The first installment of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's anthology series American Crime Story was a dark, engrossing, and detailed character study centered on the 1995 trial of O.J. Simpson. The second was supposed to tell the story of Hurricane Katrina (the season of which will likely still air), but instead it'll focus on the murder of Gianni Versace and the manhunt for Andrew Cunanan.
It's a better choice for a follow-up: The events that led to the tragic murder, and the ripple effects of the aftermath, were as much about the nation's climate at the time as it was about Cunanan's own motives. And where The People vs. O.J. Simpson used the trial to tell a larger story about racism and sexism, it seems The Assassination of Gianni Versace will do something similar with homophobia.
During yesterday's FX panel about American Crime Story, the cast and crew gathered to preview the new season—we were even shown the beautiful but chilling opening scene—and discuss why Ryan Murphy & co. wanted to tell this particular story. In contrast to O.J. Simpson, this season will look at more more than why Versace was killed and instead on what allowed it to happen.
"We're not just doing a crime. We're trying to sort of talk about a crime within a social idea," Murphy explained. "One of the reasons Andrew Cunanan was able to make his way across the country and pick off these victims, many of whom were gay, was because of homophobia at the time," he continued, specifically citing the police organizations that refused to put up the "Wanted" posters in Miami, "even though they knew Andrew Cunanan had probably committed many of these murders and was probably headed that way." Murphy wants to examine this homophobia, especially now "with the president we have and the world that we live in," and the season will even have an entire episode dedicated to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
The Assassination of Gianni Versace has its aims right in the title: "I think the world 'assassination' has a political overtone," said Murphy, "And I think it denotes somebody who is taking the life of somebody else to make a point—and I think that's exactly what Andrew Cunanan did." The show opens up with this assassination, and then it tells the story in reverse. "We get to examine the victims," said executive producer Brad Simpson, in contrast to the first season which takes place after the murders. "We're trying to bring to life and celebrate the lives of the these people that Andrew Cunanan snuffed out."
As for the portrayal of Andrew Cunanan, played by Darren Criss, the actor noted that they were left with "a lot of blanks to fill in." Criss has met multiple people who has had interactions with Cunanan and through that he's learned that "Andrew was so many different personalities to so many different people. So in a way, for me, that makes things a bit easier because we're not just following what we would assume to be a murderous, horrible person all the time. We see him at his best. We see him at his worst. We see him at his most charming. We see him at his most hurt."
But of course, at the center will be Gianni Versace, played by Edgar Ramirez (for Murphy, he was the "only" choice for the role), and the series will emphasize all of the positive aspects of his life instead of just focusing on the tragedy. "[Versace] combined sexiness and glamour and opulence, like no one has ever done before," said Ramirez.
Murphy echoed Versace's importance, saying, "even when I was younger, I really loved him and looked up to him, and I remember being so proud and excited when he did that [coming out] interview in The Advocate, because at the time there wasn't really a lot of people who were brave enough to live their life in the open. So for me, I had a great passion for it, and I was very emotional shooting it." Murphy added that the crew was crying during the assassination scene—they even shot the scene "on the exact step where he died."
Ricky Martin, who plays Versace's lover Antonio D'Amico, talked specifically about the unity of D'Amico and Versace's relationship—"nothing would separate them"—and how the story "affected me in a very personal way, and I love it." (As for the earlier controversy, Murphy said that Martin talked to the real D'Amico just that morning.)
Mostly, the cast and crew emphasized, they want the show to pay tribute to Versace and to the rest of the victims who aren't as talked about (there will be episodes that "center in on their lives and how they were taken too soon"), which is why it's imperative that the series isn't just about the aftermath of the murder, but about Versace's life, achievements, and ideals prior. "You can just imagine what Versace would have done if he was not killed," said Murphy. "The true loss for me is the loss of his genius and his potential."
The Assassination of Gianni Versace, based on the book Vulgar Favors by Maureen Orth, will premiere on FX January 2018.
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