Edgar Ramirez (‘Assassination of Gianni Versace’): The story is ‘fated like a Greek tragedy’ [Complete Interview Transcript]

Edgar Ramirez received his second Emmy nomination this year for playing fashion designer Gianni Versace in the FX limited series “The Assassination of Gianni Versace.” Ramirez was previously nominated at the Emmys for the miniseries “Carlos” in 2011.

Ramirez recently chatted with Gold Derby senior editor Joyce Eng about his close friendship with co-star Ricky Martin, the legacy of the Versace family and how this Emmy nomination feels different than his first. Watch the exclusive web chat above and read the complete interview transcript below.

Gold Derby: Edgar Ramirez, congratulations on your Emmy nomination for “Assassination of Gianni Versace.” I talked to your co-star, Ricky Martin, a couple months ago and he said he felt like the stars were aligned for you guys to play Gianni and Antonio and you got the part first and a couple weeks later Ryan Murphy called him. So I wanna get your side of the story. What was your reaction when you found out Ricky got cast and do you feel like this was destiny for you guys?

Edgar Ramirez: Definitely there’s some cosmic element surrounding this project on so many levels, because yeah, Ricky actually was the first person I told that I was gonna do Gianni, because I remember that we had agreed to go on a gallery tour together, and before we started the tour, as we were meeting at this great gallery here in L.A., I got a call from my office saying that everything was in place and that we were ready to go, and then I called Ryan and everything was great, we were ready to go, and I had to the the call outside of the gallery. I went in, I took Ricky on the side and I said, “Ricky, I’m gonna play Gianni Versace,” and he was so excited. He told me, “Man, I can’t believe. Wow this is incredible,” I said, “Yeah, I’ve been keeping it under the ropes but I’m so happy to tell you. This is so incredible.” And then a week later, I had already left L.A. and Ricky texted me and then said, “Edgar, you know who just invited for dinner?” And then I said, “Who?” He said, “Ryan Murphy.” And I said, “You’re gonna be Antonio! I’m sure he’s gonna talk to you about Antonio. This is incredible.” I was so excited. “This Ryan guy, he’s so smart. Of course you’re Antonio! Trust me on that, he’s gonna offer you Antonio.”

And then as I’m sure Ricky told you, they got together, and then he asked Ryan who was gonna play Donatella [Versace], but he didn’t ask who was gonna play Gianni, and then he said, “Well, Penelope Cruz is gonna play Donatella,” and Ricky was so excited. “Edgar Ramirez is gonna play Versace,” and then he said to him, “Ryan, I’m gonna have to be honest, I’m a great friend of Edgar, and I know already he’s gonna play Gianni.” And then Ryan got super moved. It was a very moving moment, ‘cause, of course, half of the work was already there in terms of empathy, of care for each other, love for each other. And then I had been trading projects with Penelope for a very long time, but we hadn’t actually met personally. We’d been remotely talking about potential projects to do together and then suddenly we ended up being sister and brother on this project.

GD: It was all meant to be. So how did your friendship Ricky inform how you guys played Gianni and Antonio? Did you guys have a lot of discussion and talk about how you were gonna approach it?

ER: Yeah, for us it was very important to tell a real love story and to pay honor and respect to a relationship that, according to several accounts and particularly the ones that I had access to that were very close to both Gianni and Antonio… ‘cause life still until this day keeps presenting me with people, even after I finished the project that were suddenly very close to one or the other. And also, as a former journalist, it was a goal of mine to try to find people who were close to Gianni and that would trust me and that would be generous enough to trust me with their insights, and according to all those accounts, they were very, very, very close. They had a very strong bond. They were not only lovers, they were partners. They were allies. And Gianni was very protective of Antonio, because he knew the complexity of the family and relationships and the complexity of the clan of Versace and he was very protective of him and we wanted to convey that. We wanted to convey that complexity and that bond that they had. Ricky and I talked a lot about it. We wanted to tell a real love story unapologetically. We wanted to show a couple with their own rules, without imposing any judgment on them, without allowing any preconceived ideas of what a relationship should be, either straight or gay. We wanted to present or to explore what their privacy would’ve been like in an absolute non-judgmental and unapologetic way.

GD: I feel like a lot of the public image of Versace and even both of them as a couple, especially back then, you just thought they lived this life of excess and decadence, because that was just the brand, but with the show it’s really focused on the work, with Versace and even Antonio. They were very laser-focused on that. Was that purposeful for you guys to show this other side of their relationship, not just in their love life but professionally?

