The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story - Tue May 15, 2018 11:53 pm
Tom Rob Smith on Darren Criss, in the new issue of Emmy Magazine.
kmannmakeup: Darren Criss & the cast of #americancrimestoryversace on the cover of Emmy Magazine. #darrencriss #grooming by me #styling @ashleypweston
This article give a lot of insight into the casting of Darren as Andrew Cunanan. I love Tom Rob Smith's quote about Darren, "“I think Darren has a strange mix of charm and vulnerability as well as danger. . . And that, I think, was the key to Cunanan." (I completely agree with this statement, although I'm guessing some fans will dispute the element of danger that Tom Rob Smith associates with Darren. I personally feel it's Darren's intensity that causes him to so effectively convey darkness, unpredictability, and dangerousness.) Also, this article contains more details about the reaction of the network when Ryan Murphy told them he wanted to cast Darren as Andrew Cunanan, in terms of some blank stares that Ryan saw, but that Ryan's commitment and faith in Darren essentially gave the network no choice. I felt so touched that Ryan put everything on the line, because of his faith in Darren, and how as Darren said, three years after first discussing the project with him, Ryan kept his promise to Darren. I had read that Ryan has a lot of loyalty, but this really drove that home. And lastly, I deeply appreciate Ryan's commitment to casting a Filipino actor in the role of Andrew Cunanan. Representation matters.
May 15, 2018
“One of the great goals in my career is to keep things as versatile as possible and to confuse and to throw people off,” he says. “So, I like it when you have a room full of Sundance people, you know, music folks, music supervisors, filmmakers that are like, ‘Wait, what? He’s a songwriter?’ That really excites me. The same way that, when I was mostly playing music and booked an acting gig, people would be like, ‘What? You’re an actor?’”
Unlike his famous costars, who have toplined studio movies (Ramírez), won an Oscar (Cruz) and enjoyed huge musical success (Martin), Criss has been waiting for his breakout.
Spending time with the San Francisco native, one can easily spot some similarities with Cunanan — a man who, with a slightly different nudge to his trajectory, might have become a brash social-media personality. Criss oozes charm and willingness to entertain. During this interview, he quickly turns the tables and pretends he is the one asking the questions, complete with an exaggerated news-anchor voice.
It’s all part of what Criss brings to the table, according to Murphy, be it for a role or an everyday interaction. “He’s a great performer and kind of a showman,” Murphy says.
Criss, who hasn’t seen the final three episodes at this point, then drops the façade and admits he is nervous about how his performance will be received. The series has just begun airing. Appropriately, Criss is wearing a maroon sweater emblazoned with cheerleaders spelling out the word H-E-L-P. “I just hope to be cool enough to have a movie at Sundance someday,” he says.
Considering that such a prospect seems well within the realm of possibility, it’s unclear if he’s joking or feeling a genuine twinge of career apprehension.
“I think Darren has a strange mix of charm and vulnerability as well as danger,” says Tom Rob Smith, the British novelist who wrote all nine hours of Versace. “And that, I think, was the key to Cunanan.”
In March 2015, the final season of Glee had recently wrapped and Murphy was in preproduction on The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. But he was already thinking ahead when he ran into Criss on the New Orleans set of Scream Queens. Criss was traveling with Swier, who directs and produces promotional content and campaigns for Fox series, including Murphy's Scream Queens.
Criss, about to star in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway, was looking to line up his next gig. He pitched himself to Murphy as “a wily bellhop to come in and cause shenanigans around the hotel” for American Horror Story. Murphy interrupted the pitch with a dismissive “No” — but only because he had a better idea.
“He said, ‘We’re doing this anthology, American Crime Story, and we’re thinking about the Andrew Cunanan story. How much do you know about him?’” Criss recalls. “I didn’t know anything.”
He only vaguely remembered Cunanan because they shared a half-Filipino ancestry. But other than that, he could only recall that Cunanan had killed Versace — nothing about the four other victims or the high-profile manhunt or his suicide as the authorities closed in, eight days after his shooting of Versace on the steps of his palatial Miami home. Nevertheless, he felt excited by the prospect of reteaming with Murphy.
“'You’re the one with the keys to this castle, so I’ll wait by the phone until you’re ready to go,’” he told Murphy. “It took three years.”
That’s because a Hurricane Katrina–focused tale was poised to follow O.J. as the second American Crime Story outing. But that series kept hitting script snags and became too sprawling, even for an FX-backed anthology series. “Ultimately, I decided this is not the right way to tell the story. The story is too big,” Murphy says of shelving the Katrina project. “The episodes became so expensive that we could not produce them.”
Just as that decision was being made, Smith delivered three Versace scripts — based on Maureen Orth’s 1999 book, Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History — that blew Murphy away. In many ways, they offered “something that was the opposite of O.J.,” he says.
