Filming The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story was quite an experience for Darren Criss.
Not only was he playing killer Andrew Cunanan, who shot the famed designer dead in Miami, 1997, he was filming it where the murder took place. Literally.
Casa Casuarina was home to Versace until Cunanan cut short his life. Now it is a boutique hotel, used by director Ryan Murphy for his 9 part drama.
“It was an extreme luxury most people don’t have when you are filming an historical event,” Criss tells TV Tonight. “Usually you have to recreate it in a sound studio. This was the exact house, the exact place, the street and steps -the whole thing. It was a profoundly surreal experience.
“For the people of Miami to see this being recreated was pretty bizarre.”
The series has won rave reviews and stars Criss, Édgar Ramírez as Gianni Versace, Ricky Martin as boyfriend Antonio D’Amico and Penélope Cruz as Donatella Versace. The sumptuous locations, enhanced with exquisite furniture, costumes and classical music immediately elevate the piece to a grand scale, if contrasted by the grisly subject at its heart.
“There’s a grandeur that is on par with the excess and brand that Versace created”
The articulate Criss, who is best known for playing Blaine in Glee, says the visuals reflect the characters of the key players.
“There’s a grandeur that is on par with the excess and brand that Versace created for himself, but also the way in which I think Andrew would have seen himself in the world. The grand, sweeping opening sequence, I feel, is like the way Andrew sees his machination of life. It sets a tone to the world we are exploring and celebrating,” he continues.
“He had a penchant for flourishing and embellishing. But people who knew him say he wasn’t a liar, he was a storyteller. He existed in an alternate plane that arguably can be related to the way we curate our own lives now. Like the way people photoshop their photos and put them on their phones. Andrew had his own kind of Instagram filter for his own life, before that was available.
“So it’s much bigger than fibs and lies. It’s creating a universe for himself that was different from the one he felt trapped in.”
Through flashbacks the drama navigates the complex relationship between Cunanan and Versace, from their first meeting in 1990 to that fateful day seven years later.
“They were both two brilliantly gifted men who used these gifts for very different things. One ultimately became the destroyer and one was the ultimate creator, and unbeknown to each other how they had an effect on each other’s lives. I really like that juxtaposition of showing how someone so similar can be so different.”
Criss admits to some similarities with the Filipino-American Cunanan, but is thankfully quick to point to where they contrast.
“I gravitate towards people with big ideas and concepts.”
“I’m half-Filipino, and like Andrew I grew up Catholic. I’m an ambitious person. I gravitate towards people with big ideas and concepts. I have a penchant for wanting to leave a good impression, do things with a flourish, embellish things with style, and I have an appreciation for the fine arts.
“So I can definitely relate (to him) but our tactics are insanely different. Our reasons for loving things are different and the ways we can attain these things, and the stakes, are very different.”
When it comes to big ideas in Television there are few who match Ryan Murphy’s sense of theatre. From Nip / Tuck to Glee, American Horror Story, Feud and American Crime Story, his canvas and reinvention are considerable.
“Everything is at an 11 for him whatever the genre.”
American Crime Story is Criss’ third outing with Murphy, whose true talent, he suggests is in spreading himself around.
“He likes latching onto extremes and what is provocative in those world, whether it’s musicals, kitsch, horror or macabre, or courtroom dramas. He can find the extremes of what makes these things interesting within each genre and tries to exploit them,” he continues.
“Everything is at an 11 for him whatever the genre. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s always interesting.”
Since being catapulted to stardom in Glee, Criss has won a legion of fans worldwide. Whilst Music Theatre remains pivotal to him artistically, he is also a constant advocate for the LGBT community.
“It’s something that has been thrust upon me really, but I feel very lucky that minds greater than my own have entrusted me with embodying certain narratives,” he says.
“It’s an inherently heroic narrative.”
“Although those characters I’ve inhabited are part of the LGBT community and very different it’s an inherently heroic narrative. It’s a narrative that is identified by its resilience and overcoming a lot of obstacles and coming out the other side with a great deal of positivity. So getting to be any part of that and being a loudspeaker, however small or big, has been a great privilege.”
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story airs 8:30pm Thursday on Showcase.