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Penelope Cruz Calls ‘American Crime Story’ Role Her ‘Personal Homage to Donatella and Gianni’

"I didn’t want to do an imitation, and Ryan didn’t want that from any of us."

Academy Award-winning actress Penelope Cruz speaks to Awards Daily about being intimidated by ‘American Crime Story’ Season 2, finding Donatella’s voice, and why some healthy insecurity is important in every role she takes.

Before Penelope Cruz signed on for Season 2 of Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story, there was one person she had to call.

“I called [Donatella Versace], and I said, ‘I need to know how you feel about me doing this.’ I knew Ryan wanted to portray her in a very respectful way. She told me that she was not involved with the show, but if somebody was going to play her, she was happy it was me.”

Cruz needed that blessing in order to take on the project. “That was what made me decide to do it. I could not say yes before that phone call, because I didn’t think that would be respectful.” During that conversation, Cruz and Versace discussed the day she received the news about her brother and the pressure to continue working. 

“What an amazing love story, this brother and sister. They loved each other so much, and I’m so sad she lost him that way.”

Finding Donatella’s Voice (and Her Own)

Once Cruz said yes to the role, then the intimidation set in. For one thing, the first season of American Crime Story (The People v. OJ Simpson) was a huge success. Second, she was playing somebody that she knows and likes.

We all know how she talks, how she moves. At the same time, I didn’t want to do an imitation, and Ryan didn’t want that from any of us. He didn’t want an imitation or caricature of any kind. I tried to capture an essence without trying to do an imitation. And it was such a pleasure to play her because she’s a very inspiring woman, very strong. Imagine the challenges she’s had in her life, everything she had to do in the moment that she lost somebody that she loved so much. So I did my own personal homage to Donatella and Gianni because I feel a lot of affection for them, even if I never met Gianni, but I always admired him so much and same with her. All of these things made me feel a healthy kind of pressure, to be able to do our own tribute to them.”

When it came to developing character, of top priority, of course, was finding Donatella’s unforgettable voice.

“That was the most difficult thing and the most scary thing for me and the thing that took longer than a month of work. I prepared for many, many months with Tim Monich (voice coach), and we worked really hard on it. I love when I have an interesting character, that time of preparing and research, and I love Tim Monich as a coach. I think he’s really one of the best in the world.”

In order to get that voice down, Cruz spent hours watching videos of Donatella.

“If I was on set, all the time in between shooting, maybe some days I was watching three or four hours of Donatella backstage and interviews. In those four or five months of preparation, I would watch material of her every day and that was really helpful.”

On Fashion and Ryan Murphy

No stranger to the red carpet herself, Cruz found new appreciation for all of the behind-the-scenes moving parts in fashion, what goes into putting together a couture collection.

“It takes a lot of talent, because they are very talented, and they are true artists, but at the same time, they have to have a business mind and have to be incredibly hard workers. It’s a combination of a lot of things that create that success, and it’s a big team of people. I love, for example, to see that a lot of the people who are with Donatella have been with her for years, and they all love working with her. I think that says a lot about a person.”

Donatella to fashion is a bit like Ryan Murphy to television, with frequent collaborators and cutting-edge style.

“What Ryan has done, with flashbacks, telling the story out of order in time, it’s a very modern and interesting structure that keeps you on your toes for the whole series. He’s an amazing storyteller.”

“I Need to Feel Insecure When I Begin a Movie”

On the series, Donatella faces scrutiny for her own creations, demonstrating unexpected vulnerability from one of fashion’s powerhouses. Cruz sees a bit of that vulnerability in herself, with each role she takes.

“I was lucky to be starting work so young, to be traveling and learning, and the thing I love the most about our job as actors is that we are students. Some movies can be more successful than others, but everything can teach you something. It can be an experience for you. I need to feel insecure when I begin a movie, and every day when I’m on a set, that insecurity, if I didn’t have that, I think I’d have to do something else.”

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is available for purchase on Amazon.