I recently had the chance to chat with the extraordinary Dale Godboldo, who is currently playing a member of the defense “Dream Team” Carl E. Douglas on American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson. Godboldo got his start on the 90’s hit “All New Mickey Mouse Club” and since then has appeared in a number of TV shows and movies, including Moesha, Goode Behavior, Wanda at Large and as Agent Garrett in the hit 2011 Marvel film “Thor.”
On top of his work as an actor, Godboldo is passionate about his philanthropy work with youth education, arts programs, and entrepreneurship.
You were in your late teens or early twenties when the O.J. trial was happening, right? What do you remember—what stands out in your memory about it?
Oh, wow. Well, it was an interesting time for me because I was about 18, getting ready to turn 19 when this all broke out, and I was doing my time on The Mickey Mouse Club, my last year on The Mickey Mouse Club. So, it was really bizarre to sort of be in this environment of inclusion and diversity and you know, a period of really growing and understanding the world in an entirely different way than what was going on obviously in LA. However, I had my own experiences with just being a black man in America and sometimes being unfairly treated by cops. So, I understood what was going on from that perspective, but I didn’t really know much about O.J. Simpson. I knew my dad loved him, I knew he was a very famous football player and was important in sports. And I knew him from the Naked Gun movies, but I had no personal connection or affinity for O.J.
So, for me, it was really just kind of watching the social conversation—the conversation around how this was affecting the country. I was fascinated by it and was glued to the television during most of the trial.
I think a lot of people were! So before filming, did you get a chance to meet with Carl Douglas and shadow him at all, or did you sort of do your research separately? How did you get ready for that role?
There’s a lot of stuff online and I read several books. The project is based on Jeffery Toobin’s book “The Run of His Life”, so that was the primary source of research. Then from there, I also watched a lot of YouTube videos from the trial, I watched a lot of YouTube videos of Carl Douglas, and read a few other things as well. I didn’t get a chance to meet Carl until we were done shooting. Then I did get a chance to sit down with him, I went to his office, we had lunch together, we talked a lot about his perspective on the trial, and it was fascinating. I’ve actually hung out with him again, as well, we watched some of the episodes together. We watched episode 5 together, which was insane, because if you can imagine, I’m sitting here watching this with the guy that I’m playing, so it was weird for him to be watching me on the screen. It was a bizarre and extraordinary experience.
I wish I had had the opportunity to meet with him before shooting, but I felt that there was a lot out there that, as an actor, I could pull from and get the essence of Carl without getting too far away from the source material, which is what the show is based on.
Absolutely. That actually leads into my next question. I was wondering–he’s (Carl Douglas) certainly made a name for himself, y’know, early on as Johnnie Cochran’s right hand man, and he’s been involved in a lot of high profile cases since then. So, what was it like to take on the task of playing such a high profile name in one of the controversial cases of all time? And was it easier or harder to play that role when you already know the story and the ending to it?
Well, the thing about it, if you’ve been watching, you still–I watched the trial, I still only knew half of it. There were so many details that I didn’t know about until I read the book, until I read some of the scripts, until I really dug into the research for the project. It was extraordinary for me to play Carl, because he was really an unsung hero for the defense. Carl was the guy that while the major names of the Dream Team were going in the front door, Carl was the guy that had all of the bags. He was the one staying up late doing much of the research, he was in charge of contacting a lot of the elements to support the defense’s case, and communicating with those people out there. You know, he was really a work horse for the Dream Team, and he is an extraordinary mind.
One of the things that really intrigued me about Carl I believe, personally, more than many of the Dream Team members, was that Carl was–I believe–clear in his opinion that OJ was innocent–or, I should say, not guilty. As you watch the show and as you read and do research, you see that there were more complicated agendas at work on the Dream Team. But Carl was very pure. He felt that–first of all, he felt OJ did not do this. Secondly, he felt that it was absolutely the prosecution’s burden to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that OJ was guilty. If you don’t do that, you must acquit.
In our legal system, that’s how it works, and Carl had a very pure approach to that. And so, what’s really interesting for me, because I think that’s very different than a lot of people–not only in the show, but I think in America–there’s a lot of ambiguity about OJ’s guilt or innocence. I didn’t feel that from Carl at all, and that was fascinating to me, to dive into that mindset and to play moments with that in my mind.
Wow, yeah, absolutely. So, we have one more episode left. What would you say was the most intense or emotional scene for you?
Gosh, I would say there’s really three scenes that resonated with me. But the one in episode 5, directed by John Singleton, where Johnnie Cochran asked me as Douglas to fall on the sword, was my favorite.
That was my favorite one too! I was actually just rewatching that last night.
Oh, awesome! I really enjoyed playing those scenes, and finding those moments to represent Carl. I think people need to understand that–I talked to Carl about this later–it could be very troubling for the defense, overall the case, if the head attorneys looked in anyway incompetent or, more importantly, looked like they were purposefully withholding witnesses, right? So the only way around it was to allow the junior attorney to essentially take the fall, because it could be perceived as far more acceptable by the junior attorney who is saying he made a mistake, he takes full responsibility. It allows the senior attorneys to get through untarnished. And make no mistake about it, there can be severe consequences to the attorneys themselves, as well as, obviously, to the credibility of the defense. So it’s really a powerful moment in the trial that I was honored to play.
