The story behind “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” will be told backwards, executive producer Ryan Murphy revealed at the Television Critics Association press tour Wednesday.
Critics got clear evidence of this after watching the first nine minutes of the first episode, which dive right into the events of July 15, 1997, as famed fashion designer Gianni Versace (played by Edgar Ramirez) goes about his morning in Miami, unaware that his murderer, Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss), is waiting outside.
Subsequent episodes, Murphy explained, will go back to track the chain of events that led to that morning, including the murders committed by Cunanan beforehand, focusing on how both men’s lives took them on different paths.
“It’s really a story of radicalization,” showrunner Tom Rob Smith said about Cunanan’s journey specifically, noting that while both Cunanan and Versace came from similar backgrounds, “It’s not just about circumstances, but about the choices you make.”
The real events behind “Versace” are only separated from those behind “The People v. O.J. Simpson” by a few years, but Murphy sees this new “American Crime Story” season as tracking a very different time. As to what might be different aesthetically, he said that “it was a relief not to have to shoot boxy wool suits. A pink bathrobe, yes!” — a comment that got some hearty laughs from the crowd.
Murphy also noted that Smith is writing the series with “an auteur approach,” and that while “The People v. O.J. Simpson” was a very internal show, largely set inside the courtroom, “Versace” will hit the road, exploring not just Cunanan’s life, but the lives of his other victims. “Here, we really go across the country. It’s a manhunt season. It has great breadth and scope,” Murphy said.
In addition, the production team was really committed to recreating Versace’s world and work, including fashion shows utilizing hundreds of extras. “His life was operatic… He was something special,” Murphy said.
Ricky Martin, who plays Versace’s longtime partner Antonio D’Amico, had never met the Versaces, but did speak to D’Amico just recently, following comments D’Amico had made disparaging the series, apparently after having seen some publicity photos. The conversation apparently went well — Martin said that he told D’Amico that “I will make sure that people will fall in love with your relationship with Gianni” when the show airs.
One facet that the series will take as fact was Versace’s HIV-positive status, which has never been officially confirmed but was asserted in author Maureen Orth’s book “Vulgar Favors,” upon which “Assassination” is based.
It’s just one key aspect of how the show aims to explore the homophobia of the era, which helped contribute to Cunanan’s string of murders of other gay men (police departments would not put up Wanted posters, despite the fact that he was known to be a danger) and was a prevalent force in American life at that point.
Murphy revealed that an entire episode would be focused around the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the time, while producer Brad Simpson pointed out that the “Ellen” coming out episode had only aired a few months before Versace’s death, and that there were very few publicly out celebrities of the time. Versace was one of them, and he became a target for Cunanan as a result.
Those details and more hint at a fascinating story that may not be as infamous as the O.J. Simpson trial, but is just as rich a topic for 10 episodes of television.
“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” premieres in January 2018 on FX.