After 10 seasons playing Ross Gellar on NBC's mega-hit sitcom "Friends," actor David Schwimmer knows all about being thrust into the spotlight. When the series debuted in 1994, Schwimmer was a virtual unknown, but soon became a household name thanks to the series' instant success. That year would also see the beginning of what would become known as "The Trial Of The Century," when sports hero and actor O.J. Simpson was arrested and tried for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
It's a time that Schwimmer remembers vividly and admits helped form his portrayal of attorney Robert Kardashian (yes, the dad to many of the "Keeping Up With" clan) in FX's hit series "American Crime Story: The People v O.J. Simpson."
"I was living in L.A., so I was very aware of the tension here and I was as up to speed as any citizen would be, of current events," he says. "You could feel it, it was palpable in the city. And then this crazy thing of a career break of a lifetime happened. So I was in this strange space of the dizzying nature of, you know, the first kind of flush of celebrity and shooting this wonderful show with this wonderful new group of people. I remember paying attention quite a bit to the trial and during all of the season of filming "Friends."
Kardashian, a business lawyer who had never practiced criminal law, was enlisted by his friend, Simpson, to help defend him, but according to Schwimmer, there was a different reason Kardashian was appointed. "He was really only on the defense team to, in a way, babysit O.J. and be there for counsel to O.J., represent him and to look after his best interests," says Schwimmer.
As a man also thrust into the spotlight in 1994, Schwimmer admits to being able to identify with his on screen character. "Oh for sure, I could identify with that moment in my life and the struggle that I honestly still continue to face of how do you maintain your private life and stay grounded, keep it real when others won't allow you to in a way," Schwimmer explains.
With Kardashian passing in 2003 from cancer, Schwimmer turned to Kardashian's ex-wife and Kardashian matriarch Kris Jenner for advice on his portrayal. "She was incredibly generous with her time and very open about her relationship to Robert. I think the single greatest thing I got from her was the insight about how religious he was and how much a man of great faith he was," Schwimmer reveals.
Since "Friends" ended in 2004, Schwimmer has been selective about his on-screen roles, making the occasional guest appearance, doing voice-over work, concentrating his talents behind the camera as a director and appearing on stage in both England and on Broadway. He moved to New York, spent time with his family and, thanks to his new role, is looking to get back in front of the cameras again. He says he would even consider another "American Crime Story" if it came about.
"I'd certainly be open to it," he tells Headlines & Global News. "I loved the experience and these producers and these actors, writers, what a prolific bunch of people. All incredibly talented and if the story is as compelling as this and the character is as challenging, I'd love to be a part of it."
"American Crime Story: The People v O.J. Simpson" airs Tuesdays, 10 p.m. on FX.
For more of our interview with David Schwimmer, read on.
It's nice to see you back in front of the camera, it doesn't happen a lot?
Right, but that was also a function of me, I met my wife and I had a daughter; I moved to New York and focused more on directing for the last few years. But I couldn't resist this role and this opportunity. Just to be a part of this great piece of television.
Why do you think nostalgia like this is so popular right now?
I can't explain that. This story has interest, in light of what's been going on in this country in the last two years in particular and the fact that the black experience in America is still completely different from the white experience. We have not addressed it sufficiently and we need too. I think this case and hopefully this whole show will contribute to the conversation we're having and must continue to have. But reading the scripts and watching my fellow castmates perform, as it was then, as it is today, if you are privileged in this country you have much greater access to a better outcome and verdict.
Did any of the Kardashian daughters reach out to you with advice?
No, and I wasn't really interested or curious about talking to the kids because they were so young at the time. I was more interested to find my way through Robert as a character and who he was as a husband and father. Kris [Jenner] was really generous with her time and it was really great to learn about how much a man of faith he was and how loyal and considerate he was. He was also a very humble man, a private person and not at all seeking the limelight; that was all inadvertent.
In one episode you deliver a speech to the Kardashian kids - Kourtney, Kim, Khloé and Rob Jr. - about fame being fleeting. Here we are years later and their fame is not fleeting. How did you keep a straight face during that?
When I read that scene in the script of course it was the first thing that occurred to me, it's the modern context of what he's saying, but when I was actually working on it and doing it what I realized was that he was actually talking to himself. That scene is about Robert, a very private modest man inadvertently and suddenly becoming famous. Also not being comfortable with it. So when he's saying that to his kids he's really reminding himself that his life is about to change and to remember who he is.
Just as yours did with "Friends" that year?
I could identify with that moment in my life and the constant work that you do on yourself; it was the same with Robert. I think the purpose of that scene was to show this part of the character or new dimension to Robert and that unwittingly he was becoming a celebrity and not comfortable with it.
Has doing this reinvigorated your desire to act?
For sure, I'm looking at some other projects.
Are those projects comedies or drama?
I love both, but there is a drama I may be doing so we'll see.
Can you talk about James Burrows special the "Friends" cast reunited for?
We're there to talk about Jim and give him a hug. I just wanted to be in the room when he is honored because this man has contributed so greatly to our country's enjoyment of television over the last 40 or 50 years. It's lovely that he's honored and there were so many people that love him and whose careers were helped defined by him. This man is an incredible director and one who helped define situation comedies in this country. I love him and I'm just excited to have been a part of it along with the cast of so many shows like "Frasier," "Cheers," "Will & Grace," "Taxi"... The list goes on.
How do you feel about Matthew Perry not being able to be there?
He's working in London. I'm rooting for him and his new play and I'm just thrilled that so many people were there.
And you're becoming a "Funko Pop" vinyl figure! Are you excited?
I'm not sure. I think if it looks anything like me I'd be incredibly surprised. I haven't approved it.