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‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’ to Start with Murder, Tell Story ‘Backwards’

With his “American Crime Story” anthology series, Ryan Murphy is out to explore well-known criminal cases centering on important cultural figures in a new way. His next installment, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” continues the trend that “The People v. O.J. Simpson” set by opening its premiere episode with the 1997 murder of fashion designer Versace, played here by Edgar Ramirez.

“We’re telling the story backwards. The first episode deals with the literal murder, or assassination itself, and then we get into how he had that motive and why he wanted to do what he wanted to do,” Murphy says, noting the show will not only focus on the opulent life of Versace himself, but also of the man who took his life, the seemingly destitute but still obsessed with wealth Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss).

“It’s more than why he was killed. It’s why it was allowed to happen,” Murphy says. “We’re not just doing a crime. We’re trying to talk about a crime within a social idea. I think the word assassination has a political overtone, and it denotes somebody taking the life of somebody to make a point, and that’s exactly what Andrew Cunanan did.”

While “The People v. O.J. Simpson” explored aspects of wealth and celebrity in its own right, this second installment of “American Crime Story” is looking to be topical in a more political way. Murphy notes that the themes of the crime, and therefore of the show, are more relevant now than ever, “particularly with the president we have and the world we live in.” The show will have an episode dedicated to the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the time, and it will also offer commentary on local law enforcement’s reluctance to hang wanted posters of Cunanan because of who his victims were.
“One of the reasons Andrew Cunanan was able to make his way across the country and pick off his victims, many of whom were gay, was because of homophobia at the time,” Murphy says. “Versace was, I think, the last victim. He didn’t have to die.”
And while Versace was Cunanan’s last, and most famous, victim, the show will explore the other five people he killed, as well. “It’s a manhunt season. It’s not a one-location season. It has great breadth, and a great scope, and it’s really a look at the time,” Murphy says. “The ‘why’ of Cunanan is not something others have explored, but we’re very interested in examining [it].”

To that end, the show is designed as a two-hander for Ramirez and Criss in many ways, showing their similarities (both exhibit elements of brilliance and were capable of great things, but both obviously went in very different directions), as well as showing sides to them about which many did not know.

Despite noting that he is making a docu-drama and not a documentary, Murphy says he still feels a pressure to tell Versace’s story “right” and spent a lot of time and research to fill the show with details from the real designer’s life – everything from Versace’s favorite orchid to an “ashtray that he had designed that year” have been hunted down and incorporated into the set design, and many scenes are shot in Versace’s real house down in Florida.

“He lived outrageously and daringly. He was a disruptor, and his life was opera, and he lived that way. There are so many positive aspects to him. I love his relationship with his family, which we show. I think his relationship with Donatella, in particular, was particularly moving. He was very, very ill, and he had made a miraculous comeback very shortly before he was killed. I really admired how he had pulled himself back from the brink and kept fighting,” Murphy says, noting that many might not remember how hard it was at the time to be authentic and one’s self if he or she was gay.

“That’s one of the joys of the work – to really get it right. Because we cared. We wanted to do honor to him.”

“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” will premiere on FX in January 2018.

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