Darren Criss Interview: ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’
Darren Criss doesn’t want to humblebrag, but he had a very memorable encounter at the Met Gala earlier this month. He was approached by someone who had just seen his performance as serial killer Andrew Cunanan on “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” — and who had no idea of his song-and-dance history as Blaine Anderson on “Glee.”
“He was like, ‘Oh, man, everyone’s gonna think you’re this killer now.’ He didn’t know what I had done before and he didn’t know anything about ‘Glee,’ and I was really thrilled,” Criss tells Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview (watch above). “I was like, ‘This is great.’ If I can keep that up, to me, that would be a huge accomplishment because the goal is to continually keep people on their [toes].”
Criss certainly did just that with his haunting, unnerving turn as Cunanan, who killed four men in a cross-country murder spree before fatally shooting the fashion designer in broad daylight in July 1997. A man of many alias and personas whose true self will forever remain unkowable, Cunanan was a complex role as it is, but it was made even more complicated by the limited series’ storytelling structure, opening with the murder of Versace (Edgar Ramirez) before going backwards in time.
But it was a challenge Criss happily and readily accepted as he delved into the pathology and transformation of a serial killer.
“I’m kind of a glutton for punishment. I enjoy doing that emotional Tetris. I have my sort of CSI board of different red pins in the board as it were of emotional peaks and events in his life. And that’s the luxury of having a story that has a beginning and an end over nine episodes. You know when you can play these moments. If you’re working on a series for a long period of time, you don’t know where these things are gonna go,” Criss says. “There were certain places where I would restrain myself because I would have to bear in mind that I know we get to this other place, so we can’t get there quite yet.”
The reverse format led to an “inadvertent redemption tale,” Criss believes, for Cunanan. As the show tracks back to his youth, viewers can see the double tragedy of Cunanan at his “best” and where things took an inexorable turn. “I think as an audience, you’re waiting and hoping for some redeeming quality to justify all of this, which is a very encouraging feeling to me that a lot of people watching were hoping for something human so they can [say], ‘Yeah, but it wasn’t his fault. It was this…’” he says. “I’m not saying he does redeem himself, but our desire to find the compassion is what kind of makes it this backward redemption tale.”
With “Versace,” Criss is in the running for his first acting Emmy nomination, for Best Limited Series/TV Movie Actor, but he is no Emmy virgin. Three years ago, he was up for Best Music and Lyrics for penning “This Time” from the “Glee” series finale, a nomination he’s “really proud of” because of his songwriting roots. “To be acknowledged for it was really gratifying and really encouraging because it’s something I really like to do and had always wanted to do for ‘Glee,’” he notes. “It was the end of the show and it was a love note to the entire series and to all the people that supported it.”
And for now, he’s not even wrapping his head around possibly contending against the likes of Al Pacino (“Paterno”) and Kyle MacLachlan (“Twin Peaks: The Return”).
“When you think of how long one has to wait and hope for a moment like this — and I don’t mean an awards discussion — I mean, a part that you are so vested in and care about and has weight and colors and a vast spectrum and is part of a socially significant story with actors that you admire — every category is ticked,” he says. “There are so many things about it that makes it really feel like a winning lottery ticket that you already feel like you’ve won everything you could possibly win.”