Ricky Martin returned to acting for the first time since 2012 to play Gianni Versace‘s lover Antonio D’Amico in FX’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.” The role required Martin to grieve for the loss of Antonio’s longtime partner while living amid rampant homophobia in 1997. Martin’s last acting gig before “Gianni Versace” was a one-episode appearance on “Glee,” another Ryan Murphy production.
Martin recently spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Joyce Eng for an exclusive video chat about why he chose “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” for his acting comeback, the immense emotional toll it took on him and how this might not be the last time he works with Murphy. You can watch the video above and read the complete interview transcript below.
Gold Derby: Ricky Martin, I’ve heard you and Édgar Ramirez say that you felt you guys were destined to play Versace and Antonio in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.” So what’s the story behind that? How did Ryan Murphy bring you guys together?
Ricky Martin: Well it’s really funny because I’ve known Édgar for a while and when Ryan Murphy called me and goes, “Ricky, I wanna have dinner with you,” so I went there and he goes, “I have a project that I’d love for you to be a part of.” The thing is that Édgar had told me he was gonna be playing Gianni and I was celebrating that. I had the opportunity to work with Ryan on “Glee,” an episode that he did for me, and I’m like, “Yeah, that’s fantastic! Whatever you need, let me know.” Two weeks later, Ryan calls me and he tells me that he has a part for me, that it would be Antonio and of course I was screaming inside. I didn’t show it but I said, “Who’s playing Donatella [Versace]?” “Penélope Cruz. No one knows,” he said, “No one knows, but, Penélope Cruz.” I’ve known Penélope for many years. We’ve worked together on a very beautiful foundation in India. So immediately, no. 1, the story was very important. There was so much that was important with what was gonna be said in the story but the fact that I was gonna be surrounded by [an] amazing, amazing group of actors and friends made it even more special and when I told him, “Listen, I love Édgar, I love Penélope,” Ryan, he teared up, ‘cause it just felt right that the stars were aligned for this to happen.
GD: Were you looking to get back into acting? I feel like there’s a whole segment of fans who did not know that you were on “General Hospital” in the ‘90s.
RM: Part of this process has been very important for me to let people to know that. First time I did a TV series I was 15 years old in Argentina, then I moved to Mexico and I did theater and I did many TV series as well and I even did film, and then obviously what I’ve done on Broadway. For me, acting is extremely important. Obviously I started surfing the music wave, which is something that will always be there. Music became my religion. Music was my medicine, and I need that immediate reaction of the audience. That’s why for me, acting in theater is so important. But there is something magical that was always there when it came to acting. I always say this, and I’m gonna go back to acting the moment I have the opportunity to work with an incredible producer and amazing directors and a great cast. Gotta be careful what you wish for ‘cause that’s exactly what happened. But more than anything it’s about the story. I think the story is full of injustice, homophobia and what I’m trying to say, this is very personal for me. I do this for my kids, for my family and to create awareness and to create consciousness. At the end of the day, this is a story that could happen again. The fact that we would be so loud and direct to the audience and raw and real about this unfortunate crime is something very important.
GD: How familiar were you with the case in 1997 and not just with Versace but Antonio, your character, ‘cause I feel like a lot of people know just Donatella and Gianni, but not the other victims that you cover in the show and not a lot about Antonio either. So how much did you know beforehand?
RM: I thought I knew, but I knew nothing. I was in Miami when this happened and I was also in fear. I was living in Miami and we were all afraid to leave our houses ‘cause there was a criminal on the streets. And obviously the devastation, I love fashion and what Gianni did for the world of fashion was something amazing. It was hard. It was very hard to be part of it, but then again, obviously once I knew that I was gonna be part of this project I started reading and had the opportunity to talk to Antonio himself, and I told him, “Antonio, with all due respect I just wanna shed some light into what you had with Gianni. I wanna talk to you about your emotions. What were you feeling?” And he was very generous. I tell you and I still get emotional because he went through hell. All of a sudden, what we could consider today his husband, it was not an option back then, of 15 years, just left. And pretty much he was abandoned.
GD: What other insight did he give you into his relationship with Versace? Because you have to play so much of it without Versace and so much of his despair and loss and grieving.
RM: More than anything I sat down and I said, “Antonio, I’m gonna be a journalist and I want you to please understand, I don’t wanna be intrusive but in order for me to lift you up to where you belong, I need a lot of information.” Obviously as an actor I get to keep secrets. I think it’s important. Because no. 1 it’s part of my technique and no. 2, even though his life and his reality was so exposed, there are some things that I still need to keep, because they were also his secrets even when they were together. But it was very cathartic even for him. It must be extremely difficult to relive something that happened 20 years ago and sometimes you think you heal from it but not really. He’s a great man. I think we did a really good job in showing the world the love that they had. Very unique, very free, very open-minded, but it was their dynamic and it was their love, and it must be respected.
GD: I love that you brought up playing a journalist when you were talking to him because one of my favorite scenes is when Versace brings Antonio to his “Advocate” interview to come out and I feel like there are so many parallels between you and Versace and when you came out in 2010. So what was that like for you shooting that scene and just the show in general? The message of it is this internalized homophobia and how Andrew went on this killing spree when he could have been stopped much earlier.
RM: It was very important. It’s funny because as an actor I was now on the other side of the fence of most of the partners that I was dating when I was in the closet, and once again, it was extremely emotional and for Édgar to see what this scene meant to me was extremely powerful. I lived in the closet for many years and I created a sabotage to love from the people that I was dating at the time and for self-love and dignity. It was extremely powerful. It’s time to normalize this and I wish more people with the power that Gianni had would do this. Nothing happened after he came out. On the contrary. His art was there and accepted. And yes, doing this scene, obviously when I came out, the love that I felt from the audience on social media was amazing but when I was doing the scene I was like, “My god, I wish I could come out again!” (Laughs.) Because it is extremely important, and that is one of the reasons why I said yes to this story. Come on, to work with Penélope Cruz is beautiful. To work with Édgar, to work with Ryan, with Darren [Criss]. I didn’t mention Darren before because I don’t have scenes with him, but these are incredible actors and they are fighters. They are fighters of justice and as a member of the LGBT community I thank them, of course.
GD: Was that scene or any other scene cathartic for you and what you had gone through?
RM: Yes, in the last episode, the level of sadness that I went through, I didn’t even know I had that kind of emotion. When I’m in the cathedral and the priest mentions everybody but Antonio, when he comes and he says hi to Donatella, he says hi to his brother and the wife of the brother and all of a sudden he comes to me he doesn’t let me shake his hand, was devastating. The suicide attempt… I was living as Antonio for almost six, seven months as we were shooting this and to kill Antonio in that last scene was something very powerful. You need to be brave to be able to find that vulnerability to get there. Obviously the people behind the cameras, the directors really helped me a lot but it was sad. It was intense. And I remember after that I called Penélope and I’m like, “Penélope, I’m devastated. This is horrible.” It was the actual last scene that we had to shoot. It was the day after the Golden Globes. So yes, I was celebrating at the Golden Globes but next day I had to commit suicide. So it was heavy. Penélope was always there and she told me, “Ricky, this will pass. This is part of it. Eventually another project will come your way but you have to understand that now this is over. You have to move on.” But I was really affected. I was really in it. It took me a minute to detach from.
GD: Do you think it was hard for you to compartmentalize because you felt such a personal kinship with the story?
RM: Without a doubt. As a gay man, not only when you’re here in America but all over Latin America and in the Middle East, there are a lot of men and women that are killing themselves because it’s very difficult for them to accept themselves, accept their nature. Call it religion, culturally, there are a thousand reasons why, but people are afraid to love themselves, a simple subject as your sexuality, which is your nature. And doing this show only reinforced the fact that I just need to be louder and if I bring my kids into, for example, the cover of “Architectural Digest” with my husband is because I wanted people to see that I have healthy kids and I have a beautiful family, beautiful modern family. When my kids ask me, “Dad, is there a mom?” “Yes. You don’t have a mom. You have two actually, one that carried you and one that donated your eggs!” But I also tell them we are part of a modern family and we have to be really proud of it. And it’s very beautiful to go to Latin American countries and be able to share this, ‘cause obviously the culture is a little bit more conservative, but the amount of love that I receive on social media by people who tell me, “I read your book and your book helped me understand my gay father, helped me understand my gay uncle, my aunt.” So it’s part of my mission now. With my foundation I fight human trafficking, social justice and in my personal life I fight for human rights for the LGBT community.
