Tony Award winning actor Courtney B. Vance has added his rivetingly convincing portrayal of the legendary celebrity attorney Johnnie Cochran to his long list of television and film roles. Vance, known for his appearances in Law & Order: Criminal Intent and more, is featured as the famed attorney on the limited FX mini-series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. The show has garnered a large amount of viewership since it first aired at the beginning of February and Vance’s portrayal has subsequently received high praise. In a recent interview with The New York Times Magazine, Vance talked about how he related to the Cochran role, his own negative experience with law enforcement, and “code-switching.” Here are some excerpts from the interview.
On “code-switching” in his personal life to adjust to his surroundings and how he used this experience (and Cochran’s similar one) to prepare for the role:
Around 1969, my family had just bought a house in a lower-middle-class white neighborhood two blocks away from school. Then, all of a sudden, all the white people left the neighborhood and the school. Overnight, our parents pulled us out and sent us to an all-white school in an all-white neighborhood. We had to fit into that environment, and we had to know how to exist, how to do it.
There was no class for it. Cochran’s mother did a similar thing to him. She put him in an all-white school. When I read that, I thought: I’m just like Johnnie. I know exactly who he is, I know exactly the flip he made. I made it, too.
On dealing with an unfortunate incident involving himself and local police officers:
I was at home late one night, and I heard something at the door and thought, Well, maybe someone threw a script onto the porch, a late delivery. I opened the door, and there were six policemen out front, screaming at the top of their lungs for me to come outside and get on my knees.
Apparently they’d been told I was out of town, and a security patrol called in that there was something suspicious happening at my house. If I hadn’t watched a lot of “Law & Order,” I would have been dead. I had been trained to know what to do when there’s a cop: Defuse it. “Yes, sir. Mm-hmm.”
On how to resolve or how institutional racial prejudices could have somehow been resolved during the time of the Simpson trial:
The resolution wasn’t the issue, it was the discussion. When you talk things through, you end up coming closer together, because when you sit down at the table, you’re actually near each other. If it hadn’t been on television, I doubt Chris Darden would have been there; Darden coming on the prosecution team was a reaction to O.J. hiring Johnnie Cochran. What I mean is that we never talked about it as a nation.
Read the full article here. The The People v. O.J. Simpson will air the season finale on April 5th on FX at 10 PM Eastern.