8:30pm PT by Jean Bentley
How 'American Crime Story' Re-created Versace's Death — on the Designer's Own Front Steps
[This story contains spoilers from the premiere of FX's The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.]
From the start, the producers behind FX's The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story wanted the series to be different than other true-crime shows.
"The series opens with the murder of Versace, and we made that decision for a couple reasons. One is that it's the one fact that everybody knows about this case — that Gianni Versace, if you know something, you know that he was murdered outside his mansion. We felt like, instead of waiting eight episodes to get to that, let's go right toward that, which then led to this backwards storytelling. We're telling this season backwards," executive producer Brad Simpson tells The Hollywood Reporter.
That's why Wednesday's premiere opened with a lush, nearly eight-minute sequence detailing the final morning of the slain fashion designer's life, culminating in the moment when 27-year-old serial killer Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) shot Versace (Edgar Ramirez) on the steps of the designer's Miami Beach mansion — which the production re-created on the actual steps of the building.
"Everyone was very moved because we didn't make the steps, we shot on those steps," Ramirez tells THR. "He laid on those steps, and Antonio [D'Amico, his partner] might have picked him up in the way Ricky [Martin, who plays D'Amico] did with me. And there's something very moving and interesting and disturbing to me because Gianni was shot around 8:30 or so that morning ... so he was alive. I was playing somebody who's dying, I wasn't playing dead."
Says Martin, "It was very dark. It was very heavy and dark days because it was back to back, the actual finding of the corpse and then the investigation where the FBI just drills him, merciless. But I loved it because the mission was important in a sense — I'm telling this story because people need to know this story."
Season two of the FX anthology from exec producer Ryan Murphy was a big departure from the franchise's O.J. Simpson-focused first season, when the Emmy-winning limited series re-created most of its major locations on soundstages.
"What's important about filming at the mansion is that it reflected how Versace lived his life," Simpson says. "Versace's mansion is in South Beach, right on a public beach. You open the door, and the entire world is out there. That's how he wanted to live — not just authentically, but openly. He loved stepping outside and being among all the different characters in South Beach — the multiple ethnicities, people who were open with their sexuality — it was part of what inspired him. That walk that he did every morning, the walk that we begin with to get the newspaper, was something he hadn't been able to do for several years because he had been sick, and now he was better. It meant so much to him. The tragedy that this thing that he loved, the openness with which he could live, is how he was able to be murdered, was incredibly important to represent."
But being in the actual house, which Versace created himself, was invaluable to the show's creative team.
"When we were in there with our craftsmen and our writers and everything, you felt that vibe coming through, and it felt important to shoot it there," Simpson says. "At the same time, it's incredibly chilling. The day that we re-created it, we created it as it happened. Everyone was very somber. People were crying because you could feel the energy of what we were re-creating right there in the moment."
For Criss, the most striking part of filming that scene in the actual location was the fact that he gained the access to Versace's life that Cunanan desperately craved.
"I so freely walked in. Me, Darren, just walking right through the gates and into a nice air-conditioned room on a really hot summer's day," Criss tells THR. "Andrew never made it inside, which has a more symbolic meaning — he literally and figuratively never got to go inside. There I was, dressed in the same clothes that he was in, re-enacting the scene that would forever define him in opposition of the Versaces, and there I am, walking in their house."
"That felt very strange to me," he continues. "It was surreal, but it made it very real, for sure. Being in that house was almost like being in a church because Versace was so present in that house. I found myself saying a silent prayer to Gianni and asking his forgiveness, not on behalf of Andrew, but I guess of hoping that he would be trusting of us telling this story and that we would try and create something with light that had so much darkness."
The Assassination of Gianni Versace airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.