Seen and Heard Backstage at the Primetime Emmys Awards

Cynthia Littleton

There was a common theme among the backstage remarks for the acting winners from “The People V. O.J. Simpson” — being part of the FX miniseries was nothing less than a life-changing experience.

For Sterling K. Brown, absorbing the character of prosecutor Christopher Darden made him rethink his perspective on the real-life Simpson murder verdict even as he also recognizes that “not everybody feels they are protected and served” by the criminal justice system.

Courtney B. Vance, who played Johnnie Cochran in the TV series, said he came to value his family even more after spending six months in a trailer on the Fox lot. It also helped him reflect on the current rise in racial tension in America. “In this world we need each other,” he said. “We can’t do it alone. White folks, black folks, all races — we need each other. We’ve got to find a way to build bridges not walls. Our country and our society depends on it.”

Lead Actress winner Sarah Paulson said she came to understand the depth of sexism and misogny in the culture at the time in the hostility that prosecutor Marcia Clark faced. She felt her work on the series portraying Clark was an effort to set the record straight. “I think there was a collective failing on the part of women for Marcia during the time of the trial,” Paulson said. “I think an apology was in order. I was very, very happy to be able to do it in such a broad way.”

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Regina King, a winner for ABC’s “American Crime,” was making her backstage remarks as Paulson entered the press room and waited for her turn at the mic. King mentioned that she was grateful that “no one from ‘People v. O.J. Simpson’ was in her category, otherwise she wouldn’t have won. That prompted a shout-out from the wings from Paulson, and soon the two actresses were reminiscing about a short-lived NBC comedy series they did together in 2002. “We’re a long way from ‘Leap of Faith,’ King said. “It all worked out okay,” Paulson replied.

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Patton Oswalt, who won for writing in a Variety Special for Netflix’s “Talking for Clapping,” said the best thing about the Emmy win was that it would allow him to do more stand-up comedy. “Hey, an Emmy winner is coming to your mini-mall this weekend,” he joked. But on a far more serious note, he spoke of his continuing pain from the loss earlier this year of his wife, writer Michelle McNamara. He called her the inspiration behind so much of his success. “To have that ripped out of my life in that way this year — it seems like the lights have been turned down 50% on everything since she’s gone,” Oswalt said. “It’s going to be a long time before I can be the kind of person that she made me again.”

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John Oliver, whose HBO series “Last Week Tonight” won for Variety Talk Series, wouldn’t take the bait about commenting at length on Donald Trump, other than to say he would be making statements “over the next two months as we dance on the lip of a volcano.” The British born comedian noted that he also does not get a vote as he’s not an American citizen. But when asked whether he felt any complicity as a member of the media for promoting Trump’s campaign, Oliver was unequivocal: “Of course I f–king don’t,” he replied.

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Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who won Variety Sketch Series for the final season of their Comedy Central series “Key and Peele,” likened their future collaborations to a “Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder thing.”

“We’re going to do our own thing and then come back together and then go do our own thing and then come back together,” Key said. He added: “I feel like we quit at just the right time.”

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“Grease Live” director Thomas Kail, who shared his Emmy win for Variety Directing with Alex Rudzinski, was pressed about the fact that he was half-way to EGOT (Emmy/Grammy/Oscar/Tony winner) status after winning a Tony earlier this year for directing “Hamilton.” He was humble about his chances for claiming the other two trophies.

“I’m going to do a spoken word comedy album for the Grammy,” Kail joked. “And I think I probably have the best chance for an Oscar for sound mixing.”

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