Jon Jon Briones Interview: ‘Assassination of Gianni Versace’
“He knows what he wants and he thinks he knows how to get it,” reveals Jon Jon Briones about his critically-acclaimed role as Modesto Cunanan, the father of serial killer Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” for FX. In our recent interview (watch the exclusive video above), Briones discusses how his childhood growing up in the Phillipines, and his work in the theater prepared him to play the “delusional” father of a serial killer.
In “Versace” he portrays a family man obsessed with two things– success and his youngest son Andrew. Those obsessions drive Modesto inflate his own sense of self-worth while lavishing attention on Andrew at the expense of the rest of the family. Briones, who grew up in poverty in the Philippines, identified with Modesto’s drive for success: “Wanting what you don’t have, and wanting to be somebody is something that is so universal that we can understand.” He also stressed how it was important for him to like Modesto, to see him as more than just a monster. As Briones explains, “Everything [Modesto] did was for love, for his child, doing the best he could to succeed for his family and for himself.”
Because of the lack of available research on the elder Cunanan, Briones says he relied on Maureen Orth‘s book, “Vulgar Favors,” in order to try to get inside Modesto’s mind. But ultimately Briones credits the script by Tom Rob Smith (“London Spy”) for giving him what he needed. Briones admits, “I just understood who this character is, so I just went with that. I just trusted the material.”
Briones credits his director Matt Bomer for creating an environment where he could feel safe exploring “the dark sides” of himself in playing some of the episode’s more disturbing moments. He also praises his co-star Criss, not only for his performance but for bringing the role to Briones’s attention. Criss intercepted Briones at the Tony Awards and asked him to audition for the role.
Although the role has opened up new opportunities for Briones, he says that his home has always been in the theater. He was in the ensemble of the original production of “Miss Saigon,” and returned to the show off and on over the next 25 years. Briones graduated to the lead role of the Engineer — for which he earned an Olivier nomination for Best Actor in a Musical– and on Broadway. According to Briones, “I think it’s served me well, the balance of doing theater and screen acting.”