Ricky Martin opens up about how American Crime Story: Versace hit so close to home.
As Ricky Martin talks about playing Antonio D’Amico it’s hard not to feel his emotion and how deeply telling the story of Gianni Versace’s lover affected him. The story Martin tells of playing D’Amico is an emotional, but important one.
When Versace was murdered on the steps of his Miami villa, fear spread among the gay community as news of Andrew Cunanan’s serial killing spree made headlines and Martin remembers his own fears at the time.
Another aspect that Martin could relate to was Versace’s acceptance of his own sexuality, keeping D’Amico in the shadow as his shadow as friends and family told the iconic designer coming out as gay would ruin him. Martin discusses being able to relate to that because he had been in Versace’s shoes with accepting his sexuality and for this role, he was on the other side, the hidden lover.
Martin’s performance is one that deserves all the Emmy attention for his portrayal of D’Amico. Read the interview below:
I was so excited to see you work with Ryan Murphy again, how did that conversation begin for American Crime Story: Versace?
I had the opportunity to work with him on Glee a few years ago and I was living here in LA when he called me. “Hey, Buddy! I’d love to have dinner with you.” Of course, I replied, “Let me think about it.” Just kidding. I showed up at the Sunset Tower and we had a lovely dinner. After 45 minutes he told me, “Rick, I think I have something for you. I’ve found something perfect for you.” He explained he was doing Versace and Crime Story. I was curious about who was going to be Donatella. He said, “No one knows, but it’s going to be Penelope.” I went crazy because I’ve known her for many years. I knew Edgar was going to be playing Gianni. I didn’t even have to ask about who was playing Gianni and I told him that Edgar and I are super close friends. He’s like my brother. Ryan teared up, saying how powerful it was because he said how he needed a friendship for this character
It was very beautiful. Everyone was asking when was I going back to acting, and first of all, I’ve always loved acting. I first did a TV show when I was 15. I was in Mexico City and doing theater and TV. People were always asking when I’d go back to it, but things were going so beautifully with the music. I told people that I would go back to acting if I was feeling the story and surrounded by the right cast. I would also have to work with a producer who I trusted and admired. You have to be careful with what you wish for because that’s exactly what happened. It was really interesting.
I started doing all the research. I was lucky enough to speak to Antonio himself. It was interesting and intense. It doesn’t matter how gentle you want to be, but I told him that I would be asking him deep questions. I said, “It’s been twenty years and if you allow me, I want to shed some light on what you and Gianni had.” He was just so generous. I know it had to be so difficult for him but he gave me so much information that I could bring to the set and the role.
What was it like for you when Versace was assassinated? We all know where we were when it happened and it was impossible not to be affected by that. Talk about revisiting that and learning about Antonio.
I used to live in Miami when this happened and I was also a victim. I was afraid of walking down the street. We knew there was a serial killer walking down the street and that’s the heavy side of the story. This guy was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List and he was living in Miami and not hiding. Sadly, he got to Gianni.
I remember the loss and the pain. Miami Beach was never the same and I think it took over ten years for Miami to be what it was and return to normal. I thought I knew a lot because I was in Miami, but once I started doing the research, I learned a lot.
That’s why I insist that it’s such an important story to tell. There’s so much injustice behind this story and we have to be loud about this story and we have to be agressive and tell it as it is because history tends to repeat itself.
There was a lot of homophobia and we don’t want to go there again. We lost a genius. It’s not how he died, but it’s why we allowed it to happen. It’s so emotional for me to see the series and talk about it.
The other day, Penelope told me, “Baby, we have to move on.” I’m a gay man with kids and a husband. There are people out there who are vicious that do not like what I represent and that’s one of the reasons I thought it was part of me to be in this production.
Your episode after Versace is murdered and Antonio is ostracized was heartbreaking to watch. Talk about shooting that day.
Every scene I had was intense. I never had a simple day on set. I’m telling you, I lived as Antonio for all those months. Penelope said, “Ricky, I want to hate you but I can’t.” Coming from her, that meant so much to me. I was in it, I was in touch with the sadness and the darkness and the uncertainty of being in love. I was in touch with the idea of your man not being there anymore. After fifteen years of being his shadow and then all of a sudden, you have nothing. I have nowhere to live. The person who was my friend was no more. I asked, “How can I vanish from this world?” This is what I was working with and at the end of the series, you see him trying to commit suicide because nothing was ever going to be the same for him without Gianni.
