"I didn't know him at all, nor did I follow the trial," Vance said of defense attorney Johnnie Cochran, who he portrayed in the FX miniseries. "I followed O.J. Simpson. I was a huge O.J. Simpson fan from when he was at USC and then when he went to Buffalo in that cold weather."
Vance said he was such a fanatic that he couldn't bear to watch Simpson's now-infamous Bronco chase. "I was hurt to my soul," he told "Black‑ish" star Tracee Ellis Ross on Variety and PBS' fourth season of "Actors on Actors."
Instead of watching footage of the trial or documentaries about it, or talking to Cochran's family members or then-colleagues (Cochran died in 2005), Vance read about the famous lawyer.
"How do you play somebody that everybody knows?" he asked aloud.
Vance said he needs a kernel of key information about the person he's portraying in order to be able to tap into that character. In his research, he discovered that Cochran's mom placed him in "white schools" from an early age to get him exposed to a different world — something Vance could relate to. And that's all he needed for his awards-buzz-generating performance.
The two-part fourth-season premiere of "Variety Studio: Actors on Actors" airs June 12 and June 19 on PBS SoCal. The episodes will also be available to stream on Variety.com.
More from O.J. in the gallery below!
OJ Simpson in court
'People v. O.J. Simpson' star Courtney B. Vance didn't watch the trial of the century
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES: O.J. Simpson (L) talks with attorney Robert Shapiro during an 18 January court hearing in Simpson's double-murder case in Los Angeles, California. Judge Lance Ito ruled that jurors may hear some domestic violence allegations against Simpson. Opening statements in the trial were moved to 23 January. (COLOR KEY: Brown wall) AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 23: O.J. Simpson's children from his first marriage, Jason (L), Arnelle (R) and cousin Terri Baker (C) appear in court 23 January in Los Angeles as the former football great and television celebrity's double-murder trial is expected to begin with opening statements. O.J. Simpson is accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman on 12 June 1994. (COLOR KEY: Collar (L) is red) AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read RICK MEYER/AFP/Getty Images)
Fred Goldman and Patti Glass Goldman, the father and stepmother of murder victim Ronald Goldman, listen to prosecutor Christopher Darden as he delivers opening statements during the O.J. Simpson murder trial, January 24, Los Angeles, California. (Photo by AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 23: O.J. Simpson (R) looks up during a 23 January court hearing in Los Angeles, Ca, as attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr. reviews doucuments in what should be opening day in Simpson's double-murder trial begins. Several evidenciary issues remain before the trial will be heard in front of the jury. (COLOR KEY: Brown wall.) AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read POO/AFP/Getty Images)
Deputy district attorney Marcia Clark gestures as she addresses the jury for the prosecution's opening statements in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, Los Angeles, California, January 24, 1995. Simpson was accused of the 12 June 1994 murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. (Photo by Myung J. Chun/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 24: Judge Lance Ito looks at prosecutor Marcia Clark as he admonishes her for argumentative behavior during her opening statements to the jury in the O.J. Simpson murder trial 24 January in Los Angeles, CA. Ito ended the hearing later, after learning that the court video camera viewed live images of two jurors. Ito may remove cameras from the courtroom because of the incident. (COLOR KEY: Brown wall) AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read POO/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 26: Lead prosecutor Marcia Clark (L) talks with fellow prosecutor Christopher Darden during court proceedings 26 January 1995 in Los Angeles. The OJ Simpson trial was delayed by the hospitalization of prosecutor William Hodgman and continuing fray over the defense's failure to turn over the names of its anticipated witnesses. (COLOR KEY: Wall is brown.) AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read POO/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 31: A picture taken by the Los Angeles Police Department on 01 January 1989 and projected on a screen in the courtroom 31 January 1995 shows Nicole Brown Simpson after her 911 call reporting a spousal abuse episode that defendant O.J. Simpson eventually pleaded no contest to. The picture was displayed by the prosecution during questioning of LAPD Detective John Edwards at the double murder trial of Simpson. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read POO/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 9: Prosecutors in the O.J. Simpson murder trial Marcia Clark(L) and Christopher Darden(2nd L) show a display of a blood trail 09 February at Nicole Simpson's condominium to the jury and Los Angeles Police Department(LAPD) officer Robert Riske(R) during testimony in Superior Court in Los Angeles. Riske was the first police officer to arrive at the scene where Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered. (COLOR KEY:Blue chart.) AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read POO/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 15: Defense attorneys Johnnie Cochran Jr. (R) and Robert Shapiro talk about the prosecution's announcement in court 15 February that the blood found on Nicole Brown Simpon's Bundy residence gate genetically matches that of murder defendant O.J. Simpson. (COLOR KEY: Red in Cochran's tie). AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read POO/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 15: Double murder defendant O.J. Simpson puts on one of the bloody gloves as a Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputy looks on during the O.J. Simpson murder trial 15 June. One of the gloves was found at the murder scene, while the other was found at Simpson's state. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read SAM MIRCOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
This 21 June 1995 file photo shows former US football player and actor O.J. Simpson looking at a new pair of Aris extra-large gloves that prosecutors had him put on during his double-murder trial in Los Angeles. Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch announced 20 November 2006 the cancellation of a controversial book and television interview involving O.J. Simpson being planned by his News Corp company. AFP PHOTO/Vince BUCCI/FILES (Photo credit should read VINCE BUCCI/AFP/Getty Images)
O.J. Simpson tries on a leather glove allegedly used in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman during testimony in Simpson's murder trial on June 15, 1995 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Lee Celano/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 21: O.J. Simpson shows the jury a new pair of Aris extra-large gloves, similar to the gloves found at the Bundy and Rockingham crime scene 21 June 1995, during his double murder trial in Los Angeles,CA. Deputy Sheriff Roland Jex(L) and Prosecutor Christopher Darden (R) look on. (Photo credit should read VINCE BUCCI/AFP/Getty Images)