With Cunanan, he got just that — a killer unknown to the general public until he took down a world-famous fashion designer. By contrast, Simpson was already one of the most recognizable names and faces in the world before he was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in the so-called trial of the century.
Aptly, Cunanan proved to be a Zelig-type character in the southern California gay community. Everyone seemed to have crossed paths with him or knew someone who had.
“I also had a visceral personal connection to that Cunanan story when it was happening,” Murphy says. “I was living in Los Angeles then, and I had friends who knew him. So, there was a personal thing there for me with that story.”
By the end of 2016, FX was thrilled by the scripts coming in, so it committed to shooting Versace in 2017. And Murphy could already count on Criss, who, he says, was “the only person in the world who could play Andrew Cunanan effectively.”
Coincidentally, Criss was once again starring in Hedwig — this time in San Francisco — when he saw an online news story that Versace was a go, instead of Katrina. He texted Murphy immediately to make sure their conversation in New Orleans still held true.
“He was a man of his word,” Criss says. “I ran out of words to express my thanks for his belief in me. If he hadn’t gone through with this, that would’ve been fine — I wouldn’t have held it against him. But he really did what he said he was going to do. And so here we are.”
Murphy didn’t exactly meet resistance when he first floated Criss’s name. But, initially, there were some blank stares. However, the über-producer was emphatic. “If Darren didn’t play this part, then we weren’t going to make it,” he says. “When you lead with that kind of passion to a network or a studio or other producers, they sit up a little straighter, and they’re like, ‘Oh, okay.’”
Coming in, Criss wasn’t a name actor like Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr., who’d portrayed Simpson. Playing in Criss’s favor was his ethnicity — half Filipino from his mother’s side (unlike Cunanan, whose father hailed from Manila). Hollywood has taken a PR drubbing for casting white actors and actresses in roles that called for Asians (think Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell). No one involved with Versace wanted to court the inevitable Care2 petition.
“I thought it was completely necessary [to cast a Filipino actor],” Murphy says. “I didn’t want to whitewash that part. I had been obsessed with the Cunanan and Versace story for years and years and years. And I remember, when I first cast Darren on Glee back in 2010, just filing it in the back of my head. Like, ‘Well, there’s your Cunanan.’”
More important, he was convinced that Criss could pull off the gravitas of a killer.
“Darren had been typecast before as this good-time Charlie song-and- dance guy,” Murphy adds. “But I always thought, having seen him do Hedwig on Broadway, that there was a darkness in Darren that I knew he was wanting to show. As somebody who supervised the editing of all of the episodes, it was almost always Darren’s first take that we used. He was just plugged into the experience of ‘I’m going to go for it.’”
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of emmy magazine, on newsstands now, or here .
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‘The Assassination Of Gianni Versace’s Darren Criss Searches For Humanity In Killer Andrew Cunanan
Aaron Jay Young
May 16, 2018
Perhaps surprisingly, preparing for the role of notorious real-life Gianni Versace killer Andrew Cunanan in FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story wasn’t such a terrifying leap for Darren Criss, despite his upbeat musical theater background. Formerly best known for his work on Ryan Murphy’s Glee, Criss embraced this new, dark role, which not only brought him back into the Murphy fold, but gave him the chance to showcase his impressive acting chops.
“Are you kidding me? This is the role of a lifetime,” Criss says of the challenge. “People wait their entire careers for something this juicy to come along. I’m thrilled to be here.”
Criss’s talents are undeniably far-reaching; he sings, dances, composes, writes scripts and plays piano, guitar, harmonica, mandolin and violin. He’s also passionate about literature, and, it seems, something of a poetic romantic, as he recalls Anne Bancroft talking about the sound of her husband Mel Brooks coming home. “I want to get this right,” he says, visibly concentrating. “Bancroft said, ‘I get excited when I hear his key in the door because I think, Oh, now the party’s going to start.’ Can you imagine feeling that way about someone? I even put it in a song I wrote.”
Cunanan was incredibly astute, clever and crafty. A fabulist, he reportedly stayed awake for days, teaching himself about opera and fashion, and building entirely new backstories for himself. He’d tailor himself to what he believed people wanted to hear, and craft wildly intricate lies to order; a methodology which, to some extent, won him popularity. Friends who grew up with Cunanan and attended the Bishop’s School in a tony part of La Jolla reportedly said that he was a likeable character, voted ‘least likely to be forgotten’ by his senior class.
But while Cunanan was obviously an out-of-control sycophant, Criss managed to find a way to relate to him, however distantly. “I’m totally a people pleaser,” he says. “I’m not really sure why. It could be that I’m a baby brother, or perhaps it could be my Catholic upbringing, but I want to make people happy.”
