film about a famous and powerful person, and their blessing is unlikely. Can I go ahead and tell the story with real names etc..? What would your advice be?
Generally, the law's position is that if they're famous, we can tell their story. If they're deceased, we can tell their story. We always try to use use real names, so it doesn't feel bogus.
We rarely seek people's blessings or permission. Though most of our subjects tend to be pretty happy with the end result. The only time we've really worked closely with a subject was Margaret Keane on BIG EYES. Without all our interviews with her, it would have been impossible to figure out the story and all its strange turns.
But generally, people who have sought fame, or people who have ended up in the news, are allowable. No authorization needed.
So many comedies seem to have a bad third act. The first 2/3 are hilarious, but then the main characters have to go through with the scheme to hack into the boss' computer or raise the $50,000 or whatever and its a mediocre action movie instead of a comedy. Why do screenwriters/producers let that happen so often? How to avoid it?
That's a great question!
You know what we hate? The REAL ESTATE PLOT! AGGH! It ruined every comedy in the 90s! You'd have some story about some family, and then it turns out the bad guy wants to steal their house, or the land under it. We could never figure out why anybody would care about that!
But as to your question... it seems like movies don't have an organic conflict that carries three acts, so they need some hacky forced problem to resolve things. Or make them "bigger."
How to avoid it? You need a good three-act story!
I wanna know, does this have any credit in your opinion?
There is a lot of interesting evidence pointing that the murders were actually done by Jason Simpson, OJ's son. OJ even retained a lawyer for Jason, expecting an arrest.
Prior to the killings, O.J.'s son Jason was diagnosed with "intermittent rage disorder" (AKA Jekyll and Hyde syndrome) and was given the drug Depakote to control his rage and seizures.
Jason abused alcohol, ecstasy, and cocaine as early as age 14. Police reports indicate that he was arrested at least four times (including DUI, driving with a suspended license, and assault with a deadly weapon) while medical records reveal at least three suicide attempts.
A note titled "Dear Jason" that described the writer as being three persons was identified by handwriting experts as being written by Jason Simpson; he also wrote about killing anyone who hurt his loved ones and how he felt like "Jekyll and Hyde" (in diaries obtained by Dear).
In January 1994, six months before the killings, Jason went to the emergency room because he heard voices of people who weren't there and said he felt as if he was "going to rage" because he ran out of Depakote. He stopped taking Depakote two months before the murders.
In his past, Jason had nearly killed a girlfriend (with a knife) and almost seriously injured another in fits of rage (whereas O.J. has been accused of domestic abuse, but he has never been arrested for assault and was not prone to use weapons to settle a dispute).
The night of the murders, Jason expected Nicole Brown Simpson's family to dine at the restaurant where he was working, but Brown Simpson chose another restaurant (probably without telling Jason).
The murders took place between 9:45 and 10:05 p.m. Jason was by himself after approximately 9:50 p.m. and "has no alibi that can be supported by anyone else as to where he was while the killings occurred."
Jason's time card for the night of the murders was handwritten, even though the electronic time clock was working.
The black "navy watch cap" found at the crime scene contained animal hair and hair fibers that did not match O.J.
Photographs obtained from Jason's storage locker show that Jason wore watch caps often. One (dated 3/24/93) shows him sitting with his dog while wearing a cap identical to the one found at the crime scene.
The day after the murders (and four days prior to his arrest), O.J. hired top criminal attorney Carl Jones to represent Jason even though he wasn't a suspect.
One of Jason's ex-classmates informed Dear that Jason was trained in hand-to-hand combat as well as field knife training while attending the Army and Navy Academy, whereas O.J. hates the sight of blood.
Based on pictures of Ron Goldman's badly bruised and swollen hands, he must have struck hard blows to the assailant, and he was a 3rd degree black belt. The next day O.J. voluntarily stripped at the LAPD, and there were no marks or bruises that indicated he had been in a scuffle
Dear bought contents of a storage locker owned by Jason Simpson around the time of the murders and found a knife that matched the description of the murder weapon. "After examination of [Jason's] knife by a world-renowned forensic scientist, the butt of the knife appears to match the blow/injury Nicole Simpson suffered on the top of her head." (Whereas O.J.'s Swiss Army knife and stilleto were conclusively ruled out as the murder weapon.)
The LAPD found 15 separate unidentified fingerprints at the crime scene. None belonged to O.J., and police never compared Jason's fingerprints)
At the time of the murders, 24-year-old Jason was on probation for assault with a deadly weapon for attacking his boss with a kitchen knife.
