Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.
In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum talks with Darren Criss, who stars in the new installment of FX’s “American Crime Story” franchise, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace.”
Criss says that he’d been discussing playing serial killer Andrew Cunanan with series creator Ryan Murphy for several years. “My reaction was, I’d be thrilled to do this,” he says. “I thought it was something he forgot about and was just spitballing. But he stuck to his word, and I’m so glad he finally decided to do this.”
But he knew the part would always be his, he admits. “I almost defy you, Ryan, to find someone else in your camp who somehow looks like this guy, is actually half-Filipino, is in the same age range,” he says. “Good luck!”
Criss wasn’t intimidated, though, by the thought of playing a serial killer. “People always think that’s some sort of departure, and while I understand that curiosity, I can’t help but feel that same curiosity would be present if I had started with something like this, and this is what you knew me for,” he says. “People forget that actors are actors, and we depart for a living.”
And he says he found ways to relate to Cunanan, and hopes other people will, too. “We all have more in common not only with each other, but the worst person you can think of than we like to admit,” he says. “The differences are small in number but huge in content.”
Criss did his own research and talked to people who knew him. “The show explores the best parts of him and the worst parts of him,” he says. “It’s really a healthy mix of a lot of unhealthy things.”
The more he learned, the more he sympathized with Cunanan. “My heart just broke constantly for this guy,” he said. “The wasted potential is the most heartbreaking tragedy of all of it.”
In the second half of the podcast, Variety’s executive editor of music Shirley Halperin sits down with the panel of experts on “The Four,” Fox’s new music competition series: Charlie Walk, DJ Khaled, Sean Combs, and Meghan Trainor.
The quartet discussed why they’re confident their show will be able to find and create a star.
“We’ve seen some great things along the way,” says Walk. “I believe the next biggest stars are already out there. I believe stars are born. And I see that happening. The platform is about making someone a huge star given the opportunity.”
Khaled credits the role of the viewers, saying “It’s important that the fans are heavily involved” — while Trainor stresses the importance of all of the experts agreeing. “It’s an incredible opportunity,” she says.
How much of it is talent, how much is marketing, and how much is the song? “A song is a big part of it,” says Trainor. “I’d say 90% is the song. A lot of artists who have success really know themselves and are really confident. And are truly enjoying themselves on stage.”
Walk agrees that “authenticity is key.” “An artist having an opinion and a vision and something that we believe into follow is the difference between someone that does OK and someone that becomes the biggest star in the world,” he says. “That’s just a consistent fact right now in our culture. The biggest stars were born that way and had that journey to have their voice be heard.”
You can listen to this week’s podcast here: