Gianni Ver­sace killing sub­ject of new ‘Amer­i­can Crime Story’

Fam­ily did not par­tic­i­pate, says FX se­ries should be con­sid­ered work of fic­tion

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - Spotlight - By Rob Low­man rlow­man@scng.com @RobLow­man1 on Twit­ter

The lat­est it­er­a­tion of FX and Ryan Mur­phy’s an­thol­ogy drama, “Amer­i­can Crime Story,” dif­fers in a dra­matic way from its pre­de­ces­sor, “The Peo­ple v. O.J. Simp­son.”

This time, we see the

mur­der.

Mur­phy calls “The As­sas­si­na­tion of Gianni Ver­sace” a “man­hunt thriller.”

The iconic fash­ion de­signer was gunned down in front of his man­sion in Mi­ami’s South Beach neigh­bor­hood in 1997 by 27-year-old An­drew Cu­nanan.

De­scribed at the time as a “gigolo” by Martha Orth, whose book the se­ries is based on, Cu­nanan had al­ready com­mit­ted a se­ries of killings that landed him on the FBI’s most-wanted list.

Since Cu­nanan would take his own life be­fore author­i­ties were able to ar­rest him, “ACS” tries to ex­am­ine why Ver­sace be­came a tar­get. Mur­phy in­sists the term “as­sas­si­na­tion” is ac­cu­rate, al­though some would la­bel Cu­nanan a psy­chopath and se­rial killer.

“‘As­sas­si­na­tion’ has a po­lit­i­cal over­tone, and I think it de­notes some­body who is tak­ing the life of some­body else to make a point,” Mur­phy says. “And I think that’s ex­actly what An­drew Cu­nanan did.”

The se­ries be­gins with the crime. To the strains of the Ada­gio in G mi­nor, we see Cu­nanan — played by Dar­ren Criss — as he makes his way up the beach to­ward the de­signer’s com­pound. Al­most by hap­pen­stance,Cu­nanan en­coun­ters Ver­sace (Edgar Ramirez) re­turn­ing from a lo­cal trip to buy mag­a­zines, and he shoots him.

The story then goes back in time, fol­low­ing their lives be­fore their fate­ful en­counter, sub­se­quent man­hunt and the fall­out for the de­signer’s em­pire. Most im­me­di­ately af­fected are An­to­nio D’Amico, Ver­sace’s long­time part­ner, played by Ricky Martin, and the de­signer’s sis­ter, Donatella (Pene­lope Cruz).

As Orth wrote, Ver­sace’s “flam­boy­ant clothes vir­tu­ally de­fined ‘hot,’ “he “tarted up the likes of Princess Diana and El­iz­a­beth Hur­ley,” and his gowns also made “Madonna and Court­ney Love more ele­gant.”

Ramirez ob­serves that Ver­sace’s in­flu­ence is still ev­i­dent.

“He could see the sex­i­ness of the ’70s and then all the op­u­lence of the ’80s,” said the ac­tor, adding that the de­signer com­bined those el­e­ments “and every­body went crazy.”’

Seven years be­fore the killing, Cu­nanan met or im­posed him­self upon Ver­sace at a party when the Ital­ian-born de­signer was creat­ing cos­tumes for the San Fran­cisco Opera.

“Ver­sace looms over the se­ries as a sym­bol of suc­cess. He is not just a per­son. This is the rea­son for the as­sas­si­na­tion,” says Tom Rob Smith, who wrote the script for the nine-episode se­ries, “He is, in a weird way, in ev­ery mo­ment of An­drew’s life.”

As pro­ducer Nina Ja­cob­son points out, the se­ries con­trasts the two.

“One char­ac­ter is an au­then­tic, hon­est cre­ator draw­ing on his her­itage, his back­ground, his fam­ily,” she says, “and the other goes on a path of de­struc­tion be­cause he wants the fame without the work or the tal­ent.”

No one really knows what went on be­tween Cu­nanan and Ver­sace or the killer and his other vic­tims. So the se­ries tries to fill in the de­tails.

“You have th­ese tiny points of truth, and you then try to con­nect the tis­sue be­tween it,” says Smith, nov­el­ist of books in­clud­ing “Child 44” and screen­writer of “Lon­don Spy.” “But I would never use the word ‘em­bel­lish­ing’ or ‘mak­ing up.’ It’s try­ing to join those pin­points.”

Orth says a lot of peo­ple knew Cu­nanan “was an in­vet­er­ate liar, but they didn’t care be­cause he was very witty about it, or he was able to charm peo­ple.”

“We’re not just fol­low­ing what we would as­sume to be a mur­der­ous, hor­ri­ble per­son all the time,” adds Criss. “We see him at his best; we see him at his worst; we see him at his most charm­ing; we see him at his most hurt. And it’s all over the place. We really do get to know him as a per­son.”

Cu­nanan spent two months in Mi­ami be­fore killing Ver­sace. Be­fore that, he killed both his clos­est friend and his lover.

“Once he crossed a line and be­came a killer, he then started to kill to pur­sue ideas,” says Smith. “Once he re­al­izes he lost ev­ery­thing, ei­ther you build some­thing that im­presses some­one, which takes a lot of work, or if you don’t want anonymity, you can try to rip some­thing down.”

The FBI was al­ready pur­su­ing Cu­nanan in Mi­ami, but think­ing he preyed upon older men, it didn’t look in the youth­ful South Beach area.

Orth’s 1999 book is called “Vul­gar Fa­vors: An­drew Cu­nanan, Gianni Ver­sace, and the Largest Failed Man­hunt in US His­tory,” and Mur­phy feels that Cu­nanan was able to make his way across the coun­try and pick off his vic­tims be­cause many of them were gay.

There was “ho­mo­pho­bia, par­tic­u­larly within the var­i­ous po­lice or­ga­ni­za­tions, that re­fused in Mi­ami to put up wanted posters,” he says.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the Ver­sace fam­ily is not be­hind the project and is­sued a state­ment: “Since Ver­sace did not au­tho­rize the book on which it is partly based nor has it taken part in the writ­ing of the screen­play, this TV se­ries should only be con­sid­ered as a work of fic­tion,” it said.

Criss says the most dif­fi­cult part of play­ing a killer was think­ing “about the peo­ple who are still alive and are af­fected. And want­ing to do right by them is my hope.”

Brad Simp­son, one of the other pro­duc­ers of “Ver­sace,” says that is the ba­sic quandary for any­body who is mak­ing a true crime story.

“By re-creat­ing th­ese mur­ders, are you giv­ing the mur­derer what they want? Are you hurt­ing the vic­tims again?” he asks. “In ‘O.J.,’ we didn’t show O.J. com­mit­ting the mur­der. We never come out and say that O.J. killed Ni­cole and Ron, even though you can really take that in­fer­ence from the show. In this case, we are show­ing the real dev­as­ta­tion of what An­drew did.”

FX

Edgar Ramirez por­trays Gianni Ver­sace in a scene from FX’s “The As­sas­si­na­tion of Gianni Ver­sace: Amer­i­can Crime Story.”

FX

Pene­lope Cruz por­trays Donatella Ver­sace in FX’s “The As­sas­si­na­tion of Gianni Ver­sace: Amer­i­can Crime Story.”

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