[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for the ending of “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” finale, “Alone.”]
The first time Darren Criss and Edgar Ramirez saw “Alone,” the complicated finale of “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” they had no idea how their respective stories would end. For Ramirez, it turns out that Gianni Versace’s last scene came at the very beginning of his journey with the character.
“That was my very first scene in the show,” Ramirez said earlier this week at an “American Crime Story: Versace” screening event at the Directors Guild Theater in West Hollywood. Joined by assorted cast and crew from the entire season, Ramirez and his scene partner Darren Criss both spoke about their reactions to the finale — which they had just seen for the very first time, and were still struggling to process.
In one of the final moments of “Alone,” as federal agents are descending on Andrew Cunanan’s hideout, we trip back to the past, as Versace (Ramirez) and Andrew (Criss) have a conversation on the stage of an empty opera house. After a long discussion about the nature of beauty in the world, Andrew leans in for a kiss. Even when Versace gently declines, the sequence still ends on a note of peace and calm. Immediately shattering that atmosphere, the show snaps to its present, when Andrew fatally shoots himself in the head.
Although the two knew that scene might be used, it came as a surprise to both actors to see that on-screen conversation between their two characters placed where it ended up. For them, it created a sense of ambiguity about whether or not that interaction was meant to have occurred in real life.
“Were we watching one of Andrew’s machinations? Were we watching something that actually happened? I love the way that I wasn’t even sure anymore. And I kinda like that, because it made me think, ‘Is everything I just saw a machination of Andrew’s brain?’ I don’t know,” Criss said. “It was very effective to me because he lived in this nebulous sort of world. Considering how pivotal, whether fictional or non-fictional, that moment would have been, to put it right there at the end of his life was quite powerful to me.”
Added Ramirez, “I think that’s the beauty of good storytelling — that, in the end, it will fill the holes and connect the dots that reality can’t. No one will ever know what went through the heads of Gianni Versace or Andrew Cunanan. No one will ever really know if these two guys ever looked each other in the eye and connected or passed any kind of energy to each other.”
For Criss, the moment also crystalized an idea that he’d had after hearing questions about how many other Andrew moments actually transpired the way they did in real life.
“People constantly ask us, ‘Did that really happen?!’ I don’t know. But that’s irrelevant to me. It actually doesn’t matter to me. It’s the emotional content that we’re providing for this particular narrative. And that’s what hits me harder,” Criss said. “Whether it happened or not, if Andrew had believed that the emotional value of a moment like that happened, whether it was a handshake, a high five, a glance across the room, or a poster on his wall, the emotional content of that scene existed in his brain. It’s what carried him through what we watched these past nine episodes. That’s what’s more important to me.”
Many of the panelists reiterated that for them, the series is a reflection of love in many forms. Whether it was Marilyn Miglin (Judith Light), who returns in the finale for an affecting coda, Versace’s partner Antonio (Ricky Martin), or the memories of lost companions that Ronnie (Max Greenfield) refers to in his passionate interrogation room monologue, that message came through for them just as much as the pain that one young man inflicted twenty years ago.
“You know what really happened? The love between Gianni and Antonio. That really happened. I met people who know and were witnesses of that love. I think that’s what the show brings. We all feel that we know the story, but the reality is that we didn’t know the story,” Ramirez said.
In assembling the rest of the episode, writer Tom Rob Smith wanted to address the kind of reality that Andrew would have created for himself. But a central driving question of this episode came down to why Andrew would decide not to continue his moment of notoriety into a drawn-out court case.
“You’re looking at a man who everyone said is obsessed with fame, why does he not take the showcase of a trial? This is someone who was put on this earth to impress people. That’s what he wanted to do. He lost his money, he lost his looks, he lost the ability to impress people, and he turns to notoriety,” Smith said. “But I think when he gets to this endpoint, I think he’s disgusted with himself. That comes through very strongly in this episode. This is someone who wanted to be loved and who screwed that up so badly that when that news coverage fades, he’s left with this sense of profound shame. That was at the heart of the episode.”
Part of that process involved digging deep into what really happened during the Cunanan manhunt. Key scenes at the Miami Beach marina, the state of Andrew’s hideout, and even the priest’s refusal to take Antonio’s hand at Versace’s funeral all came from verified accounts of the aftermath of the murders.
“We know that the thing with the boat, they found bits of bread and Andrew’s newspaper clippings. We know that he was trying to escape. His dad did say that he rang him. That is all true. The ‘A Name to Be Remembered By’ title is the title that Modesto Cunanan wanted Andrew’s life to be called,” Smith said. “Actually, when you look at it, there were loads of fragments that were absolutely true. The Versace magazines by the head, again, that was real. And the coverage is all archive. We’re just trying to string them together.”
Executive producer Brad Simpson explained that the process of putting together the final episode was something that came at the very end of the process, a more gradual way to piece together the culmination of a season-long reverse approach to understanding the crime.
“It was the hardest episode. It was the only one that we didn’t have a plan at the beginning of how it was going to lay out. I think [Tom] did a brilliant job figuring out exactly how to let you know what’s going on inside Andrew’s hand and surmise what might have been happening,” Simpson said.
“We’re dealing with fragments, but when you have ten pieces of a puzzle and they’re all a cathedral, you can kind of work out the rest,” Smith said.
“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” is available to stream via FXNOW.