Investigators found blood and skin under Nicole's fingernails ... along with blood drops on her back that didn't match those of O.J." (Jason was never interviewed and never gave a DNA sample.)
Three crime scene experts studied the investigative material and determined that "Jason Simpson should have been considered a major suspect in the murders."
Four doctors reviewed the investigative material along with Jason's records and determined that "Jason Simpson is psychologically disturbed and in need of help.
Jason's psychiatrist said that "if Jason was guilty he could never be convicted because of his mental condition."
link here for more
We don't believe for one second Jason did it. Leave the kid alone.
What do you think of the book If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer? What part did it play in your research for the show, if any?
None. The book is ridiculous.
Okay, let's talk about Screwed. Dave Chappelle. Norm MacDonald. Danny Devito. You guys coming off Ed Wood, Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon. So what went wrong here?
What's wrong with it?! It's friggin' funny!
Here's God's Truth: The test screenings were insane. The audiences SCREAMED with laughter for 85 minutes. But then we couldn't give the film away. :(
When you have to compromise fidelity for drama, what limits do you put on yourself? Does historical accuracy enter in to your decision making when it is script writing time?
We love to use real details, because truth is stranger than fiction. Truth is our friend! We love to dig into the weird research and the odd details. Our office is stacked with books. We truly go out of our way to incorporate as many wacko, fascinating factoids as we can. Jeff Toobin's book is fabulous for the surprising detail that casts light on character and narrative.
Obviously people will compare American Crime Story to American Horror Story, but are the two similar in any way?
They both share Ryan and Ryan's great production team. The crew killed themselves for this show -- it was so large. Also, Anthony Hemingway, who directed half our episodes, has worked on that show.
We're not sure how similar they are. AHS is very operatic. We are more grounded -- our reference points, as we were writing, then later after Ryan came aboard, were DOG DAY AFTERNOON and NETWORK.
What are John Travolta and David Schwimmer like in person?
They are insanely nice! John is a true movie star. He was terrific in always seeking out visitors and making them feel welcome. David is completely dedicated as an actor. He really pushed us to dive into the character and his complicated relationships.
We actually lobbied for David, because we had seen him in these terrific plays about Hollywood written by our friend Roger Kumble!
What's it like working with Tim Burton?
Tim really understands our tone. We like to mix sadness and comedy and weirdness. He gets all that! We also share a love for ephemeral pop culture! (When Scott went to a wax museum auction to buy the Smothers Brothers in wax, Tim was there, by proxy, bidding on Sammy Davis, Jr!)
We give him all the credit for taking a chance on ED WOOD. If he hadn't directed that script, we'd still be trying to get rewrites on COP AND A HALF.
What do you think of the way Bob Zmuda has handled Andy Kaufman's legacy?
"Legacy"? Isn't Andy still alive?
Hello Scott and Larry,
From a screenwriter's perspective, what was it like to transition from film to television for "The People V.S. O.J."?
We loved it. Having the luxury of ten hours to tell one story... we could explore multiple characters with depth. We like to say we were making a 1970's style Robert Altman movie... no one was a supporting character. Also we could take our time to explore the little details and process... thats the stuff that really interests us.
Will we ever get to see some kind of incarnation of your Marx brothers script? Or how about your movie about the Village People?
Also, I've been consuming Andy Kaufman books since seeing Man on the Moon. Huge fan of you guys.
We love our Marx Brothers script! It is unusual for us, in that it is our only Great Man script. Every other feature biopic was about an obscure fringe character who we had to make an argument for. But the Marx Bros are bona fide great! They just deserve the movie because of who they are!
They problem with the project was that it was too expensive. Vaudeville theaters, trains, many cities, Broadway, New York, Hollywood. A million speaking parts. Five brothers. Wives, kids, parents. Very sprawling. We love it dearly. (Scott crashed the premiere of Animal Crackers when he was 10 and got to see Groucho in person! It's a sentimental project.) Maybe one day...
Village People -- we wrote an outline, we flew to Paris and schmoozed Henri Belolo, who owns the act... but, it just never worked out. Contrary to popular myth, the script never got written.
Leonardo Dicaprio is king of the biographical films, I think he has done more than 10. You ever discussed working together?
Has he really done that many? Wow! We should work with him. He is great, and he uses his clout to get great material produced.
We do share a fascination with Johnny Eck! Johnny was a character in our beloved Ripley's Believe It Or Not script... and years ago, Leo was going to do a Johnny bio.
But we've never met him.
How long have you been working on The People vs. O.J. Simpson? Does he receive any royalties off of it, or does the Goldman family receive the rights like the case of the book "If I Did It"?
We've been working on it for exactly 3 years.
OJ makes NO MONEY off this show.
