Angel Parker stars as Shawn Chapman in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Photo Credit: Bobby Quillard.

Angel Parker stars as Shawn Chapman in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” Photo Credit: Bobby Quillard.

Nearly 20 years since ex-NFL player-turned-alleged murderer O.J. Simpson was declared not guilty in front of millions of viewers across the world, Angel Parker (Disney XD’s Lab Rats) steps forward to play one of the crucial lawyers behind Simpson’s infamous “Dream Team.”

The mature yet exuberant Parker, who portrays famed celebrity attorney Shawn Chapman (also notable for representing Lindsay Lohan) in FX’s highly anticipated limited series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, sat down with GALO just a few weeks before Crime’s premiere. In the exclusive interview, the L.A. native and mother of two touched on working with Emmy-winning showrunner Ryan Murphy, playing e-chess with David Schwimmer, how she met Chapman through her hairdresser, and why the O.J. Simpson story is more relevant than ever.

GALO: How familiar were you with the O.J. Simpson case before you were cast in the show?

Angel Parker: I was in high school at the time, so I definitely remember it. My mother loved watching the trial. We would watch all the recaps on the news. I remember they announced the verdict over the loudspeaker at my high school. That was a vivid memory because the black kids cheered and the white kids gasped. The teacher started crying. I was a sophomore, so I remember all of it. I remember the chase. I remember the verdict. I remember just watching it. I’m an L.A. native and it was two years after the [Rodney King] riots, so it was very much on the pulse of Los Angeles and the world.

GALO: The show’s creator, Ryan Murphy, has said that people either love him or hate him. What was your experience working with him, and were you a fan of his work before signing onto the show?

AP: Yes, very much so. I can’t do horror. As much as I try, I can’t do American Horror Story. And I’ve tried, believe me. But I’ve seen every episode of Glee. I love Nip/Tuck. I’ve watched The Normal Heart. I really respected him. He’s a tough producer. He’s balancing a lot, but he knows what he’s doing. And he’s funny and silly — there’s a side of him when he’s not jumping from one show to the next and directing two episodes at the same time. He also has children. It’s a big life that Mr. Ryan Murphy lives. I’m a die-hard fan and I’m so honored to work [with] him. If there’s a category of “love him or hate him,” you can put me in the “love him” category.

GALO: Being such a die-hard fan of Ryan Murphy, what was it like the first time you met him?

AP: I was just thinking, ‘Don’t say anything stupid. Don’t fall down. Don’t let him have to direct you or say anything to you. Just do your job.’ He would come in, call me by my character’s name, let me know what to do and I would do it. Slowly, as it goes on — it was a six-month long shoot — he was like, “Angel! Blah, blah, blah… How’d you get your name?” I was like, ‘Oh, he knows me? He knows exactly who I am! Of course, of course. He’s Ryan Murphy. He knows everything about the show he’s making and what he’s putting out into the world.’

GALO: Now, having worked with Ryan so closely on the show, did some of that façade wear off or are you just as big of a fan as you were before?

AP: He is a human being. You start to see inside of people once you work with them and you become colleagues. You start to respect what he’s actually doing — and not just the finished product. He comes clearly very prepared and he knows exactly what he wants to do. And he’s very open to actors. If you have a suggestion or if you want to have a conversation, he’ll always have a conversation. He’ll never shut any actor down. I think people might be surprised to know that. He always does this daddy voice. He calls himself “Fun Dad” because he would refer to the other dads as the other directors and say, “Fun Dad’s here!”

I don’t know if I would call him “Fun Dad.” I would call him the “Grand Dad.” He was definitely a dad that was in charge. He knew what he was doing and had a great respect for all the pieces and the parts that it takes to make a show. He’s in charge. He’s the one. He’s got his stamp on it.

GALO: In American Crime Story, you’re playing famed celebrity attorney Shawn Chapman. I understand you met Chapman before you began filming. How did you meet her and what was the best piece of advice she gave you about playing her?

AP: It took me a long time to reach out to her. The production didn’t want us to reach out to people because they wanted to honor the story that we were telling, which is based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book.