It was intense and sad. I was crying. It would take me a minute after they yelled cut for me to let go.
My kids and husband were not around. When I was in Miami, no one came to visit and that helped a lot.
How did you shed that character when you’re in there so deep? Do you shed it?
I wonder if you ever do. I wonder if you ever shut that door because it touches me and it hits close to home. When I go home, my kids and family are there. I go on the road and promote the show and talk to people who share their stories by which I’m so fascinated to hear. I don’t think I’m ever going to close it. It’s just one of those things right?
What was the most surprising thing you learned from him when talking to him and doing your research?
The love they had for each other. No one really knew about their love. There was the close circle. Antonio was always in the shadows wearing black until Gianni decides to come out and present Antonio as his lover.
It takes me back to me when it was hard for me to accept my sexuality. Me playing the other side of the coin. I was hiding my lover and my boyfriends. It was another emotional scene because I was in the shoes of my ex-lovers and I knew exactly where Gianni was. I knew where he was with the fear. That internalized homophobia. Everyone was telling him not to come out or it would end his career. He was being told no one would respect him after that.
At the same time, you have this need to just be yourself without walls. We tend to isolate ourselves as artists and creators. When you say no more, you really want the people around you to support you. Sometimes you have to say, “I’m not afraid regardless of what happens after this. This is what I need to be happy.” I’m telling you Jazz, I brought that to set.
I’d sit with the directors and tell them what scenes meant to me. It was such a beautiful dynamic between the writers, cast and director. Especially with Edgar and Penelope. I didn’t work with Darren.
But, you guys are friends because I saw you at The Greatest Showman right?
That’s the thing, we really are friends. We’d spend days off. We’d come home, have barbecues, play music and it was all about unity.
This happened twenty years ago and there was this whole homophobia that existed, but have we moved forward? Sometimes, in this day and age, I don’t think we fully have.
We’ve taken significant steps such as marriage equality and these are steps taken by the government in parts of the world. Sexuality is such a taboo regardless of where you come from. I’m a Latin man and Latin culture is about the macho man, but I can not say that someone in Omaha, Nebraska is going through exactly the same emotions I was going through and dealing with and that’s why it’s so important for stories like this to come out, and for people to say everything is going to be fine.
Walking down the street in New York, people will come up to me and tell me how the show made them understand who they were or who their parents were.
It’s the same thing that happened to me when I wrote my book and it has become a mission. Am I an activist? Of course, I am. When Ryan Murphy comes with this gem, we need to be bold and loud.
I’m ready for more characters like this and more stories.
Ryan Murphy is such a trailblazer for these stories. What was it like reading this story and Andrew’s backstory?
It was super scary, but the way we work with Ryan, he gives it to you little by little. He doesn’t give you all the episodes. When we’re working on set, he can come up with this amazing idea that can change the whole situation. Every time he comes up with this great idea, it’s an outstanding idea, so as an actor, he keeps you constantly on the edge. You’re really tip-toeing at all times. We have a lot of information and we can go into debates about how you perceive a situation, but everything he comes up with is brilliant.
We were shooting episode four and would have no idea what would happen in episode nine.
I have to ask about being reunited with Penelope on screen for this.
It was the scariest thing when she walks on set and she is Donatella.
Yes, that she is.
Her voice, her accent, and the characterizations are so powerful. You forget your relationship that you have as friends. I was Antonio and he was always on the defense because you never knew what would come out of her mouth.
I played with it and had a lot of fun with that defense that Antonio had when she was around.
What was the positive takeaway in playing Antonio?
I never had any negatives. I got to play a voice that had not been heard. I got to tell the world what their love was like. It was a very open free love. Who am I to judge how they decided to sculpt their life and the way they loved each other? You jump into acceptance because love manifests in different ways. For me, it was the most rewarding part of it all.
So, now that you’ve done another Ryan Murphy role would you like to work with him again?
Are you kidding me? I would give anything to work with him again. You know, he made it public and said he’d work with me again. He put it out there.
It’s out there and he said it.
He said it! It’s out! I’m just preparing myself as an actor and I keep finding the colors that will get me ready for whatever he has in store for me.