There are dozens of unforgettable characters in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” but even in this crowd, one performance stands out.
Connie Britton owned the screen the moment she showed up early in the series as Nicole Simpson’s friend Faye Resnick, who has remained one of its most memorable supporting characters. Faye’s tell-all book about her friend became a sensation after the notorious murders, and Faye herself rode a wave of attention as the case took on a life of its own and all but took over popular culture in the mid-’90s.
Britton, best known for her work on “Friday Night Lights” and “Nashville,” was able to find both the comic and melodramatic sides of her character, whose blase revelations about cocaine use and extramarital sex provide some of the most incongruously amusing moments in the series. Britton had previously worked with Ryan Murphy, executive producer of “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” on season one of “American Horror Story,” but even fans of that performance may not have been prepared for Britton’s loopy and endearing Resnick. The character makes an impression, especially in episode four, which has her making a memorable visit to Larry King’s talk show.
Below, Britton talks about why she took the role, how celebrity culture has changed in the past 20 years, and why she isn’t thrilled about the way actors are now expected to be constant self-promoters.
There are so many excellent performances in this show, but I was not prepared to be so wowed by Faye Resnick. It’s a fantastic performance.
I’m so pleased and relieved to hear that, because that role is obviously a pretty big departure for me. And it’s nerve-wracking playing an actual living person. You don’t want to get that wrong. But when I was playing it, there were so many moments where I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I am just chewing the scenery here.” But at the same time, I really wanted to try to embody the essence that I feel that she has and all that. I haven’t even seen it. I’ve only seen the first episode. I just remember when we shot it, but it was so much fun.
I think it’s one of those dramas that really calls for bold performances, not just with your role, but in general.
I totally agree.
What was your first reaction when you read the scripts?
I thought the scripts were so good right off the bat. But the thing that I felt very early on, reading the script but [also] knowing Ryan and taking into account the historical place of that story being told at this time — taking all those things into account, it felt to me that tonally there was a line that would be very interesting to walk. It would be a line of almost extreme reality combined with almost a campiness. You have to find the balance of that.
One of the writers, D.V. DeVincentis, and I were talking about how there is a level of commentary to it, now that we’re telling the story 20 years later. There is commentary about the situation, the historical significance, how it relates to us today culturally — all of these things. It’s almost like, if we were to do it just completely straight, it would almost lose something because, these characters have become archetypal, in a way. For instance, I look at John Travolta’s performance and I just love it. It’s so great. He is working so hard to be so truthful to that character and yet that character has become iconic. There are certain elements of that character’s essence that need to be acknowledged, and I feel that it was a similar process and a similar experience for me playing Faye.
I agree. I wrote a column saying I have seen divided opinions about John’s performance, and I personally think it is working on all those levels you mentioned. I think it’s brilliant because he’s playing a larger-than-life man in an incredibly huge story that is over-the-top at times and had all this cultural and social significance.
Which heightens it even more. That’s the point, I think — we are also playing and acknowledging the cultural significance that this story has. That makes these characters all larger than life. I mean, look at Marcia Clark. She is being played beautifully by Sarah Paulson as a very real, very relatable woman. But she is also this representation of the challenges that women have to face and the projections that women were dealing with 20 years ago and are still dealing with today. Because of the cultural significance, all of these characters are slightly heightened.
It sounds like what you’re saying is that’s the challenge for the actor is to create this specific person but also play those other levels of significance or archetype. That’s a lot to try to nail.
Why I think all these actors are so brilliant is because it all comes from the top — the tone of this was established by Ryan, and it’s just a tone that I think he nailed. But I think the actual challenge for the actors is — there are all those levels, but the challenge is that we actually have is to then ground it in something real. And, you know, that’s particularly hard when you’re playing a character with whom people are familiar. I’m so completely committed to realism. I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, I have to get this right.”
I think Faye functions also as something of like comic relief. And yet there’s this whole other level, in that she’s lost her friend who had been brutally murdered — a friend whom she knew was in a domestic violence situation. But still, was there an awareness that she could function as a lighter element in the story, or as comic relief?
There was. There was an awareness of that, but I knew that if I didn’t play that [it would work]. I really, really was not focused on that. I always have to find what is rooting her, what is rooting her behavior and her story. And from doing the research that I did with Faye, there’s a real earnestness about her. I never judge my character, so I was really stepping back and trying to see the things that she did from her point of view — the book that she wrote and all of the interviews that she gave. She is deeply earnest about wanting to do right by Nicole. There’s also a psychology there that desires attention and that wants to be seen and all of those things as well.