It’s a funny story. My hairdresser actually hooked me up with her. I came in, I was like, “Don’t cut too much off. You need to lighten my hair just a little bit. I’m playing Shawn Chapman.” And the hairdresser across from her is like, “I do Shawn’s hair!” So I was like, “Oh my god! Can you tell her that I love her! I want to meet her!” Later that afternoon, she relayed that to [Shawn’s team] to pass along her cell phone number. I already had her office number and her office e-mail. I was going to send her a note when I got the courage. But now I had her cell phone [number, which was] burning a hole in my pocket.

I didn’t reach out to her for a few months. We were halfway through production. Finally, I just shot her a text. I had to shoot her a text. She wrote back right away. And then we made plans to get together. She invited me to her home and we shared a bottle of rosé. I didn’t have to ask too much about the facts of the case because you can get it all online. It was more just so I could get her feelings about certain relationships with certain people on the team. But, really, I just enjoyed her company and listened to her.

She wrote in my book. I brought her Jeffrey Toobin’s book. She signed it for me. The highlight of this entire journey was getting to meet her. And feeling so blessed by her. She didn’t hate that this was being made. Some of the people did. Some of the people wanted to put the story behind them. She’s not one of those people. It was an honor.

GALO: A lot of actors talk about how daunting it is to play a real person. I understand this is your first time playing a historical figure. Was that nerve-wracking for you, and are you nervous to hear Shawn’s response to your performance?

AP: I was very nervous, but that’s an actor’s dream, too — to dive into something that’s real and to put pressure on you, especially if the person is still alive and they’re going to see it. I’m very nervous about her seeing it and what she thinks about it. I had to assure her that I look great — wardrobe is kind, hair and makeup is kind. My hair didn’t look like hers at all because I couldn’t get it as long as hers in the trial, but I definitely look good. Of course, I’m curious if she’s like, “I didn’t really say that! I didn’t feel that!” I’m sure that’s one of the reasons why the producers didn’t really want us to contact our person, but I’m proud of the way I portrayed her. There’s a lot of heart and humanity, especially with her being one of the only women in the room besides Marcia Clark, played brilliantly by Sarah Paulson. I believe that her humanity is going to come out and her smarts, wit and charm. It’s not easy being part of a room with powerful men, and she held her own.

GALO: The O.J. Simpson trial was highly publicized and is something audiences know fairly well. Given that most people know how the season ends, how will the show surprise audiences?

AP: You know the end. You know what you saw, but you didn’t know what you didn’t see. You don’t know what happened behind closed doors. You don’t know what happened in the judge’s chambers. You don’t know why witnesses were thrown out. You don’t know the bickering, the fighting between the defense team. You know they had bickering and fighting, but you weren’t inside their room. You weren’t inside the broncos. You weren’t able to see how it really came to pass — what evidence was thrown out. It’s not by chance that O.J. Simpson was found not guilty. I wouldn’t say [the verdict was] manipulated, but it was tactfully ensured that that’s what happened. It’s fascinating to go behind the scenes. We only saw what they wanted us to see, but [the show] is everything.

Angel Parker. Photo Credit: Bobby Quillard.

Angel Parker. Photo Credit: Bobby Quillard.

GALO: What real life moments from the trial are you most excited for audiences to see?

AP: In episode 6, [which is] called “The Race Card,” we talk about Mark Fuhrman. I just feel that that time in the trial was really the turning point — those issues of race and corruption in the LAPD and that cross-examination that F. Lee Bailey did with Mark Fuhrman where they bring up the N-word. It’s first of all shocking to see Nathan Lane say the N-word on television, but how race was used in the trial is just fascinating and brilliant and timely.

GALO: You mention the timeliness of race in the trial. Given the recent Black Lives Matter movement, how relevant do you still think the O.J. Simpson case is 20 years later?

AP: It’s more relevant than ever. I believe in 20 years, there’s been a lot of change, but also not a lot of change. I think it would be interesting to see people seeing police brutality more prevalent in our news with Trayvon Martin, and all these cases that go along with Black Lives Matter. Why the black community was so enraged with the L.A. riots and why the black community was so cheerful that O.J. Simpson got off — it wasn’t that they thought he was innocent — it was that he won. That someone won. Someone beat the system. Someone beat the police and it was exposed. Johnnie Cochran felt that this was trial was bigger than O.J. Simpson. Johnnie Cochran’s mission was to expose LAPD for their racism and incite change, which he did. The LAPD changed dramatically and now it’s much more diverse than it was, and it’s fascinating that this conversation is being had about how black lives matter and all lives matter and looking back at this time.

