Anthony Hemingway’s prolific directing resume reads like a list of essential TV shows from the past 20 years: “The Wire,” “ER,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Orange Is the New Black,” “Empire.” But it wasn’t until last season, when he helmed five episodes of “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” that Emmy came calling. Now he’s in the running with fellow “O.J.” directors Ryan Murphy and John Singleton.
How does it feel being an Emmy-nominated director?
I’m incredibly humbled and honored. In and of itself, the fact that I’m being recognized and get to attend the award show and party alongside so many great people I respect in the industry … I’ve been in the game for over 25 years, and it’s just the first time that I’ve ever had any experience like this. I’m trying to enjoy it as long as it lasts.
How did you approach directing actors to portray real people in the O.J. Simpson case?
I always try to approach it as honestly as possible. Once I realized that I’m not making a documentary, it took a lot of stress off. Knowing the caliber of the actors, I knew it wasn’t going to be a challenge in getting them to portray the people. Once you figure out what you’re telling and the intentions of what you’re doing, it starts to unleash so many different pressures and allows you to fly freer — and then you can tell a story.
What was the biggest challenge you faced?
The episodes were done out of order, so it was a matter of trying to connect the dots. Each moment and episode, it was trying to remember the narrative of the storytelling and play the levels correctly out of sequence. Visual perspective was also important [such as Marcia Clark’s hairstyle]. With any story that you tell that has a historical resonance, it always adds some sort of pressure whether it’s fact-checking, etc. You can’t please everyone. You can only do what you know is right, and move forward. What I thought was very awesome was that the ESPN docs about O.J. came out right after our show. It proved that it was pretty historically accurate and factual.
You’re nominated for the penultimate episode, “Manna from Heaven” — was there a part in that script that you knew you had to get exactly right?
Everything. I wanted it all to be perfect, or as perfect as we can get it. Just by nature of the title, I knew that when I started reading it, I was like “Lord, you done blessed me!” It was very spiritual. It touched me before I had even finished it. I realized Larry [Karaszewski] and Scott [Alexander] had really outdone themselves by writing this great piece.
What impact do you think the show had?
I was hoping that this would [start] a conversation on where we stand today, to show how little has changed and what needs to be worked on.
Your resume includes so many different kinds of shows. Is there a particular genre that you like to tackle in your work?
I strive to tackle everything I love, and anything that can elevate life. I’ve done everything from sci-fi to comedy to action to drama to thriller — I love it all. I naturally have somewhat stayed in the dramatic lane more because I think that’s what people really associate with me more than anything else. It’s indicative of life. I love the art of storytelling and love to use my talent to make a contribution to life.
What’s next for you?
I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure it out and see what comes next. Definitely just trying to seize the moment. I’m hoping to capitalize this by just continuing to prove that I’m a voice and am a change agent that is needed. And being able to use my gift and my voice to add contributions to life, and hoping that we can find the healing and change that’s necessary.