Editor's note: On Tuesday, June 14 at 9 p.m. ET, ESPN will broadcast the premiere of part 2 of "O.J.: Made in America," a five-part documentary chronicling the life of one of America's most polarizing figures, O.J. Simpson. ESPN.com sat down with the producer and director of the film, Ezra Edelman, to talk about the climate in Los Angeles in the 1990s when Simpson was living in Brentwood.
As decades of racial tensions boil over in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, O.J. Simpson remains a world apart in exclusive Brentwood, cultivating a perfect image atop a life of secrets.
Upon retirement, O.J. purchased a home in Brentwood, a white, moneyed community in Los Angeles. How does Brentwood inform the O.J. Simpson story?
Ezra Edelman: It's an extension of his time at USC. O.J. came to this place in L.A. that was made up of a certain group of people, and his trajectory in that world was furthered by first moving to Bel Air, then to Brentwood, which was a very white, sleepy, affluent village -- in fact, there's a Brentwood Village within Brentwood. And I think it speaks to the exclusive nature of his existence, this white environment he was very much a part of, as evidenced by his membership at the Riviera Country Club.
And at the center of it all was [his home on] Rockingham. O.J. was legendarily social and had hundreds if not thousands of friends, and that was the meeting place. You'll show up to watch a boxing match at O.J.'s house, and you might have Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] there, along with a politician of that time and James Caan, everybody just hanging out and drinking beers. I'm sure it was a pretty fun time.
That sort of speaks to how divergent his life was with the community in L.A. and South Los Angeles. That's part of the basic framework of the story.
Following his first failed marriage, O.J. married the beautiful white waitress that he met at a private club -- Nicole Brown. How would you describe their relationship in the early years?
Edelman: Their life was as two cohabitants who loved each other in those early years. I know once Nicole moved into the house, she sort of took it over and put her personal touches on it. She had a background in photography and an artistic sensibility, and she really turned that into a home.
You did get the sense that O.J. genuinely loved Nicole?
Edelman: Of course.
In Part 2, we begin to see beneath O.J.'s glistening façade -- and what we see, in part, is a brazen cheat. He was a womanizer who was openly unfaithful to his wife, but he was also a golf cheat. We're seeing this play out in the media now with regard to Donald Trump's purported cheating on the links. What does O.J.'s golf game say about him?
Edelman: Well, I don't play golf, but cheating, period, certainly informs a person's character. O.J. liked to win. He had to win. He didn't like being embarrassed. He's also a former professional athlete and football Hall of Famer -- stories of the competitiveness of guys like him are legendary. Going to the extent of cheating is pretty terrible or ridiculous, but more interesting to me was the reaction to his cheating of those who played with him, which was to laugh it off because he's so damn charming. That speaks to what O.J. got away with on a daily basis.
Not far from Brentwood, racial discord was boiling, culminating with the Rodney King riots. The trial of the century came on its heels. In your mind, if we move O.J.'s trial to another time and place, how does the trial turn out?
Edelman: It's impossible to know. As [then-District Attorney] Gil Garcetti told me, what a lot of people don't realize is that even if the trial was held in Santa Monica, it would've been a countywide pool of jurors, so they might not have ended up with a white group of jurors that everybody would expect it to be. So, again, it's impossible to know.
At the time, LAPD was a feared and, at best, racially insensitive police force. As somebody puts it in the film, you don't f--- with the LAPD. But O.J. had a different relationship with local law enforcement -- a cozy one, as we would come to find out in their reaction to a series of 911 calls. In talking to the participants in the film, did you get the sense that celebrity still plays a role in LAPD response, or did they clean house after the O.J. revelations?
Edelman: I assume celebrity, because of its power in America, still plays a role in the way that police handle matters across the country. These are very public people and you have to be more vigilant in how you handle them. The one thing I'll say is, after the Rodney King decision and riots in 1992, there was the Christopher Commission Report that examined the racism and brutality within the department, and Daryl Gates was ousted as police chief. The city's first black police commissioner, Willie Williams, was hired to run the LAPD in 1993, and there have been subsequent black chiefs. And Charlie Beck, who's the police chief now, has a lot more favorable standing with the citizens of L.A.. While I can't speak to their handling of celebrities, I do think the image of the LAPD is better.
O.J. seemingly had enablers all around him, including the media. In this episode, we see what, to me, is an appalling interview of O.J. by Roy Firestone, who downplays the domestic disturbances that were starting to make news. Was that media appearance an isolated incident, or did you find other examples of this, suggesting that the media in some way has blood on its hands?
Edelman: That was one specific interview, and I'm sure if you talk to Roy, he would admit that it wasn't his finest moment, but I'm sure he'd also say that he was one of the only [media members] who asked him about it at all. Obviously, he doesn't come across looking great in that interview, and he's obviously very fawning over O.J., but it also speaks to the jocularity in the media culture of that time, where O.J., who was a member of the media, was friends with everybody. It's unfortunate that Roy comes off looking like he does in that interview; I know he regrets it and wishes he would've held O.J.'s feet to the fire a little more, but in some ways everybody was complicit in what happened to O.J. -- not just Roy Firestone and not just the media.
In Part 1, we learned that O.J.'s dad was gay. In Part 2, we find out that one of the domestic violence incidents came on the heels of Nicole allowing their child to interact with a homosexual. In your mind, are the two revelations related? On top of everything else, is O.J. a homophobe?
Edelman: I'm hoping the audience can sort of absorb what they will from that conversation.
Throughout the documentary, all the way through Nicole's funeral, you take us deep inside O.J.'s life with what appear to be home videos. How did you land that content?
Edelman: Through a variety of sources. That's just part of the footage-gathering process, which was exhaustive. We had a producer, Caroline Waterlow, who had her hands in everything, and Nina Krstic, our archival producer, did yeoman's work tracking down all of that stuff. You end up sort of canvasing anyone and everyone for footage. It's impossible to know what you'll get before you start, and we were very fortunate. You can't do this movie without pictures.
What, to you, was the biggest coup in terms of footage acquired?
Edelman: I'm not a very excitable person in that way, and I was so underwater the whole time trying to coalesce so much material, but I'll say it was pretty cool to see footage of O.J. in his house after the verdict. That was pretty cool, I can't lie.
Coming Wednesday: Part 3 of our conversation with Ezra Edelman.