Ricky Martin and Edgar Ramirez on Challenging Homophobia With ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’

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According to Edgar Ramirez and Ricky Martin, the fact that they’re playing partners Gianni Versace and Antonio D’Amico in the FX limited series “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” was “destiny.”

At the Television Critics Association Winter press tour, the pair told IndieWire that before “American Crime Story” executive producer Ryan Murphy invited Ramirez to star as the titular designer, the two were already acquainted. In fact, the day that Ramirez got the role officially, he and Martin had plans to do a gallery tour together in Los Angeles. “I entered the first gallery and said ‘Ricky, I’m sorry I’m late, I was just finalizing this call, I’m doing Gianni Versace.’ He was the first person I told,” he said.

“I was very happy for him,” Martin added. “Weeks later, Ryan called me and he tells me ‘I want to talk to you,’ he said. ‘Let’s have dinner.’ So I hang up the phone and I call Edgar, ‘Guess who I’m having dinner with tonight?'”

Ramirez jumped in: “And I immediately said ‘Ryan Murphy, right? You’re going to be Antonio.'”

“He said it immediately,” Martin confirmed.

Ramirez continued: “You see all these elements of fate, of destiny?”

Martin wasn’t actively looking for a part like that of Versace’s longtime lover — or any part, really. “I was completely caught by surprise,” he said. “I had no idea. I was just moving to LA, of course always in my mind I was like, ‘If I’m going to do some acting, I would love to be surrounded by the right cast and great directors and great producers’ — and I gotta be careful with what I wish for, because everything happened. Yes, I’ve had the opportunity to do television series in the past in America and theater. But this is very significant and very important.”

THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE: AMERICAN CRIME STORY "Don't Ask Don't Tell" Episode 5 (Airs Wednesday, February 14, 10:00 p.m. e/p) -- Pictured: Ricky Martin as Antonio D'Amico. CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX

“The Assassination of Gianni Versace” tracks (backward) the events leading up to the murder of the famous designer by the unbalanced Andrew Cunanan (played by Darren Criss). The reverse approach reflects a unique elegance and growing horror that’s quite different from the previous installment of “American Crime Story,” the Emmy-winning “The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” reflecting the change in writers. While “The People v. O.J. Simpson” was overseen by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, “Versace’s” scripts were driven by British writer Tom Rob Smith, whose 2015 BBC miniseries “London Spy” was a critical favorite.

Ramirez noted that Smith’s approach to “Versace,” ultimately, “really resonates with the Greek tragedies. So it really feels like you’re reading and watching a big Greek tragedy.”

Beginning the film with the death scene was an intense choice for Ramirez and Martin — especially given that they shot it right where it happened, on the front steps of Gianni Versace’s Miami home.

“My favorite days were shooting in the villa in Miami — there were very significant scenes of course, when I find his body and when the FBI is drilling Antonio to take information from him,” Martin said. “It was very powerful, very intense, draining. And I would go back to a hotel every night…Coming back to L.A. and being able to get in your car and go to the set was easier.”

“It was easier,” Ramirez agreed, “but it was great that we were lucky enough to start off in Miami so we could bring all their energy and all that mood with us to Los Angeles. It was great for everyone, not only the cast but everyone, to experience that and feel the colors and textures of the house, because that house represents everything that Gianni wanted in his life. That house was somehow the apotheosis of what he wanted his legacy to be. It’s a physical manifestation of what he had in his brain.”

The full scope of Versace’s brain is something that, having reached the midpoint of the season, we’ve now come to understand far better than before. After five episodes, we’ve witnessed not just Versace’s death, but more and more of his life. For viewers who weren’t familiar with Versace, it’s a fascinating exposure to his personal journey. Meanwhile, for those who did know the name, it’s a fascinating challenge to their understanding of who he was as a persona.

THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE: AMERICAN CRIME STORY "The Man Who Would Be Vogue" Episode 1 (Airs Wednesday. January 17, 10:00 p.m. e/p) -- Pictured: Edgar Ramirez as Gianni Versace. CR: Jeff Daly/FX

In Ramirez’s words, “The thing is, life and work for Gianni was the same. In terms of the relationship Gianni and Antonio had, they were love partners but they were also work partners…They were workaholics.”

This goes against the perceptions many associate with the House of Versace. “What comes to your mind first, also part of the legend and also part of the misrepresentation, is the parties and the sexuality and the alleged orgies and all these things that are part of the legend, and not the work,” Ramirez said. “[He was] a guy that would actually go to bed rather early and wake up very early as well, because he was more of a craftsman than this big celebrity that lived this larger-than-life existence.”

And that aspect, plus the way in which “Versace” delves into showcasing his abilities as a designer, only heightens the tragedy of the story — a great talent whose life was ended, in part, due to the fact the authorities didn’t take the manhunt for Andrew Cunanan seriously.

Said Martin, “One of the reasons I definitely said yes is because behind the story, there’s so much injustice in so many aspects. for example the fact that it’s not how he was killed, it’s why he was killed and why did we allow it happen. This guy was not hiding, he went on a killing spree, he was living in Miami Beach. He was on the list of the most wanted by the FBI, but he wasn’t caught. So they were looking the other way. They were looking the other way because it was a gay man killing gay people.”

“It didn’t represent a public threat at the time,” Ramirez said.

“So what I’m saying about this is,” Martin continued, “it’s important to bring some light to anything my community is going through.”

“I think [homophobia] is the underlying theme of the whole series, of the whole show,” Ramirez said. “Homophobia and how this death could’ve been prevented…I think that Ryan and his team, we’re so lucky to be part of them now. They’ve been so clever and keen to identify stories that are both dramatically gripping and at the same time they speak about the zeitgeist. They speak about greater subjects of humanity that are going on in society.”

“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.