ER: Yeah. One of the things that we discovered and that was very interesting, especially for actors, is precisely that. When we think of the brand of Versace and the culture that he created, we think about excess and hedonism and exuberance and lush. Yeah, that was part of it. That was the aesthetics. That was how he interpreted the world. That’s how he wanted to somehow present the world. He was pretty much inspired by the Roman Empire and when we think about Rome in contemporary terms, the first images that come to our minds is these men and women in white robes and this white marble and temples and governmental palaces, in white or off-white or washed-out white. That’s the patina of the time. That’s because the color runs  off, but the reality is the Roman Empire was very bright and it was very colorful and the blues were like this blue here, and the gold was gold and was very strong. Gianni knew that very well. So he wanted to recreate that and recreate the life of an emperor, but it was all his creative and artistic vision, but deep inside, he was a very private person. He wanted to be surrounded by people from all walks of life. He wanted to be inspired by them, but he was very private and very reserved and rather shy.

And of course they had rules that were very personal to them in the way they handled their relationship and the way they handled also their sexuality, but that didn’t take away the strong bond that they had and we wanted to convey that. We wanted to convey all of that. We wanted to convey the exuberance and the beauty and the eroticism, but at the same time, the everyday life, Gianni was a workaholic. He would rather go to bed early and wake up very early. He was very focused on his family. But he was also very open to pleasure and to beauty and fascinated by beauty and the idea of the senses and exploring the senses. You can see that in his legacy and his work. I think that he, and I’m quoting him now, fashion and fabrics and designing and cutting fabrics is what he had at his disposal because his mother was also a couturier. But he wanted to be musician. He was an artist and fashion was the field of expression that he had at his disposal and he just took it. But I think that Gianni would’ve succeeded as an artist in any other field because he was unstoppable. It was unavoidable what he wanted to express.

GD: You submitted the episode “Ascent” for your Emmy nomination, and that’s the one that focused on your relationship with Donatella, ‘cause he’s grooming her to take over the company after he’s gone. So why did you decide to choose that episode?

ER: When you look at this show and you look at every episode, you would notice that the show deals constantly with the complexity of familial relationships, which are the strongest, the most beautiful, but also the most complex, because oftentimes when you end up trying to help someone you love, you end up hurting the person that you love the most. That’s why dealing with familial relationships is so fascinating because they’re so complex, and in this episode, it’s all about that. He knows that the clock is ticking. He knows that not only his life but his legacy could go away. He needs an heir and he needs to train that heir as soon as possible, and that he doesn’t have time on his side. The whole show and the whole life of the Versace clan, it’s very similar to a Greek tragedy. It’s fated like a Greek tragedy, and in that episode, I think that Gianni came face to face with an unquestionable possibility of really disappearing, going away, and with him everything that he’s built, and it was a race against time but he couldn’t bend time. He was a guy who was so powerful in his field. Whatever he wanted he would get it. He would find a way to get it. There’s a story that I heard from a very good friend from Gianni who was one of my sources, he’s walking on the street in Miami when he sees this city hall on South Beach and says, “Oh my god, I love this house. I want this building.” And he says, “No, you can’t have it. It’s a city hall. It’s a commercial building.” “No, no, no, but I can buy.” “No, you cannot buy a city property. You cannot get this place, are you crazy?” And this is the fun part to me, “You know what, I’ll just get the roof.” That was Gianni. That was a guy who would find a way. If he couldn’t get it all out then he would find a way to get it, and this episode, he just can’t get it.

GD: I love that story because I feel like Versace and Andrew Cunanan, they’re very similar people. They’re both ambitious young men and then at some point we see, since the story goes backwards and it is like a Greek tragedy, their paths diverged. One of the episode titles is literally “Creator/Destroyer,” about them. Gianni, he went in the positive route. He wanted things but they were all good things and he worked for it and Andrew just went the self-destructive route and they were both tragically affected by the internalized homophobia of the time.

ER: I totally agree with you. They wanted maybe the same things but one was ready, he was programmed, he had the fortune to be wired in a way that he would create those opportunities and he would try to bring something new to the world, while achieving what he wanted, and the other one, because he was wired differently, because he came from a horrible, destructive family background, he just wanted to take. And by not achieving, by not being programmed, by not being rightly wired to achieve what he wanted, then he decided to destroy. That again brings me back to the family interactions and the familial relationships in the show. You have a family like Cunanan’s family that unfortunately couldn’t cope with the pressure. They couldn’t resolve their frustrations, their shortcomings, and they ended up hurting and destroying each other, and on the other hand, you have a family that had to deal with so much, a family that was able to stick together through adversity when life was throwing punches at them. One of them, Gianni, was almost dying, what happened in the episode in “Ascent,” and they’re dealing with the real possibility of just not existing anymore and they overcame that. He came back and the family stuck together, so you can see how the show is also a story about families and how one sticks together through adversity and were able to continue to keep loving each other and make those bonds stronger.