GALO: Just to switch gears for a moment, American Crime Story has an all-star cast with Cuba Gooding Jr., David Schwimmer, John Travolta, to name a few. Who were you most excited to work with?

AP: Oh gosh. John Travolta because he’s an icon. That’s not that hard. Just to be in the same room with John and become friends [with him] was a highlight. But David Schwimmer and I sat next to each other the whole time and he’s very funny. All of them. It was a master class that ended up in detention. It was great. It was long hours in the same room. We would get a little tipsy and cranky at times, but we all still knew that we were making something special. I was just happy to be in the room. Like, “Don’t tell anybody I’m here! I don’t want to get kicked out!” I would come to every rehearsal, whether I had lines or not. A lot of the times Shawn doesn’t speak, but she’s in the room. They’re like, “You don’t have to come to rehearsal. You can just chill in your trailer.” I’m like, “No, no. I’ll be there. I’ll be there.” I have to watch what’s going on. I have to see these actors and their process and learn from them. It was an honor.

GALO: Ryan Murphy’s shows are known for how close the casts get. Are there any on-set stories that you can talk about?

AP: Sarah Paulson would jump up and rap Salt-N-Pepa songs. She knows all the words to “Shoop” and will rap them when she gets a little loopy. People will drop f-bombs when they lose lines. It was insane.

[With] David Schwimmer…we all started playing chess with each other on our phones. After a while, there’s only so much you can text or e-mail. There’s a chessboard in Johnnie Cochran’s office on set, and we were all sitting there and talking about chess one day, and then we played. And I’m all talking sh-t about how great I am, [when] all of a sudden, Schwimmer downloads an app and we’re all playing chess with each other. He just annihilates all of us. He’s so good. Those are small little nuggets that happened. It was a special, special time what happened on that sound stage [and] in that courtroom.

GALO: You mentioned how Chapman was one of the only women in the courtroom, how does she fit into the “Dream Team?”

AP: She’s one of the worker bees. She was at a time when she was very much proving herself. She came in with Johnnie Cochran so she was young and hungry and she worked very, very hard. A lot of other players in the team were dealing with the media and the spotlight and press conferences, but there were a lot of other lawyers that were working. If you look at the trial, you can see that she’s there every single day. Shawn wept when the verdict was read, which was fascinating to me that she’d break down like that in court. That was portrayed in our story as well.

GALO: You’re best known for your role as Tasha Davenport in Disney XD’s Lab Rats. What was it like going from filming Lab Rats to American Crime Story?

AP: Oh, they’re night and day — night and day. Lab Rats is a Disney sitcom about superhumans trying to save the world, and this was like a drama talking about issues of race and how it changed the world. So I was very excited as an actor to move from one show to the other.

GALO: You do a lot of philanthropic work with mentoring young girls, so empowering women is obviously something that’s important to you. In what ways is your character in American Crime Story empowering to young women?

AP: Shawn Chapman is a force of nature. She’s a brilliant woman who can hold her own in any room. That’s my main mission — to tell women you can do whatever you want. You can get an education with a little bit of moxie; you can hold your own with the big boys. As an actor, I learned that just with being able to hold my own with these fantastic actors. As a woman, being in a room with men and feeling truly like you are their equal is an accomplishment in itself. Shawn, she’s so intelligent. She’s so funny and witty and beautiful at the same time. She doesn’t have to dumb anything down. She’s a mother. She can do her own work. She really is a great example for women, so I really hope that young girls watching this [show] could be like, “Oh, I could be a lawyer. I could be that girl up there. Or I could be that actress on that screen up there.” Either one, the fact that a woman can look and see themselves on television, especially a woman of color, is something I always hoped to give.

Tune in on Tuesday, February 16 at 10 p.m. EST for episode 3 of “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” on FX. If you’d like to learn more about Angel Parker and her endeavors, you can follow her on Twitter @angelparker.