GD: Well now that you have some distance since you finished the show and a couple months since the finale aired, how do you look back on this experience and what do you hope fans and viewers get out of the show?
RM: Like I said, a better understanding of how we feel and how we love, and what I love about this is this show is gonna be seen around the world. We’ve taken a lot of really solid steps towards equality, but some countries are really far from it. I’m doing interviews with Middle Eastern journalists and we’re talking and we’re being open about the subject. That is something that 10 years ago, maybe five years ago was not an option. That was not gonna happen. And once again, the power of journalism, the journalists, the way they’ve been writing about the show is something that lifts me up. What is gonna come after it? I still don’t know because there’s a lot of people that haven’t seen it in different parts of the world but I’m sure it’s gonna be nothing but positivity.
GD: Have you talked to Antonio since the show premiered? Has he seen the whole thing and if he has, what are his thoughts on it?
RM: I heard of a friend that told me that he hasn’t seen it and I don’t wanna call him and say, “Hey, what did you think?” Because maybe he liked it, maybe he didn’t. Maybe it was too close for him. I remember that he said, “Ricky, I saw the pictures, paparazzi shots of you holding Gianni in front of his house. You know, that never happened. I was not allowed to touch him.” And I said, “We’re not creating a photo. We’re creating a painting,” and when it comes to a painting we can add so many colors and layers and obviously when you’re there in the shot and you’re acting, I just yelled at Ryan, “Ryan, please let me hold him. I cannot walk around him. I just need to hold him.” And I asked Édgar, “Édgar, is it okay if I hold you because this frustration, this is really painful and I need to feel you,” and the picture became like La Pietà. If you look at it, it’s a very powerful religious ritual, the symbols of that scene, it’s very symbolic the image of La Pietà in this episode.
GD: You guys were going for emotional truth not factual truth ‘cause there are so many times you have to fill in the blanks ‘cause you don’t know actually what happened.
RM: This happened after we shot. Obviously there were paparazzis everywhere. “No I didn’t touch him.” And I told him, “I needed to touch him. I’m sure that if you could’ve you would’ve as well.” And he goes, “Yes.” But then again he also said, “Ricky, I saw a picture of a paparazzi that you were walking with a very green shirt. I would never use green shirt.”
GD: That’s blasphemous!
RM: “I would never use green shirts! I was always wearing dark shirts.” And I’m like, “Yeah, you know what, there’s poetic license and obviously there’s a color palette that Ryan was playing with. But I think it was beautifully shot.
GD: Oh it was gorgeous.
RM: That first episode, those first five minutes are really beautifully intense and then obviously at the end, the church, the loss, Donatella telling Antonio, “I’m sorry, you gotta go. This is it for you. It’s time to say goodbye.” Ahh! I just think about it and I relive it all.
GD: Lastly, now that you’ve done another Ryan Murphy production, it’s a bigger project than “Glee,” so could we see another collaboration between you guys? You’re in his acting repertoire now.
RM: If Ryan calls I’ll drop anything. The opportunity to work with him, how he challenges you on-set is something that is addictive, and of course I’m gonna say this because he made it public already, yes, he’s thinking of a project for me in the near future.
GD: But nothing concrete yet that you can announce?
RM: Let’s just say we’ll talk about it after June (laughs).
GD: All right, well then we’ll be counting down the days.
RM: I cannot wait. I cannot wait.
GD: Well Ricky, thank you so much for your time and we can’t wait for that new project, whatever it may be.
RM: Oh my gosh. I’ll keep you posted definitely.
GD: Thank you.
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