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‘The Life and Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson’: Inside 10-Year Journey

‘The Life and Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson’: Inside 10-Year Journey

Though Lifetime first announced the four-part docuseries, The Life and Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, on April 12 — one day after O.J. Simpson died from metastatic prostate cancer at the age of 76 — the project has actually been a decade coming, says one of its executive producers, Melissa Moore.

“It’s 10 years in the making,” Moore tells The Hollywood Reporter in the conversation below. “I connected with Denise Brown first over the topic of domestic violence. I’m a survivor of domestic violence myself, and we connected through going to speaking events and galas, raising money. Over this last decade, a friendship and trust started to be built, so much so that I got introduced to the other Brown sisters, Dominique and Tanya, and then in 2016, they introduced me to the Simpson children, and that trust then continued on with my relationship with Brie and Jesse,” Moore says of her co-executive producers, Brie Miranda Bryant and Jesse Daniels, both of whom worked on the Lifetime documentary Surviving R. Kelly.

The laborious process of conducting the hundreds of hours of interviews captured with Nicole’s loved ones — like her sisters and close friends Kris Jenner, Faye Resnick and Kato Kaelin, as well as Detective Tom Lange, who oversaw the investigation into the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman on June 12, 1994 — began roughly a year ago. It was the 30th anniversary of Nicole’s death that prompted the sisters to initiate the project.

“It was New Year’s that Denise called me and she said, ‘I’m ready. It’s going to be the 30-year anniversary soon. It’s either now or never. It’s time to tell Nicole’s story,” Moore recalls. “I thought, ‘Wow, it’s finally happening.’ This is something that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, and it’s hard to really state — there was a personal drive within me that wanted to tell this story that was matched with Brie, that was matched with Jesse. It was almost like kismet that we all came together, and we were all unified in this north star of telling Nicole’s story in a way that can’t ever be duplicated. I hope that we were so definitive in this doc that it can never be duplicated.”

Below, Moore, Daniels and Bryant talk with THR about their research process and the personal insights they gained into who Nicole was in the midst of putting the docuseries together.

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What was Lifetime the right home for this docuseries?

MELISSA MOORE Lifetime is a brand centered on survivors and female voices, and that’s what I felt was missing here. That if I close my eyes and I think of Nicole’s voice, I couldn’t hear it, but if I closed my eyes, I could tell you exactly what O.J.’s voice sounds like, and that’s a tragedy to me. That she’s the victim in this horrific murder case and we don’t even know what her voice sounds like.

Did you talk to Nicole’s children, Sydney and Justin, about potentially being a part of the docuseries?

MOORE Obviously, the timing of their father’s passing has had a great effect [on them]. They lost their mother 30 years ago, now they’ve lost their father. That’s something to be considered.

How did the process begin? Did you start with archival research or with interviewing the sisters?

JESSE DANIELS It was parallel. The second meeting with the sisters, Dominique opened up her trunk and there were boxes and boxes of tapes and reels in all kinds of formats. So on the archive side, we had our work cut out for us. It’s one of those great problems to have where we had hours and hours and hours of footage that we needed to start digitizing immediately because nobody knew what was on there.

MOORE Something special about the footage that you see in this documentary is it was at one time at the bottom of the ocean in a container. When the Browns moved from Germany to Laguna to Monarch Bay, their shipping container with some of their belongings fell off the ship and they eventually recovered some of it. So it was heavy, heavy pressure when we started digitizing the footage because it’s very fragile.

DANIELS But from an archive standpoint, it’s so important to have that layer where we can hear Nicole’s voice, we see her as a child, we see that relationship getting forged between Nicole and her sisters as children. It adds such an emotional layer to be able to see that in connection with the interviews. It really brings Nicole to life.

Nicole’s diaries also shed a greater light on what her life was like with O.J. What was it like for you reading those entries?

MOORE I feel like it was her voice from the grave, and this was a story that she wanted to share. It was buried in a safety deposit box that was intended to potentially save her at some point. I know the creation of this diary was to document the abuse so that at some point she could free herself. And in that safety lock deposit box were letters from O.J. to her apologizing for the abuse. It was a collection of a timeline that she was using for her freedom that ultimately, she never got. So I felt like it was her words from the grave and that they were never used in the trial is astonishing.

DANIELS The diary entries coupled with our interviews, I think, really give viewers a comprehensive look at the abuse that was happening behind closed doors for so many years, and the lengths to which Nicole fought it in her own way, sometimes just alone by herself. That was a huge focus of ours. This story is not just about her murder, it was about the years leading up to it.

