American Crime Story premiered Tuesday night

By Michele Corriston
Updated February 02, 2016 11:20 PM
Credit: FX

On June 17, 1994, O.J. Simpson slipped out of his Los Angeles mansion into a white Ford Bronco with a gun to his head, forcing his former teammate to drive him down the highway in what became the most infamous police chase of the century.

The football standout famous for his long rushes on the field was suspected of murdering ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, and for two hours, Americans were glued to their TVs watching the low-speed pursuit.

The first episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story premiered Tuesday, and concluded with the first glimpses of the Bronco speeding along the highway to the strains of Nina Simone’s “I Shall Be Released.”

For star Cuba Gooding Jr., recreating that moment was the most surreal scene he shot (we’ll get to see it in all it’s glory next week).

“In the back of that f—ing Bronco was just an emotional roller coaster,” he tells PEOPLE. “And getting in the mindset of a man on the verge of committing suicide, that was something that I will take with me for the rest of my life.”

The crew shut down the L.A. freeway and filmed it over two weekends. The carefully orchestrated chase, which is the plot of the second episode, proved to be a technical challenge, says Gooding, 48.

“They would get all the cars up to speed, roll camera and then come to the end of the freeway. Then 45 minutes of turning all the cars back around, start everything, and then do it again,” he explains. “I think one of the biggest tricks that you have to learn as a film actor is waiting between takes, because you can ramp yourself up into any emotion, but then to wait 20, 30, 40 minutes and then get there again, that’s the trick.”

The Oscar winner won’t discuss whether he believes Simpson – now 68 and serving a 33-year prison sentence for a 2007 robbery – is innocent or guilty.

But he does remember turning on the television to watch the NBA finals and instead becoming captivated by breaking coverage of the cops tailing Simpson.

“I thought, at any minute I’m going to watch O.J. Simpson blow his brains out on TV or a sniper shoot him through the window,” he says. “It was a personal, invested interest being a celebrity at that time. You put yourself in those shoes, especially as an African-American celebrity. I’m like, that could be me, potentially, if I was wrongly accused or if I lost my mind and did something as horrendous as that. Just to see him running from the police like that was horrifying.”

American Crime Story airs Tuesdays (10 p.m. ET) on FX.