Yeah, I mean, that scene in particular so stood out to me, and you did a fantastic job with it, I just want to say that.
Thank you very much, I appreciate that.
So, you’ve played a lot of roles over your time. You’ve played a doctor, a lawyer, even an agent in the Marvel universe, so if you could choose one profession from all of the roles that you’ve played–aside from acting–which would you choose?
It would definitely be a S.H.I.E.L.D agent. (laughs). That was awesome, that was an awesome experience. I’m a Marvel nut, I mean –I grew up on the comics, I know all the characters. It’s something–when I got that role, I said, “Okay, I’m done, I’ve accomplished everything I need to accomplish as an actor. I can move on now to something else.” (laughs). Particularly to play a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, I mean it was literally a childhood dream come true. It was so cool, and to work with Kenneth Branagh, who is one of the most extraordinary directors out there was like, you know–it was an amazing experience.
But, it’s like, after I did the role, now my character’s on the Marvel wikiverse, and I found out more about myself. Apparently I’m a badass seal. Who knew, you know? I mean, this guy. If I could be that guy, that would be awesome.
Good answer. You’re a very active philanthropist, too, and a lot of your focus is on youth education and arts programs. Can you tell me a little bit about what you do with Always In The Club and Project:NOW, and how you got started with all that?
Sure! I launched the foundation about three years ago, and I named it as an homage to my time on the All New Mickey Mouse Club. What I learned on that show was, not only the mentorship I received from my time on that show, but the training in the arts, training in entrepreneurship…it was an extraordinary experience that I’ve taken with me to this day. And so, when I launched my foundation, I said, “What can I do to reflect that period, and to express the importance of sustained institutional support and the value of that?” Our slogan is, “Once in the club, always in the club.” I got several of the former mouseketeers to support me in launching it, and what we focus on is youth and arts education and entrepreneurship.
We launched our first initiative, called Project:NOW with the Clinton Global Initiative two years ago, and that specific initiative focuses on youth and education in at-risk communities throughout the country. Particularly, we focus on advanced literacy programs that rapidly address the educational needs of these at-risk youth. Then what we do is we bring in an arts component. We teach these kids first who can’t read, sometimes they’re 2 to 3 grade levels behind–we get them on grade level reading within 12 weeks. Then we partner them with some literary expert, whether it be an author or a screenwriter, and they mentor that child on how to create their own piece of literary work, whether it be a short book or a short screenplay.
And then we partner that content with a celebrity or some sort of content creator, and we adapt that piece of content into a form of media for distribution and sharing with the world. The idea is to show the power of words, and the importance of language in communicating ideas, and to hopefully change the world.
Wow, that sounds fantastic. That must be really rewarding.
Thank you! And then there’s another component to Project:NOW that focuses on youth entrepreneurship. What we do is we give scholarships to outstanding young men and women, as well as teach them unique and out of the box strategies for starting their own businesses. The reason we call the overall initiative Project:NOW is our opinion is that we need to rapidly change the trajectory of some of these young people’s lives. There are plenty of programs that do things over many, many years. They develop young people over a significant amount of time. But what we believe is that we have to get in there quickly and effectively, so that we can change their lives now.
Our partners are the US Dream Academy, we’re very proud of–they developed and launched the literacy component–and Arthur Wylie Foundation who heads up and developed the entrepreneurship piece.
That’s really inspirational and powerful work that you do, I mean–that’s great.
Thank you. I mean it was really important to me. As I was working with the Clinton Foundation, Chelsea Clinton contacted me and they invited me to join their LEAD team. LEAD is is small group of CGI members who are committed to mentoring the next generation of global leaders. So I was introduced to a mentee that’s doing extraordinary work out there, and that’s another way for me to give back and to impart what knowledge I do have to this next generation that will hopefully change the world.
That must have been really exciting when you got the call from her.
(laughs) Oh, well, to be fair, I didn’t a call directly from her. I was contacted from her office. But obviously I’ve spent time with her in this process, and she’s been extremely supportive of everything that we’re doing.
Since our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us, we like to ask everybody something nerdy about you and what you “nerd out” over.
Oh, man. Well, first of all, I mean, I think I might be the biggest nerd you got. I am a huge Doctor Who fan. I don’t think it gets any better than that. So let’s just go in right there and drop the mic. That’s what I got. (laughs). I love science fiction, I love comic books, that’s what I’m all about.
Can I ask who your favorite Marvel character is?
Oh, uh, hands down–I’ll tell you, I have three, to be fair, okay? One, my absolute favorite Marvel character is Cable. My second favorite Marvel character is Deadpool. My third favorite is the Wolverine.
Don’t miss Godboldo in the finale of ACS: The People v. O.J. Simpson on FX this Tuesday, April 5 at 10 p.m.