O.J.’s alleged pattern of abuse is established early in episode one with his ex-wife, Marguerite Simpson. Her sister, Veterdata Jones, is featured in the doc. Did Marguerite decline to participate?

DANIELS We reached out to everybody. There are 50 interviews that we did for this series and for the 50 that agreed, we reached out to countless others to interview and try to build as comprehensive and dynamic a story as possible. Certainly, Marguerite was one of the people we reached out to.

And the same is true for Nicole and O.J.’s friends AC (Al Cowlings) and Marcus Allen?

DANIELS Absolutely. This reminds me of Surviving R. Kelly. Our school of thought is that we don’t know what we don’t know. So our job, especially in telling Nicole’s story, which has never really been documented ever before, is we needed to reach out to as many people as possible because everybody had a story. Some people were huge parts of Nicole’s life. They were a sister, they were a best friend, others had just a moment with Nicole, but their story also mattered in a big way. So that was our process in reaching out to the 50 participants who interviewed with us.

How did O.J.’s passing in April affect production? Was he a figure that you had discussed potentially being a part of this series?

DANIELS We were just as surprised as everybody else to hear his passing. We were already very far along with the production. Nothing changed in terms of our timeline, on top of which our focus was always Nicole. So, creatively, not much changed either. As part of our process in putting this together, there was going to be a point where we were going to reach out to O.J. as part of our journalistic process with this story, but we never got to that.

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Did the high-profile nature of this murder and the coverage it received in the ‘90s make finding footage to include easier?

MOORE I would say harder. There’s a high bar because when it comes to these really huge milestone moments in the case; it’s been very well documented and defined and unearthed. To have access to it was arduous. Some of the access that we got was through the lead detective Tom Lange. The audio that you hear in the Bronco is of Simpson and Tom negotiating and having a conversation. But we always wanted to bring it back to Nicole, so in the Bronco Chase, the conversation O.J. is having with Detective Tom is about Rockingham, how he took Nicole there for his first date. It reminds you this is a story about two people that were once in love and went in a horrific pattern down.

DANIELS To add to that, our post team really combed through every single piece of archive you can imagine because the goal was not to show the same clips that we’re used to seeing every day. So the big challenge was, where are those clips that are out there that people have not seen? And our post team, our archivist, was really instrumental in finding new footage, as well as our participants.

What new insights did you uncover that particularly struck you while working on this project?

BRIE MIRANDA BRYANT I think that there were so many nuances and connective tissues that we had to create about this particular story that just have never been explained. There are some really tremendous works that evolve around this trial of the century. You have Ezra Edelman’s talk, you have The People v. O. J. Simpson, a wealth of information has been shared over the course of 30 years, but the Life & Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson is different because we had never heard from her before to understand her as a wife and a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend. So tapping into the nuances of that and creating a fabric out of it was interesting in itself. I think the thing that we also did that was pretty interesting and different from everything else is talk about the aftermath of the trial. Most of these works stopped at the trial and that’s not where it ended for her family and her friends and her kids.

What stuck out to each of you most about who Nicole was?

MOORE I feel like I know her because of all the conversations I’ve had with her sisters. Her voice, to me, sounds like Denise’s voice. When I hear it on the tape, I hear Denise talking. What I loved about Nicole is her idea of romance. She loved flowers and beauty and wanted to be this kind of Martha Stewart-like mom. And I found that very warm. She was modeling that after her own mother, “Dita.” I found her to be a beautiful, loyal friend too. Everybody spoke about her loyalty. She wasn’t a girl that was impressed with material things, but she was a beauty, and a natural beauty, too.

DANIELS There are two parts of Nicole that come to mind because going into this all I knew was Nicole the victim. On a personal level, I’m a parent as well so I got to know Nicole as a mother. I feel like I’ve built a really strong connection with her as a mother and as a parent throughout this process. The other big surprise for me was getting to know Nicole as a fighter. She, in her own way, fought. And while she didn’t survive this, she certainly was a fighter for many, many years, and I think people will be surprised about that.

BRYANT You can see that fight too. You see that fight in Denise, in the stories of their mom. She sacrificed so that she could continue the relationship with her grandchildren. And when Denise talks, I feel that fight. So, for me, this is for the people that have known her and loved her, that were so lucky to have her. I feel like we’re so lucky to have been able to get to know her through this and the Brown family.

The Life and Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson aired its first two episodes on Saturday and will conlcude Sunday with the final two episodes at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime. 

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