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The latest version of American Crime Story will be told in reverse. Ryan Murphy, joined by much of his anthology’s new cast Wednesday evening for the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour, said that the first episode of FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace will begin with the titular murder and then show how it came to be.
But, even more interesting, Murphy said that his big follow-up to The People v O.J. Simpson will be about a greater issue — homophobia, and how that ultimately led to the famous designer’s fatal shooting. “We’re trying to talk about a crime within a social idea,” Murphy told the crowd of reporters on the Fox lot. “Versace, who was [Andrew Cunanan’s] last victim, did not have to die. One of the reasons [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.”
Cunanan is known to have killed at least four people before he shot Versace on July 15, 1997, in Miami Beach. And, despite the fact that he was on the FBI’s most-wanted list and assumed to be living in South Florida at the time, Miami police refused to put up wanted posters — an effect, Murphy reminded the audience, of Cunanan’s victims being openly gay men. Like the racism that played such a role in the Simpson trial, Murphy added that the homophobia of the time is just as relevant today, “particularly with the president we have.”
“More than why [Versace] was killed, I think it was why it was allowed to happen,” Murphy added of his motivations to tell the story.
Taking cues from Maureen Orth’s Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History, the series will be just as much about the making of a murderer as it is about the crime itself. Simultaneously, Versace’s life in Miami as one of the few openly gay celebrities of the time will be the parallel narrative. Executive producer Tom Rob Smith is penning every episode, and the Miami shoot actually used Versace’s real mansion (now a hotel).
The feelings of the Versace family, particularly sister and fashion house heir Donatella, were a frequent topic of the panel. And Murphy did not mince words, saying, “The Versaces will like some of what they see, and some of it they will be uncomfortable with.” (The uncomfortable part, as one reporter pointed out, was the depiction of Versace as being HIV-positive, something detailed in Orth’s book but never confirmed by the family.)
Penelope Cruz plays Donatella on the series. And while she was not in attendance, Ricky Martin was. The multihyphenate plays Antonio D’Amico, Versace’s longtime partner. Martin said that he had just spoken to D’Amico for the first time earlier in the day to ease any of his reservations.
“There is a level of injustice with this story,” said Martin, relaying his conversation. “If I have any opportunity to shed some light, I could not say no. I told him I will make sure people fall in love with [his] relationship with Gianni. And he was extremely happy about it.”
As for the title, Murphy said it is very intentional that they not use the word “murder.”
“I think the word ‘assassination’ has a political overtone,” said Murphy. “It denotes someone who’s taken a life to prove a point. And I think that’s what Andrew Cunanan did.”
The Assassination of Gianni Versace is set to premiere in January.
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