You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Assassination of Gianni Versace’ Writer on Adapting David Madson’s Murder

The subtitle of the second installment of “American Crime Story,” “The Assassination of Gianni Versace,” emphasized Andrew Cunanan’s (played by Darren Criss) most infamous murder, but writer Tom Rob Smith was determined to not overlook the killer’s other victims in his adaptation of Maureen Orth’s nonfiction book “Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History.”

With a Friend Like This…

Cunanan’s first murders were close to home. As depicted in the fourth episode Andrew snaps and ambushes his friend, Jeffrey (Finn Wittrock), much to the horror of former boyfriend, David (Cody Fern), who becomes his second victim.

“There is a difference in tone and in the way Andrew saw [those] murders compared to [those] of Versace and the others,” Smith says. “It’s someone who has had a nervous breakdown, in effect, who crumbled to nothing — who is full of loathing in his life, and is lashing out at the two people who he feels have drifted from him. Once he crosses the line, he thinks, ‘Now that I’m a killer, what should I do?’”

With these two killings Andrew’s potential future life collapses, Smith says.

Orth’s reporting was vital for Smith’s research and gave vital insight into the real-life mindset of everyone as it was happening. Smith credits Orth’s book with helping to establish how “American Crime Story” would handle David’s death, which occurred after Andrew coerced his ex to go on the run with him post-Jeffrey’s murder.

“What Maureen’s book did was go to the family, and their grief, after describing his death,” Smith says.

Drawing Out the Death(s)

Smith took great pains to make David’s final moments on-screen appear as close to reality as possible (replicating the lake, tall grass, and the home nearby that was evident in crime scene photos), but because the murder itself “would have taken a couple of seconds.” Smith lingered on the moment.

“Clearly, we don’t know what went through his mind in those few seconds, but I really wanted to contrast Andrew, and it became about the love of his family,” Smith says.

Though the show would quickly reveal these are David’s final thoughts, “it was about trying to take that part of the book, which deals with the grief of the family, and put it into that moment, so it didn’t become a series of mechanical facts about the murder,” Smith says.

To give the proper respect to the other deaths, Smith’s limited anthology series jumped around in time, starting with Versace’s (Edgar Ramírez) homicide, and then backing up to show what led to it.

“The other murders aren’t just a prelude to the thing that everyone knows,” he says. “The format was a way of increasing their weight in the structure of the story, and not make them just look like they were a stepping stone on the way to a thing that everyone knew. These victims, who had been given no attention, were incredible people. To be able to pull their story into the light was sad, rewarding and emotional.”

More TV

  • RENT: Top L-R to Bottom L-R:

    TV Shows to Watch the Week of Jan. 21, 2019: 'Rent: Live,' 'Celebrity Big Brother'

    Welcome back to Tune In: our weekly newsletter offering a guide to the best of the week’s TV. Each week, Variety’s TV team combs through the week’s schedule, selecting our picks of what to watch and when/how to watch them. This week, “Rent: Live” airs on Fox and “Celebrity Big Brother” returns for a second [...]

  • Black Monday: How Showtime Dusted Off

    'Black Monday': How Showtime Dusted Off An Old '80s Logo For Its New Comedy

    Cocaine’s a hell of a drug, but you’re not seeing things: That, indeed is Showtime’s old 1980s-era logo pasted all over marketing materials and promos for “Black Monday,” a tongue-in-cheek tale of the excesses exhibited by Wall Street traders in the lead-up to the stock market crash of 1987. The logo, which hasn’t been in [...]

  • 'Russian Doll' Review

    TV Review: 'Russian Doll'

    This is a particularly tricky review to write, but not because the merits of “Russian Doll” are at all ambiguous. On the contrary, the show is so striking and smart that I made a note to include it on my favorite TV shows of 2019 immediately after blowing through the season — which is saying [...]

  • Black Earth Rising Review

    TV Review: 'Black Earth Rising'

    Bringing to bear a talented cast on a story of real geopolitical significance, “Black Earth Rising,” Netflix’s drama about the long-tail aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, would seem to have had the potential to be one of 2019’s early television successes. Which makes its falling short all the more painful and pronounced. The show, previously [...]

  • DIRTY JOHN -- "This Young Woman

    'Dirty John' Finale Hits New Ratings Highs in Live+3

    The Season 1 finale of “Dirty John” on Bravo continued the scripted show’s ratings hot streak in Live+3. The finale, which aired on Jan. 13, grew to 3.3 million viewers in delayed viewing with 1.3 million of those falling in the key adults 18-49 demographic. That is up 10% in total viewers and 15% in [...]

  • Sky and Warner Bros. Alums Join

    Sky and Warner Bros. Alums Join ITV-Backed Production Company Possessed

    Former Sky One and Sky Living programming chief Adam MacDonald has joined Possessed, and will be the ITV-owned production banner’s first chair. The U.K.-based unscripted producer has also hired Lesley Davies, former head of international production at Warner Bros. She will head up production. The double hires follow a recommission  of gameshow “5 Gold Rings,” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content