International superstar Ricky Martin dove headfirst into his role of Antonio D’Amico, the lover left behind in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.
On a personal note, I have been a fan of Ricky Martin since he first debuted on the Grammy Awards in 1999. He’s an electric performer, and he was a beacon for a little, closeted teen like myself (even though he wasn’t out of the closet himself). Ricky Martin is the definition of confidence when he’s singing live, but that confidence is stripped away in his first huge television role as Antonio D’Amico, Gianni Versace’s lover.
When Andrew Cunanan gunned down the fashion icon, D’Amico was left in the dust. Gianni’s sister, Donatella Versace, hated D’Amico, and she blamed him for not taking care of her brother. In 1997, marriage equality was nowhere in sight, so D’Amico wasn’t seen as the person who built a life with Gianni. When the police question D’Amico about the relationship between him and Gianni, it’s like they are going out of their way to be difficult and understand. Being discredited and humiliated like that would shake even the most confident people.
Martin’s portrayal of D’Amico is heartbreaking because of how increasingly vulnerable he becomes before our very eyes. In most of Martin’s scenes in the first episode of the FX limited series, he’s covered in Gianni’s blood–an image reminiscent of Jackie O refusing to take off her pink Chanel suit after her husband’s assassination. When D’Amico attends Gianni’s funeral, the priest refuses to take D’Amico’s hand to console him. We quite literally see him repeatedly cast aside, and it’s an infuriating reminder that the LGBTQ community faces aggression–both violently physical and veiled snide remarks–almost every day.
In these times, no one thought gay people deserved love or equal treatment, and D’Amico needed it most when his lover was ripped from his life. Martin’s quiet performance is measured and restrained even though he’s desperate to scream for the consoling he needs. It’s as if he’s afraid to speak up because more of his life might be taken from him.
Has it calmed down since Emmy nomination morning?
Are you kidding me? It’s been an amazing couple of weeks. My phone doesn’t stop ringing from kind people congratulating me, and I’m going to make the best of it. Whatever happens now, I will be an Emmy nominated actor. I’m going to take that with me and have a good time with it, for sure. It’s been an amazing couple of years for acting all around.
Why do you think people responded so well to this mini series?
I would say that it would be the reason I decided to do this movie. It was because Gianni Versace is a loss. A lot of people still mourn. Around his final days there’s so much injustice that he had to deal with, and we have to be careful because history tends to repeat itself. That’s why I said yes, and that’s why people reacted so strongly to the series. We have 18 nominations! Ryan Murphy takes time to work on details. With actors, he’s very specific with what he needs for the scenes, but then he lets you fly. As storytellers, and as actors, we had a gem in our hands, and we had to tell this unfortunate story. We need to remind people what it was like. The killer was the most wanted by the FBI and he still got to Gianni. It’s the saddest thing. Back then, the FBI thought, ‘Whatever…this is a gay man killing other gay men!’ And they turned the other way and allowed it to happen.
As someone from the LGBT community, I need to be loud. I need to talk about these things, and this is a flag I will bring with me forever. So if you give me the opportunity to be in front of the camera and talk about these horrible injustices that we still deal with, I am going to get ready for it. I’m going to do the best I can to transmit the message. Unfortunately, this is 20 years ago, but it feels so relevant.
I feel with this series and the other series that Ryan just finished—Pose—that he is really giving back to the LGBT community in terms of his storytelling. Do you think it’s more important these stories so young people know Gianni’s story.
I used to live in Miami back then, and I thought I knew a lot about what was going on. When I started doing my research and I had the opportunity to speak with Antonio D’Amico, I realized I knew nothing. When I spoke with Antonio, he was just so generous. I told him that I wanted to shed some light onto Gianni’s legacy and what he was going through. This was someone who was running an empire and he was considered a genius—even him, with so much power, he was afraid of coming out and accepting his sexual identity. And sharing that identity. Even now, it’s something that is still happening. Men, women, and children are afraid to tell people who they are. We are taking solid steps, but the fear is still there. There is still a lot of internalized homophobia that society is dealing with. Enough is enough. It’s time to normalize these things.
How do you think Ocean Drive and South Beach as a whole was able to move on after his death?
When I was living there, I was afraid of going out and going for a bike ride because I knew there was a killer roaming the streets of Miami Beach. I lived in Miami for 15 years, and I don’t think Miami was ever the same. It took forever—more than a decade—for things to go back. There were a lot of celebrities that used to live on Miami Beach—Madonna had an apartment and Sylvester Stallone lived there—and they all left. I think Cindy Crawford lived there and Naomi Campbell still lives there. It was a lot hit to the city—to the economy and reputation to the city. Now there is more information out there. We didn’t have social media back then so the world is more exposed to the realities of life in general. Thank you, Ryan Murphy so we can remind people what it was like and to educate what it was like back then. Once again, let’s be loud so it doesn’t happen again, especially in this atmosphere we’re living in now with everything that’s happening politically. It’s so frightening. It is necessary.
A lot of the scenes were filmed at the house on Ocean Drive.
I lived in Miami for three years. Every time I went to South Beach, I would see that huge house with its imposing gates. What was it like to film there? Did it feel like you were stepping onto sacred ground?
I think it was very healthy for us to spend a couple of weeks there. I was trying, as much as I could, to live as Antonio, so I had breakfast where they used to have breakfast. I walked into their bedroom and I would spend some time in silence to absorb the energy. There were no easy scenes in this series. It was not a walk in the park. There was a lot of sadness and mourning and uncertainty at the same time. Just imagine to be in their house and the director calls action and you have to run out, open the gates, and find the body of the man that you love. And not be able to change the course of that. It was so difficult that I actually considered taking my life.
