His name may be in the one in the title, but when The Assassination of Gianni Versace premieres on FX next week, the famed fashion designer, gunned down in his prime, will share the spotlight.
In fact, much like The People v O.J. Simpson before it, the second installment of American Crime Story will use the crime involving the bold-named individual in the title to explore greater themes, as well as tell the stories of the lesser-known victims of serial killer Andrew Cunanan. And as executive producer Brad Simpson told E! News ahead of the show's panel at the 2018 TCA Winter Press Tour, that's exactly how the creative team wanted it.
"Andrew Cunanan was a spree killer and he murdered five people, the most famous being Gianni Versace. Versace was his obsession. He was everything he wanted and couldn't have. The series tracks through those victims," Simpson explained. "We thought it was important to spend the same amount of time with the less-known victims as it was with the most famous victims. Versace weaves his way in and out of this story, I think, in a great way, but the journey itself is the journey of this killer across the country as he murders people."
In other words, just because Edgar Ramirez and Penélope Cruz dominate the show's key art as Gianni and his legendary sister Donatella Versace, don't expect this to be a Versace family biography. While Gianni's name may be in the title, it's the word "Assassination" that's the real focus here.
"His obsession with Gianni Versace and the dance of creator and destroyer is the spine…that holds this together," Simpson elaborated upon duing the show's panel. "But ultimately, we felt it was really important for us, along this journey, to not only tell the story of Versace, but use that as fabric to tell the story of David Madson and Jeff Trail and the other victims."
"This was a person who targeted people specifically to shame them and to out them and to have some payback for the life that he didn't get to live," Ryan Murphy added. "I just feel like anytime that you methodically plot to kill someone with pain and murder in your heart, to expose them for something, that is an assassination. It felt like the title was important for us, politically, to say."
For executive producer Tom Rob Smith, who penned all nine episodes of the season, this installment of American Crime Story was an opportunity to explore issues that transcend one man's crimes. "I think this is a story people don't know. They know there was a murder in Miami. I kind of think of it as an iceberg. People just know the tip, and we're taking them on the journey all the way down," he told E! News. "And it's an incredible story across the whole of America…It touches on this enormous issue of the American dream. How do you grow up and try and be successful? One of the elements that crushes him is homophobia. So we're touching on the prejudices and preoccupations of society. It's a crime that really has soaked up a lot of America."
And for star Darren Criss, who turns in a career-making performance as Cunanan, it was the opportunity to explore the tragic undercurrent of the murderer's actions that drove him to the role.
"That's what made this such a joy for me, trying to find this common denominators between Andrew and the person watching, so much so that when he does something horrible, you're really almost heartbroken that they're doing this," he told E! News. "That it is not only sad because of the actions, but sad because of the things that made those things happen."
American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace premieres Wednesday, Jan. 17 at 10 p.m. on FX.