But what I really tapped into was her earnestness, and then I imbued it with all those qualities that make her who she is. So it think it’s those qualities that kind of ended up making it comedic. If you’re really earnest in a situation and then all the circumstances around the situation make it funny, then it’s funny.
In a way, what’s kind of endearing about her is that she’s incredibly open. She’s talking about all the cocaine they used and partying and stuff like that. She wants to be famous, but she’s not trying to construct a totally false persona to get that attention.
Exactly. She gets a bad rap and I didn’t want to play that. I wanted to tap into the things about her that make her real. I read her book and I believe that she believed that all those stories that she told, the crazy history that all those women had together and that she had with Nicole. I think she genuinely believed that it was important to tell those stories and beautiful to tell those stories.
We can step back from it and say, “misjudgment.” She doesn’t have the best judgment, but I wasn’t doing that while I was playing the part. I was relishing what I imagine she thought of as something that was genuinely very important.
So for your preparation, what did you do?
I watched a lot of footage of her being interviewed and I read the book she wrote about Nicole.
Some of the cast did or did not meet the people they played. What did you decide what to do about that?
I was a little on the fence about it. I mean, I’d love to meet her. But it really was a time constraint thing more than anything. But also there was something about not wanting to [play Faye as she is now]. It would have been great, because I probably would been able to see even more of her mannerisms and maybe she could have told me more stories. I know Selma Blair actually spent a good deal of time with Kris Jenner.
But at the same time, I was trying to play the Faye of 20 years ago. She’s had so many incarnations, and I just had the feeling who she was 20 years ago might not be the same as who she is now, and it might actually get in the way. So it wasn’t a conscious thing — if the opportunity had presented itself I would have taken it, but it wasn’t something that I felt like I had to do. Part of me thought it may be better to keep it in this historical moment.
I had this gut reaction or guess that when you played this part, you have met people like this in your travels in Los Angeles or in the entertainment industry. It was like this was a chance to dive into portraying a type that you’ve seen or you’ve encountered. Am I wrong about that?
No, you’re right. I think it is that. And as I said earlier, she’s a different character than I play a lot of the time. It did feel like a woman that I know and have known and wanted to play. And of course, I was trying to be as specific as I could be. But I have met versions of who I imagine her to be and pulled all that together.
So much of the series has echoes in the present, and one of the things that Faye really exemplifies is the rise of celebrity culture — you know, being famous for being near someone famous and things like that. What we thought of as celebrity culture 20 years ago — we could never have imagined what it’s become now. And she was one of the precursors of that, do you agree?
Yes, I do. And it’s funny because, you know, back then they were kind of considered society people. Twenty years ago we were still in a place where a lot of celebrities really wanted to have a very private life and there was still a real mystery to that world. So these people who were out there wanting to be seen — they go out at night to be seen and to hobnob with the rich and famous and that whole thing. This is what that world looked like 20 years ago.
And now that small slice of the world— that’s become the norm, especially in the entertainment industry. I know many actors and celebrities do actually still do want to have private personal lives, but it’s almost like someone is considered odd if they try to completely avoid it. Before, you almost had to opt in to be a celebrity, and now you have to fight to opt out. Does that make any sense?
Absolutely. I’m being pulled into the whole Internet situation kicking and screaming. I’m a person who really, really wants to have a private life, and I’m feeling like I’m being asked to compromise that all the time. I think it’s just because it’s expected now, in terms of self-promotion. Self-promotion is still something that makes me so uncomfortable, and yet it’s become a part of what’s expected of us as performers — you’ve got to get up there and get your following and all the rest. It’s just a really different world. There’s no appreciation for the mystery anymore. It’s really all about how you put yourself out there.
Have your thoughts about the case and its impact changed as a part of being part of this project?
I definitely remember all of the pivotal moments of the case when it was happening, but this has made me look at it from so many different sides. What’s most interesting about looking at it now is how reflective it was and still is in terms of so many issues — so many cultural issues, particularly race relations. It really is a story that makes us question how we are dealing with race as a culture.
I grew up thinking that the justice system was something that’s working. This story is an example of how there are so many different things that come into play in the justice system, and how that can impact what actually is the result of any judicial outcome.
“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.
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