The O.J. Simpson Trial Helped Sabotage Denzel Washington’s Most Underrated Film

Every actor has a few films that might not have performed as well as they wanted, including blockbuster star Denzel Washington. But one box-office disappointment was different from the others, as it may have been a direct result of the O.J. Simpson verdict.

How the O.J. Simpson trial might’ve affected ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’

Denzel Washington posing in a black blazer and t-shirt at the premiere of 'Fences'.
Denzel Washington | Miikka Skaffari/FilmMagic

Devil in a Blue Dress saw Oscar-winner Washington play Easy Rawlins, a private detective investigating a missing woman. The 1995 movie was based on a series of books that Washington and the film’s director Carl Franklin were interested in at the time. The fact that the film was about a black investigator in the 1940s added another layer to Franklin’s noir film for him to play with.

“It gives you another obstacle,” Franklin said in an interview with Slate. “Of course, obstacles are the key to drama. If it was a Sam Spade character, you know there’s going to be the one cop who’s going to be cool with him, and the other cop is going to want to break his neck. In Easy’s case, both cops want to break his neck. And also, just certain areas of the city, there were sundown laws in certain places. He really should not have been out in Malibu.

Although a critical success, Devil in a Blue Dress didn’t live up to financial expectation, failing to make its budget back. Franklin presented two theories that might’ve explained away the movie’s underperformance.

“Number one, the genre. The gumshoe genre is a tough genre. Two, the O.J. Simpson case was … We opened on Friday. They announced on Friday that they were going to come with a verdict. And here we had this Black guy looking for a white woman, and that, I think, was in the trailer,” Franklin said.

Coupled with the fact that the studio behind Dress didn’t really promote the film, Washington’s movie seemed to have little chance at succeeding.

O.J. Simpson allegedly wanted Denzel Washington to play him in ‘American Crime Story’ instead of Cuba Gooding Jr.

Television producer Ryan Murphy famously adapted the O.J. Simpson trial in the limited series American Crime Story: People vs O.J. Simpson. Gooding Jr. seemed to be Murphy’s first choice to play Simpson, and the actor was on board the project based on Murphy’s resume alone.

“Now, I’d known of his work and his power as a show runner for a long time, and I said to them, specifically, ‘Anything Ryan wants me to do, I’m in.’ They said, ‘Well, funny enough, he wants you to play O.J. Simpson.’ So I had a meeting with him, it wasn’t very long, about 45 minutes, and we talked about my process and… here I am,” Gooding Jr. told Variety in a 2014 interview.

But according to The National Enquirer (via Radar Online), a source who claimed to be close with Simpson didn’t agree with Murphy’s choice. Norman Pardo, Simpson’s longtime friend and business manager, alleged that Simpson was disappointed by the decision.

“O.J. was left with his mouth open when they picked Cuba,” Pardo said. “He said, ‘Why would they choose somebody like that to play me?’”

Pardo further asserted that Simpson saw Washington as a more appropriate choice. He felt the Training Day star had more charisma than Gooding Jr., and matched Simpson’s physical size.

“Denzel and Cuba are two totally different people, with two totally different personalities and totally different sizes,” Pardo added. “Cuba makes for a good comedian, but not a serious-looking football player. He’s just too small for the job.”

Apart from Simpson’s own preferences, Pardo added that Simpson took a personal liking to Washington. Pardo claimed Washington and Simpson already knew each other. And even after Simpson’s infamous trial, Washington was at least still nice to the late football star.

“[Washington] was never mean to O.J. after the trial,” Pardo said.

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