Emmy episode analysis: Penelope Cruz (‘Assassination of Gianni Versace’) as Donatella takes her ‘Ascent’ in the fashion world

Oscar winner Penelope Cruz has a chance to add an Emmy to her awards mantle. The Spanish actress is nominated for Best Movie/Limited Series Supporting Actress at this year’s Emmy Awards for her role as Donatella Versace in FX’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.” Cruz won her Oscar for her supporting role in 2008’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and earned additional nominations for her supporting role in “Nine” (2009) and her leading role in “Volver” (2006).

Cruz has submitted the episode “Ascent” to Emmy voters. The episode details Donatella’s uneasy ascent to the head of fashion empire created by her brother Gianni Versace (Emmy-nominee Edgar Ramirez). Initially, Donatella is hesitant to indulge in her own creativity as she feels that she is there to support her brother’s vision. Gianni angrily pushes Donatella to take more control as a designer, especially since he intends for her to take over at the company after his death.

The two design a dress together, and Donatella makes headlines when she wears the dress at a public event. Gianni begins to lose his hearing and is diagnosed with ear cancer, which results in Donatella being made head of the company. Donatella addresses the Versace staff, promising to take the company in a bold new direction in order to preserve her brother’s legacy.

Will Cruz’s submission help her land her fist Emmy? Let’s delve into the pros and cons of her submission.


Voters love to reward actors who transform themselves, and Cruz certainly fits the bill. With a blonde wig, fake teeth, and adopting a deep, Italianate voice, Cruz does more than just imitate Donatella — she embodies her.

Although the series itself focuses primarily on Versace’s killer Andrew Cunanan (Emmy nominee Darren Criss), this episode is really about Donatella and gives Cruz a chance to show a full emotional journey. We see a complete arc for Donatella, from a supportive sister who doubts her own abilities to both a star in her own right as well as a confident leader.

Emmy voters love movie stars, and Cruz is certainly the biggest movie star in this category. Name recognition alone could give her enough momentum to win here.


Cruz faces strong competition from fellow “Verace” nominee Judith Light. Vote-splitting, as well as near unanimous critical acclaim for Light, could siphon votes away from Cruz, clearing the way for another actress to win here.

Emmy voters love to reward big performances full of emotional fireworks. It is possible that Cruz’s more subdued performance may be too subtle to capture voters’ attention.

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