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The ultimate courtroom drama: how a play kept the OJ Simpson jury sane

  • Impassioned speeches. Hostile cross-examination. The (gasp!) surprise witness or new piece of evidence. And, sometimes, a life hanging in the balance. Courtrooms are inherently theatrical; little wonder they’re a favoured setting for dramatists, from The Crucible and Witness for the Prosecution on stage, to Twelve Angry Men on the big screen and the slew of legal TV shows. “I object!” “You’re out of order!” “You can’t handle the truth!” Of course, one of the most sensational trials in history was the 1995 OJ Simpson case. It played out like a drama, thanks partly to Judge Ito’s decision to allow cameras into the Los Angeles courtroom, and partly to the feverish media coverage of a story that had it all: murder, celebrity, sex, race. Prosecutor Marcia Clark noted that initially, TV viewers complained because the trial interrupted their soap operas. Soon, the Simpson trial became their soap opera. Defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran revelled in that spotlight. What could be more theatrical than his famous use of a prop, forcing Simpson to try on the bloody glove found at the scene of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman’s murders? Topped off with that slam-dunk Cochran line: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” The Simpson jury spent nine months as a captive audience to this unfolding real-life melodrama. There was no reprieve: even on their day off, the judge kept up the drama – arranging a private showing of the play Love Letters (playing in the West End from later this week) in the courtroom itself. It sounds cruel, but this bizarre site-specific production was actually part of a mercy mission to keep the Simpson jury sane. They were sequestered for a staggering 265 days, longer than any other jury in American history. That meant almost nine months of arguably inhumane conditions. They were kept in isolation at the Hotel Inter-Continental, and, to avoid outside influence, were not allowed newspapers, radio or TV. Nor could they go anywhere or see anyone. It was the criminal justice equivalent of the Big Brother house.


1999British Academy of Film & Television ArtsActress in a Supporting RoleGods and Monsters (film)Nominated
1999Golden GlobeBest Performance By an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion PictureGods and Monsters (film)Winner
1999Screen Actors Guild AwardsOutstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting RoleGods and Monsters (film)Nominated
1999Academy AwardActress in a Supporting RoleGods and Monsters (film)Nominated
1997Screen Actors Guild AwardsOutstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion PictureShine (film)Nominated