GD: Yeah, no matter how volatile.

ER: No matter how volatile, exactly. And in that episode, you see how their relationship goes and also Antonio. The tension between Antonio and Donatella was constantly there.

GD: Those are like the two pillars in his life.

ER: The two pillars, and those were the loves of his life, and they’re both very creative people, very responsible people, and of course, he was the emperor. He was the sun, and these planets were orbiting around him and then when he went away he knew that if he ever went away then this universe would collapse and would create a vacuum that would suck everything with it. He knew that. In that episode, that’s how I remember my feelings during that episode, is that he wanted to try to avoid that vacuum but he didn’t have time. We all relate to that, or at least I do. I’m very close to my family and I’m also one of the pillars of my family. It’s hard to think about the moment when you’re not here, and you wanna be prepared. No one is really prepared. I don’t know, it was very moving to me, that episode, and the moment when he loses his hearing, he goes from rage and what’s happened in the episode, he goes from the frustration of seeing that Donatella is not understanding the vision, that she’s not seeing things in the same way and the suddenly this happens to him, it was the metaphor of facing terror. It’s like, “This is it. I mean, now I’m going away. It’s happening right now in the middle of this discussion, and is this the memory that my sister and my lover are gonna have of me? Is this the last conversation that we’re gonna have before I go away?” Listen, the scene was all there. It was all written that way.

GD: It’s a great confrontation and then it just comes out of nowhere when he just collapses.

ER: Exactly, and it was written like that. It was written like that beat by beat, moment by moment. It felt almost like a play, with all the characters there and then suddenly going from zero to 180 miles in one second. The scene shifts in a way that is for me fascinating, and I love that episode because they make the dress together. That’s their legacy, and then you see how Penelope and I were so comfortable already with each other and with the character and everyone on set was already so comfortable that then you see it’s one of the most intimate scenes that I’ve ever performed, and Penelope feels the same way. I can’t even remember that there were people watching us and shooting us that night. So yeah, I love the whole show and I love all episodes for various reasons, but that one because family, and that’s what Gianni Versace said many times, family for him is everything, and he knew that working with family was hard, but it’s also beautiful. In the most Italian way, he believed in the dynasty. Those were values that were very important to him, legacy and dynasty and continuation.

GD: This is your second Emmy nomination. You got your first one seven years ago for “Carlos.” Does this one feel different because of the project and its resonance, especially in this current political climate?

ER: It feels different ‘cause I have more friends. It feels different because now when I go to the event, when I have interviews, I don’t feel like the new kid on the block. Again, I’m still super moved that I can hardly believe it and I’m very honored and I’m very excited. Of course, it’s new in many ways, but at the same time, I’m surrounded by friends everywhere I go, by people that I know, people that I love. The fact that we got so much support from the Academy that we got so many nominations for the show is very gratifying and very fulfilling to be able to share this honor with people that we love so much. It did happen on this show, that we all became very close. So it’s great to share the honor and I hope that everyone from the youngest PA to everyone at the heads of departments, they all feel represented in these nominations because they would have not been able without the collaboration of everyone. We had the best crew.

GD: What are you gonna do if Ricky beats you or you beat Ricky? Is your friendship gonna be okay, ‘cause you’re up against Ricky?

ER: It’s gonna be fine. We’re gonna celebrate no matter what. Even if we don’t win, we’re gonna celebrate. We’re celebrating already, honestly. It’s beautiful. I voted for him.

GD: Okay, so if he wins it’s because of you.

ER: If he wins it’s because of me, clearly.

GD: You need to be the first person he thanks, then.

ER: He better! It’s been a very personal process, this show, for everyone. I think I can speak on behalf of a lot of people. We were really, really happy every time we went to work and we were really there to play and experiment and to try to walk through unforgettable experiences and really give it all out, so this is the cherry on the top. But of course we’re very proud and very happy and very thankful to be the recipient of so much support. I was super happy. We all called each other when we found out. I called Ricky and then Penelope called me and then I texted Darren [Criss] and then Darren called me and then they called each other. We were all very happy ‘cause I had a few, and Penelope and Ricky didn’t have scenes with Darren, but we all became very close because we were together.

GD: You guys became a family.

ER: Yeah, we would spent Sundays together, have barbecues together, have our pedicure and manicures together at Ricky’s house, so once you’re on that level, when you’re at a situation when you can stand each other’s feet while they get a pedicure, then you’re definitely family.

GD: Rule of thumb for everyone. Edgar, it was great speaking to you and congratulations on all your success and good luck at the Emmys.

ER: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

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