The Assassination of Gianni Versace star dgar Ramrez, who plays the murdered fashion icon in the new FX series, went to Miami a week before production began to get a feel for how Versace spent his final morning.
I wanted to have my own experience without the basic nature of a movie set, says Ramrez, 40. They allowed me into the [Versace] villa [now a hotel]. I had my quiet time with the property. Then I walked the death walk. I went to the cafe [where Versace went to buy fashion magazines]. By the time I got back to the villa, I was more calm than I think I would have been if I hadnt seen it first.
When executive producer Ryan Murphy, Ricky Martin who plays Versaces companion, Antonio DAmico and Darren Criss, who plays Versaces killer Andrew Cunanan, arrived on the set, the mood became very frantic, Ramrez says.
[Versace] was shot at 8:45 a.m. and dead by 9:20 a.m, he says. It was very difficult for me not to think that everything that was going on, he was feeling it, although he was unconscious. I felt Rickys trembling. It was a very, very emotional scene. When they put me on the gurney and took me into the emergency room, I could feel everyone and everything. It was very difficult for me not to imagine that [Versace] was there, that he wanted to say something goodbye, whatever.
Versaces death in July 1997, at the hands of serial killer Cunanan, was only the beginning of Ramrezs journey. The Assassination of Gianni Versace is told out-of-sequence from the sole encounter Versace had with Cunanan in San Francisco in 1990 to the beginning of Cunanans murder spree in Minneapolis three months earlier and Versaces treatment in Miami for HIV-related illnesses.
It was a life that was very fated, Ramrez says. He did think surviving AIDS was a miracle. The Catholics of the Mediterranean [believe] in a world of miracles and redemption and compassion.
Screenwriter Tom Rob Smith also explores the conflicts Versace had with his younger sister, Donatella (Penelope Cruz), a bottom-line businesswoman who objected to her brothers coming out. She thought such a disclosure would drive away celebrities and potential investors in the company, just as the family planned on taking it public. Versaces response to her paranoia? Well always have Elton [John].
It was a very volatile relationship, but a close one, says Ramrez. They were able to have a huge fight in the morning and then have dinner as if nothing ever happened.
I didnt know much about the man and the persona, says Ramrez, who grew up in Venezuela. The lushness and exuberance of the brand. When he was killed, then of course I knew who he was.
Having played the role, he says he is truly moved by Versaces global impact on the culture and the meaning of his American death. He was the southern Italian guy going to the Milanese [fashionistas]. People from northern Italy are not Italian; theyre Swiss, he says. And along came this guy who spoke in a dialect people in northern Italy wouldnt even consider Italian. And then he created this company that in 10 years took over the world.
It was all over in an instant. Andrew shot him in the face. He wanted to erase his humanity, Ramrez says. Gianni reminded him of everything he couldnt be. They were both outsiders.
One had the guts and the talent and the courage to do something about it.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story Series premiere 10 p.m. Wednesday on FX