We used everything. The walls, the floors, the energy, the kitchen. When they would say cut, I would decide to stay and spend time alone in the house. You can still feel the energy, so it was a privilege. We were so lucky to do it there.
Actors rarely get an opportunity to shoot in that type of space. I imagine that it would only enhance your performance, because you’re in the space where things actually happened.
As we were shooting the scene in the streets, there were a lot of paparazzi and Antonio asked me why I held him. Because he said to me, “Ricky, why did you do that? I didn’t do that.” To be honest, we’re not presenting a photo of what it was—we are presenting a painting, and we can enhance the colors. There’s a little of freedom of interpretation. When we were shooting it, I was emotionally drained, and I said to Ryan, “Please let me hold him. I need to hold him. I know that’s not how it was.” And Ryan told me to do and scream, so I asked Edgar if that was all right. He told me, “Don’t ask—do it.” It felt like a beautiful image like La Pieta. The anger and the sadness were very present, and I was covered in blood. I was walking around the house, and Ryan asked me to find a mirror and get the camera crew to follow me into the house. Ryan had me wash the blood off my hands as part of me detaching and part of my mourning process. Allow it to happen. Ryan is very specific with what he wants, but as long as you work on your notes, he allows you to fly. It’s a very broad, very open creative process.
You obviously didn’t get a chance to work with Darren. When you finally got a chance to watch the series as a whole, what did you think and feel?
I was sick to be honest. Gianni was one of the victims, but I think it was extremely important to give airtime to the other victims and talk on behalf of the families that are still hurting from all this. Darren did amazingly well. It was sickening, and I cried. I remember when I watched the whole series, I called the whole series, I called Penelope and told her how affected I was by all of this. And she told me to breathe and think of music and think of what’s next. It’s very easy to get caught up in the sadness of someone I didn’t even know. To be honest, I never met Gianni. Back in the day, I was invited to many events at the house and many fashion shows. I felt like I knew him because of what he did for fashion and what he did for the LGBT community and coming out. But I think Darren did an amazing job as did everyone in the cast. Penelope, Judith Light, everyone! When I was in scenes with Penelope, I would just look at her and tell her, “…you are her!” Penelope would have to remind me to not be so nice to her. She’d tell me, “I’m supposed to hate you, but you’re making it very hard for me.”
You spoke with us earlier this season and you mentioned what it was like to seeing Penelope for the first time. It is so freaky how much she channels her. Since Antonio and Donatella have this contentious relationship through the season, how did it feel to recreate these conversations that took place behind closed doors?
It is very difficult, but at the end of the day we had amazing writers next to us at all times. We were very careful about the wording and the emotions. In a sense, we were in control. When we first see Donatella, our first impression could be that she is vicious, but you find Penelope brought out a level of compassion that was very helpful for any of the development of the scenes we were working on. It was all about love. The way that Donatella was reacting to these things was based on the love that she had for her brother. When I talked to Antonio, the most important thing was to let people know that while they weren’t married back then and if this was today that might have been an option. Because they were not married, he struggled at the end. He felt naked. He was super vulnerable after spending 15 years with the love of his life and all of a sudden this man was not there.
I told Antonio that by me asking him questions, he was going to relive so much. I knew it was going to be intrusive, but I wanted him to understand that this is for the best of his story and his legacy. I wanted to shed some light into what they were. I just got married to the love of my life, and I don’t even want to imagine what my life would be if I didn’t have him. I want to treat this with the utmost respect, and he was extremely generous. Everything you see there was not…dictated—that’s not the right word.
Like overseen with care?
Yes! Overseen with care with a little guidance from Antonio. All of my questions to him were all about his emotions. What did he feel when you saw him? What were the feelings that triggered his feelings of suicide? Were you alone? Where were you? It was very special and cathartic for him to share all of his feelings with me.
It has to be very hard for both Antonio and Donatella because you’re both trying to grieve. And it seems that she is blaming you for a lot of things. She has that line towards the end of the series where she says, “If everyone had done his job, he would still be alive.” And she doesn’t say it directly to you.
Yeah, that passive aggressiveness in those moments was very tangible.
I just think of how I would react in the exact same situation if something happened with my partner. I don’t I would be able to deal with it, but then if you pile on the circumstances of the time period—even though it’s 20 years ago—and it makes it all the more emotional.
It was emotional, but at the end of the day it was all based on love. She meant well. Donatella had a vision and her side of the story, and Antonio has his. This is not the first time that someone’s husband doesn’t get along with someone’s sister or family member. Everything we presented, it was well presented by the writers. There was a lot of research done with these matters. Donatella may have said that there were one or two things that she didn’t want us to touch, but everything we did was approved.
With 18 Emmy nominations, you are a part of the most nominated Limited Series of the season. What are you most looking forward to on Emmy night as a first-time nominee?
First of all, I am so thankful about that I was even considered. That morning, I started climbing up the walls, because I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’ve been nominated for Grammys before and the emotion is the same, but listen…the first time I got to do a television series was when I was 15 years old. Before that, I was in every play in school, and then I went to Mexico before going to Broadway. In a ways, acting has always been there and I’ve always had an intense passion for it. I consider myself a storyteller. When I walk on stage, I’m telling a story, and I’m hoping to connect with everyone. As an actor on a very different environment…the fact that I connected with people…I can go to sleep now!
Whenever we go there, we’ve won. With 18 nominations, I don’t know man, but we are going to have a hell of a party after that! I’m going to walk onto that carpet smiling and celebrating. At the end of the day, the level of passion and commitment and hours of preparation before we walked on set, it takes passion. You have to believe in the story you’ve telling. And we believe that. I feel like we’ve already won.