Perhaps this desire partly motivated Criss’s attraction to musical theater. He studied theater, musicology and Italian at the University of Michigan, and even now will occasionally spontaneously break out into song.
Embodying a bon vivant escort-turned homicidal maniac was not as traumatic as it might seem, Criss says. It was really more about finding those aspects of Cunanan’s character that made him more human. “I didn’t feel like I had to go to this extreme dark place to find Andrew, quite the opposite really. It was important to make him empathetic, someone we could all identify with, [because] otherwise it would’ve been a complete disaster.”
Indeed, it is the humanness he brings to the role that makes it such a success. “I am in no way excusing anything that Andrew Cunanan did,” he adds. “His behavior was absolutely repulsive. But if I was going to pull this off, I had to find a way to make him sympathetic or his character wouldn’t have been interesting at all. We all loved O.J. [Simpson] at one point, didn’t we? Even the worst people have their good moments.”
It’s been posited that Cunanan may have had antisocial personality disorder, meaning he had no real control over a total and complete lack of empathy. “He had a lot of pain in his life,” Criss says. “Yes, he was horrible in many ways, but that’s sad.”
After exploring this tragic story, Criss has found some solace in his beloved music once again with a new side venture. He and his fiance Mia Swier recently opened their own club in the heart of Hollywood, a piano bar called Tramp Stamp Granny’s. It’s a place where friends can gather to drink and sing around the piano, in line with the music festival he also co-founded, Elsie Fest, where Broadway and pop stars meet to sing show tunes.
“I wasn’t your typical theater geek but I love everything that comes with that,” he explains. “I like to think that I’m friends with a wider swath of people, and get along with everyone. But yeah, I was known to belt out songs at cast parties and such.”
Criss’s new business was partly motivated by his love of old-style seedy dive bars. His favorite bar in the world is the Claremont Lounge in the basement of an abandoned hotel in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood of Atlanta. As the city’s oldest and longest running strip club, he loves the place for its diversity. “It’s the only place in the world you’ll see a group of frat boys sitting next to your typical hipsters. And then down from them at the other end of the bar will be a group of drunk businessman drinking whatever they can. Every celebrity working in Atlanta has to stop there.”
During Tramp Stamp Granny’s opening week, Criss was seen taking his place behind the piano almost every night. His energy seems boundless, as he never appears to stop moving and working. “Why would I?” he asks. “I don’t have the luxury that some people have, that people are just offering me roles. And actors are only as good as the parts they get, so I can’t wait around. I can create whatever I want whenever. Whether it’s music, or a new show, or a new drink, that’s what I am going to continue to do for as long as I can, and for as often as I can.”
[UHQ] ‘The Assassination Of Gianni Versace’s Darren Criss Searches For Humanity In Killer Andrew Cunanan
Experience Nashville wrote:
Q&A with Lea Michele
EN: Ok. So, I am currently ‘marathoning’ The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Are are you a little creeped out with Darren after his performance in the show? Because it was terrifying.
Lea Michele: So, it's really funny. When we first finished Glee, I went off to New Orleans to do Scream Queens he ended up watching me play a psycho killer on that show. Then, Ryan Murphy had him play Andrew Cunanan. So, we both left Glee to play psycho killers, which is hilarious. But Darren was so incredible and you know, what people may not know is that Darren really wanted to play this part -- he approached Ryan (Murphy) about playing it. So not only did he do such an incredible job of playing the role, but he also helped them make this project really happen. I don't know many other people that could've played that character. He was truly incredible. And, if you know Darren, you know he's nothing like that. He's a hippie, laid back. I'm so proud of him. And, if everyone wants to know, yes his body does really look like that. There’s no body double.
EN: Um. Definitely no complaints re: those scenes.
Lea Michele: He posted this picture, which I'm sure you have seen, of him in the little like, you know, um, I think it was like orange bikini bottoms he posted on Instagram? But before he posted it, he sent me the photo and he was, “hey, do you think this is like, bad for me to post?” I was like, “why are you sending this to me, I don’t want to see that!” I'm sure that there's a 100 people, a million people that want to see it. But, I was like; "this is really weird for me to say because you're my brother. But you definitely need to post that." He posted it in the world went crazy.
EN: Yeah. The world appreciates your advice in this matter.
Lea Michele: Yeah, I mean that's the thing about Darren and I. I think in order to do tours together, you have to be friends, and you have to have stories and experiences. You know, Darren and I have spent holidays together with our families. We've done New Year's Eve together. So, those are the things, those are the moments, those are the stories that we want to share and what we want to talk to our fans about. And so I think that these little glimpses into who we are and who we are as friends. It is definitely going to be very unique and very personal.
EN: As a fan, the music is obviously a huge part of the experience, but what really makes a show stand out to me is the banter and the engagement with the audience between sets.