Editor's note: On Wednesday, June 15, at 9 p.m. ET, ESPN will broadcast the premiere of part 3 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 fateful day of Bronco chase and the key players surrounding the trial.
As we find out in Part 3, which opens with the gruesome double-murder, you scored interviews with almost all of the key players in the investigation, prosecution and defense. Who did you try to land but couldn't?
Ezra Edelman: No. 1 on the list is Chris Darden. I would've loved to talk to him. He was the lone main member of the prosecution that didn't talk to me. He was also the lone black member of the prosecution. I reached out to him first and most often of all the people in the prosecution, but he declined to participate, and I completely understand why. I don't want to speak for Chris, but it was an intense journey for him, and I don't begrudge him for not wanting to talk about it 20 years later. But I do think he's sorely missed as a character in the film.
Who was your biggest get?
Edelman: When I approached former District Attorney Gil Garcetti, he was very clear about his reluctance. It wasn't even reluctance -- he said, "I'm not doing this." It took a few conversations and, interestingly, a little lobbying from his son Eric Garcetti, who's now the mayor of L.A. and told him, "I think it's time to do this, and I think you can trust Ezra." That was a big development. I think it opened the door and made other people more comfortable to participate, since he was the overseer of the prosecution team. Gil saying yes made it easier for us.
As the episode recounts in great detail, a mountain of evidence pointed to Simpson as the killer. Do you get the sense that any right-minded individual still thinks he's innocent?
Edelman: I get the sense that a lot of individuals still think he's innocent, and it's not for me to argue with them one way or the other. I respect their opinions.
Do you think he's innocent or guilty?
Edelman: I don't think it matters what I think.
In this episode, we see the Ford Bronco chase like we've never seen it before, with eyewitness accounts of police and helicopter reporters. What was the biggest surprise for you as you gathered material for this sequence?
Edelman: One of the many challenges in this film was, "How do you tell a story about a day that people are so familiar with and have a personal experience with, and how do you do that in way that's different, especially when there's an entire '30 for 30' about that day, specifically?" Everybody was sitting around their TVs that day, watching O.J. in a Ford Bronco on the freeway, so what I was hoping to do, and in a way that's in line with how I was approaching the whole film, was get first-person perspectives from all ends, from the police force to the media to the attorneys -- to really be on the ground with all of these characters. And it's really a mini-action film within the movie, which allowed us to kind of change genres within the documentary. There really aren't that many days like this one in our culture.
Jury selection plays a big role in this episode. They end up with eight black women. How would you describe the effect of the jury's racial makeup on the trial's outcome?
Edelman: This entire film is about, sort of, why a group of jurors came to the decision that they did, and obviously the defense tactic in this case was to prey upon the fraught history between the LAPD and the community, and needing jurors who have experience with the cops and have an understanding and belief that cops are capable of planting evidence and acting untoward a black citizen in LA. Having more black members of a jury who'd be open to that line of argument was imperative for the defense and less favorable to the prosecution.
The defense wasn't alone in turning O.J. into a civil rights cause -- in the film we hear from many activists and community leaders who propped up O.J. as the posterboy for social injustice. Knowing what we know now about O.J., do any of these people express regret or embarrassment?
Edelman: No, I think they were similar to the defense using everything in their toolkit to try to gain an acquittal. You had activists who used the enormous platform that was the O.J. Simpson trial to advance a cause that they'd been fighting for for years. I think you got that from Danny Bakewell, a longtime civil rights activist in L.A., saying, look at the issues that have been brought to bear in this trial -- police possibly planting evidence in this case, a cop [Mark Fuhrman] who was alleged if not prove to have some racial animus, and who perjured himself during the trial when asked if he used the word "n---" in the past 10 years. I think there was just cause for people to pull out their megaphones and shed light on the problems in their city.
Coming Thursday: Part 4 of our conversation with Ezra Edelman.