Many of the original cast of American Crime Story‘s debut season — The People V. O.J. Simpson — are expected to reassemble for the next chapter in the Ryan Murphy-produced anthology show. Producers Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson confirm to Awardsline that writers went to New Orleans last week on a research trip for Season 2, which will tell of the American response to Hurricane Katrina. And O.J.‘s Marcia Clark, Sarah Paulson, says she fully intends to return to the series. “The Katrina story, to me, is a literal American crime,” Paulson explains. “It says something about a uniquely American attitude, and I find it incredibly potent.”
When Jacobson and Simpson pitched The People V. O.J. Simpson they hadn’t conceived it as an anthology show that would run on after the conclusion of this particular story. It was Murphy and FX who brought that ambition, and it was conceived in the notion that crime is about apathy as much as action. In the case of O.J. Simpson, Jeffrey Toobin’s book about the trial had made it clear that many injustices served to prejudice the perspectives of the nation that consumed it. There was no way to avoid the questions it asked about race, gender and celebrity, and yet we did. If anything, the lessons the O.J. Simpson trial tried to teach were ignored, if not actively rallied against, as 24-hour news media and the rise of the internet gave us all an excuse to exercise opinions before they were fully-formed.
And American Crime Story faces an uphill struggle as it steers towards a second season, thanks to the outpouring of critical praise and interest heaped on The People V. O.J. Simpson. But for the creative team, alighting on this broader definition of “American crime” has allowed them to change tack, with Season 2 of the show placing the emphasis on the American response to Hurricane Katrina. “We started talking about ‘American crime stories’ as being before and after moments — crimes in which nothing was the same after as it was before,” says Jacobson. “They’re turning points. As we started looking at O.J. and Katrina next to each other, we realized that they were crimes in which America was culpable for the crime as much as anybody else.”
In the case of Katrina, that means examining the neglect and disparity of care that followed the storm’s landfall on August 25 2005. “To explore these things from a character foundation, and to revel in the shades of grey—to explore moments in which there’s a disparity between the way our country wants to see itself and the way we actually are— that’s been a really inspiring perspective for us.”
Adds Jacobson: “It’s a very different story to O.J., but we’re optimistic that if we dive deep and focus on great characters, we can have another great season of television.”
Those characters will differ from the denizens of the O.J. case, because there weren’t so many ‘breakout stars’ in the wake of Katrina. “But the one thing it has in common with O.J.,” notes Brad Simpson, “is that America stopped and watched this thing happen, and it exposed some truths that maybe we didn’t want exposed. Things we didn’t want to admit to ourselves about this country.”
The plan—as with Ryan Murphy’s other anthology series American Horror Story and Scream Queens—is to encourage as many of the cast from The People v. O.J. Simpson back as schedules allow. John Travolta, who flew to Louisiana after Katrina to assist in the rescue effort, has already expressed his interest, and Paulson says now that she’s in too.
“I would be more excited than almost anything to have a crack at something else with this same creative team,” she admits. “For me, the idea of treating Katrina as an American Crime Story is incredibly resonant, powerful and accurate. The Katrina story, to me, is a literal American crime. It says something about a uniquely American attitude, and I find it incredibly potent. I’ve begged them, and there have been some conversations.”
Paulson has relished the chance to change gears every year with American Horror Story. “The idea of taking this repertory group of actors, who tell different stories all the time anyway, and giving them an opportunity to go out every year and do something different; to me it’s the greatest job in the world.”
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