Which story was your favorite story to research and write about, and why?
Our time with Margaret Keane was really special. We became very close to her. That was an independent movie that struggled to get made for 12 years! She was 75 when we met her, and she stuck with us for 12 more years, through endless hurdles, as we tried to get it into production. We've never been as close to one of our subjects.
Have you contacted OJ or his people? If so, what was the response?
OJ has people? He's in jail.
What are some pragmatic tips to make a written character endearing?
Do we write endearing characters?
We like to write about outcasts and nutballs. But our secret is to give these characters a driving PASSION. All they care about is that dream they're chasing. Ed Wood just wants to make movies. Larry Flynt just wants to publish his magazine and make money. If you start rooting for the character to achieve his goals, then you can root for the movie, even if you don't agree with that person.
Certainly, in OJ, everybody is hugely driven. The Goldmans and the Browns want justice. The lawyers all want to win. OJ wants to get free. The media wants to explode this thing. This drive pushes everything along.
What character was the most difficult to write for in
Darden was the hardest, because he's so misunderstood. In our early passes, we really struggled with how to introduce him, without him seeming like wishy-washy Charlie Brown. As writers, it was very hard to give a character empathy (and make him interesting), when you're learning in his first scene that he wants to quit!
Coming in through a scene with Johnnie really helped pull that together.
We do feel his character will surprise people the most.
Were there any areas of the trial that you wanted to get more into but had to cut out for the sake of time, or do you believe you covered all that you wanted to cover?
Oh, so much!!!!!!!!
Ron Shipp's testimony about OJ's dreams. "OJ, THIS IS SAD." Wow. We just couldn't fit it in.
The car detailer! Yes, a car detailer testified. (Toobin has great fun with the rest of the country not understanding what the hell a car detailer is. A guy who washes cars with Q-tips? Hm! Only in LA.)
All the screenwriter witnesses. It's really bizarre how many of the Bundy witnesses and dog people and neighbors were screenwriters or struggling screenwriters. Pablo Fenjves and his "plaintive wail"!
Marcia Clark's dental surgery! She had to go to an all-night dental clinic, at 2am, right before closing statements. Completely nuts.
When you were doing your research for The People v OJ Simpson, what did you learn that surprised you the most?
So much! For instance, in last night's episode, all that craziness in Kardashian's Encino house was a total surprise to us. The more we learned about it, the more we expanded it. It felt like farce, with the doorbell constantly ringing and doctors and nurses running around.
The character who really surprised us was Chris Darden. At the time of the trial, he felt like this sad guy who just wasn't performing well. But as we really learned about him, and his relationship with his father, and the fact that he was about to quit the DA's office right before the trial, and his relationship with Johnnie, and his relationship with Marcia... he really became a man of empathy, with so many layers. We are very proud of how much people respond to him. You'll see, as the episodes go along... you really want to root for him, even as things are collapsing all around.
now that you did a million hours of research do you have a different view of the case and people involved in it?
Wow. Our opinions flipped on almost everybody.
Anybody who watched the trial in 94-95 had strong opinions, but you have to remember that this was primarily from Court TV footage. (Or the defense team on the news and TV shows.) But once we really delved into this, our mission became to HUMANIZE THESE PEOPLE.
You think Marcia is strident? Well... let's show you her personal side, with her divorce, and her single mom problems, and the fact that she's being judged differently than the men.
You think Johnnie is a phony in an orange suit? Well, let's talk about his 30 years of taking on the LAPD's violence against blacks in Los Angeles. His absolute commitment to justice.
You think Chris is a bumbler? Well, let's show you the impossible situation he found himself in, torn between prosecuting a black hero and the fact that his black community wouldn't respect a black prosecutor. He was called an Uncle Tom in newspaper polls.
All this serves to make these living, breathing people in a way they weren't, to us, twenty years ago.
Did either of you have a feeling that Andy Kaufman would show up for the screening, or were you too jaded about looking into the facts of his story?
We reserved a seat in back for him at the premiere. We tried to time the screening to land exactly on his 50th birthday, thinking that would attract him, but we missed it.
Zmuda wanted to have a guy in bandages get led into the theater just as the lights went down...
You guys have said that Problem Child was originally written as a dark comedy but the studio changed it. Is that script available anywhere? I'd be interested in reading through it.
That script is sure hard to find -- we don't even know how to print it out anymore! It's was written in Wordstar 4 on a Kaypro 2X!
The tone we wanted was RUTHLESS PEOPLE, or THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN. Dark satire, for adults. We got something much broader and younger. But over the years, we've come to peace with the film, because people just like it so much!