Los Angeles – The weather in Miami was hot but Darren Criss, wearing a long-sleeved white shirt, was hotter.
The 30-year-old former “Glee” actor who portrayed Blaine Anderson, the lead singer of The Dalton Academy Warblers, has indeed gone a long way.
The Fil-Am actor, whose parents are Cerina Bru from Cebu and Charles William Criss from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, met with us one day at the late fashion designer Gianni Versace’s former home in Miami.
The charming, eloquent and talented actor talked to us about portraying the Fil-Am serial killer Andrew Cunanan who killed the famous fashion designer just outside of his Miami mansion in Ryan Murphy’s third season of his anthology series, “The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.”
Asked what he discovered about Andrew in his research of him, Darren replied, “That’s a very loaded question, a half hour is not enough time for me to go through that. I think the main thing to remember about any character you’re playing whether they’re real or not is your job as an actor, as a storyteller. I don’t even want to make it specific to actors. This goes to anybody who is a creative person. It’s your job to find as many common denominators with that person as possible.
“It’s important, especially for me for this particular story. This is a real person who did really horrible, tragic things to real people. Their families are still affected by the things that he did. But I still maintain the idea that we all have more in common with someone like Andrew than we don’t.
“Obviously, there are big variables. I’d like to think most of us don’t have actual murderous tendencies. However, at the end of the day, we are flesh and blood. We have mothers; we have fathers; we have dreams; we have hopes; we have regrets and failures that all make us who we are. So, the short answer is I found that we really do have a lot in common and that shouldn’t be misconstrued with the things that we know him for, which are obviously these horrible acts.
“But there’s a certain point in all of our lives that could have taken us into this certain path. You really have to identify what those moments are so that as a viewer, you’re not just antagonizing this person from the get go because you know what he’s done. You have to understand how he got there and what the links are between you and that person. So I found an awful lot of those.”
Sides to a story
Darren explained further that there are three different versions of Andrew Cunanan that he has to deal with.
He said, “There is the real version that none of us knew. There is the version that people did know but even that person was like 20 different people and then there’s the version that we’re telling. So as an actor, I can try and contact these family members or friends but they’re all going to have a different answer of who he was because he had different names. He had different looks. He had different attitudes that weren’t parallel to each other. So for me, my job is to serve the script. And whoever the persons that we’ve painted in this particular version, which I’m sure people who knew Andrew will be like, he wasn’t like that. However for our story and for the way that we’re characterizing him, I have to honor what’s on the page.
“So to me, what’s on the page and what’s in the script is my leader in this, and in Ryan and in people who are creating this. I’m serving their image of this story as much as I want to stay true to who he really was. We don’t know what kind of person he was so we just have to humanize him as much as possible and hope for the best.”
Darren was just 10 years old when Versace died. So at what point in his life before this project, did he learn about Andrew, we asked.
“I knew about the Versace murder just from general world facts,” Darren revealed. “I knew Versace was killed in front of his home. I’d been here before, the first time I went to Miami. I stopped by here. And I remember looking it up going, God, seeing the steps and I can’t believe they’re still here. This is so eerie. I vaguely remembered that he was half Filipino.
“I think growing up half Filipino if there’s any half Filipino in the media you tend to pay attention to it. That was about it. I had, through the fabulous world of ‘Glee’ I had met Donatella. I had been to Versace’s home in Milan. And I had seen things about his history. But that was about as far of a connection that I had.
“I don’t know if Ryan told you the story of how this came up. He brought this up to me about two, almost three years ago. I was having lunch with him in New Orleans. And I was joking with him about ‘Horror Story’ because he just announced Lady Gaga was going to be in it. So I jokingly said, hey let me know if you need a wily bellhop to show up on that show, I’ll do it. And he was, no, but there’s this other thing that I’m thinking about doing – Andrew. I looked it up and I was kind of spooked because he looks like me and my brother.
“That was it. I didn’t think he would actually make the show. I ended up diving in pretty hard on researching the guy. I had to wipe my hands clean of it because I was, I don’t want to have to know all this stuff if I don’t need to know about it. It’s a very dark place to be in. So, cut to now, here we are and he kept up with his word.
“While it is a very gruesome and dark project, it is an exciting project to be with him and with this prestigious group of people. So that was about all I knew. I definitely sense being involved I have this profound new connection to Versace and to the story. Like I said, being in this house for the past week has been extraordinarily moving. This isn’t to be romantic or spiritual, but he’s just in the house. Everything that he’s made that we all know the iconography of Gianni Versace, it is present in every turn. So seeing that has really given me a new profound appreciation of his work and appreciation of a great creator, someone who just wanted to relentlessly wreak beauty upon the world.”
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