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Courtney B. Vance Weighs In On The Trial Of The Century

By Dontaira Terrell
Posted On Feb 02, 2016
Courtney B. Vance Weighs In On The Trial Of The Century

For more than three decades, critically acclaimed actor Courtney B. Vance has garnered international and award-winning recognition. His pedigree for success and high degree of tenacity has continuously catapulted his star power throughout the years. With starring roles both on the big screen and center stage in hit television shows and box office hits such as Law & Order, The Preacher’s Wife, Lucky Guy and August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences, Vance is most notably known for his authenticity and powerful performances. Solidifying his indelible mark in Hollywood history, the supportive husband and loving father of two, continues to leave his imprint within the industry and beyond.

New You had an opportunity to speak with the Tony Award-winning actor about the love of his life, his wife, actress Angela Bassett, his initial reaction when the verdict had been reached in the trial of the century as well as the challenges in pursuing his latest role as Attorney Johnnie Cochran in the highly anticipated anthology series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.


Photo Credit: FX Networks & E! Online
Photo Credit: FX Networks & E! Online

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New You: What were some of the challenges if any in taking on the role as Attorney Johnnie Cochran?

Courtney B. Vance: After receiving a phone call from my representative initially, I was very pleased when I heard the news that I received the role. For the first 10 seconds, I thought to myself, “WOW, Johnnie Cochran.” In my mind, I was literally throwing my fists into the air.

Once the first few moments of excitement subsided, the reality of everything began to sink in and I immediately started wondering, “How is this all going to work?” “Where do I start?” and “How do I begin?” These were some of the first few questions I asked myself because I needed to configure a game plan of how was I going to attack this.

Eventually, I decided to read as much as I possibly can about him [Johnnie Cochran] because I knew once the third episode aired it was going to primarily focus on the courtroom. One thing is for sure, if I didn’t know anything about Johnnie Cochran, I definitely knew that he talked a lot. Early on, determining a strategy of how I was going to tackle this role but also balance it with my life, which is quite complicated, were some of the challenges I faced.

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NY: What is one thing you learned or found interesting about the entire O.J. Simpson case that you weren’t aware of prior to filming?

CV: I honestly didn’t know that much because I did not follow the case from day to day. At the time, it was absolutely overwhelming for me because I was a huge O.J. Simpson fan from the beginning of his career at University of Southern California (USC) and throughout his duration with the Buffalo Bills. Ultimately, everything I learned was extremely educational and very enlightening.

I believe one of the most fascinating facts I learned about the case pertained to the jury consultant. He alerted both sides [Prosecution and Defense] that the central focus of the case was about race and nothing more. Johnnie Cochran and the defense team listened and benefitted from the advice whereas, the prosecution ignored the advice of the jury consultant. He [the jury consultant] told Marcia Clark that her appearance came across as less than trustworthy but due to her experience she ignored all of the feedback that was provided to her.

The jury consultant also insisted the case would be best served within an urban environment downtown as opposed to Santa Monica. By the time the prosecution fully realized the jury consultant was correct with the advice provided to them they were more than halfway through the trial. As a result, they were chasing themselves for the remainder of the legal proceedings because they were unable to go back and make up for lost time.


NY: Going back to the year 1995, do you remember where you were or what you were doing when the verdict had been announced?

CV: When the verdict was announced, I was in Toronto filming the movie, The Boys Next Door with Nathan Lane, Tony Goldwyn, Robert Sean Leonard and Mare Winningham. Recently, around the time of the Emmy’s, Tony [Goldwyn] reminded me that we actually watched the verdict together while in his trailer. When the jury finally came down, I screamed “Yes!” and he shouted “Nooo!” Realizing what had just transpired, we looked at each other and began a discussion which unfortunately did not happen in the larger context of the world. This is why it was important to do this film in order to go back and have some perspective and do the work that is required for everyone to gain an understanding of why we are so far apart between both sides.


NY: Just as OJ Simpson had a Dream Team, if you had to choose your personal Dream Team to work with, who would it be and why? (A Dream team with regards to those who serve you best, personally, professionally, spiritually and emotionally).

CV: I would definitely keep my attorney and business manager that I currently have. I would also include my Bishop [Bishop Charles Edward Blake] to provide spiritual guidance. Of course my wife, Angela Bassett who ensures I continue to keep my feet on solid ground. I believe that’s all I truly need because I have my money, legal advice, spiritual advisor and I have my wife.


NY: What determines or sparks your interest when pursuing an acting role?

CV: What determines or sparks my interest when pursuing an acting role consists of a number of things. For instance, the story itself and the character’s role within the plot. The character’s place doesn’t have to necessarily be number one on the call sheet but ideally someone who sets the story moving forward and perhaps plays a pivotal small role.

Depending on what’s going in my life at that time, I would also be interested in a medium role because I am unable to be involved in every scene. The reason being, I’m unsure of how it will affect my household. My mother lives with us and she has ALS therefore, I have to be close enough to help with her health care. Additionally, I have a set of 10-year-old twins so as you can see our life is very complex. When I took on the role of Johnnie Cochran, I had to first consult with the “Dream Team” to ensure it was a proper fit.

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Photo Credit: Splash News
Photo Credit: Splash News

NY: With both you and your wife [Angela Bassett] being Hollywood A-listers, how are you able to sustain successful careers, a happy marriage and raising children?

CV: Honestly, some days we succeed and other days we do not. Although it can get difficult at times, you cannot get out of the ring because you have to continue to fight and talk through everything by acknowledging some days are going to better than others.

I think it begins with us in understanding what the family needs first and foremost and knowing the world has to take second position. I believe many times; we get ourselves into trouble because we place the world in front of us. Usually, what the world wants is at odds with what the family needs.

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NY: You and your wife are a dynamic duo especially when you’re owning the red carpet? What are your secrets to remaining young at heart?

CV: Continuing to encourage and support one another. Sometimes it’s about encouraging her to continue with her workout when she is feeling tired or frustrated. Also, when health challenges arise, we encourage each other through those challenges as well. We not only pray for each other we also pray with each other because through it all, you are going to encounter physical, emotional and spiritual obstacles and challenges that you have to pray your way through.


NY: If not an actor, what profession would you choose to pursue?

CV: Possibly a professor, a commentator or working within the natural forest industry because I love the outdoors but it definitely varies based on my various interests.