Best Performances is TV Guide's Emmys video series highlighting the best acting performances of the year. Actors take viewers behind the scenes of their Emmy-nominated performances and explain the secrets of their craft.
Gianni Versace's murder rocked the fashion world in the late '90s, but 20 years later the retelling of his story and the blatant homophobia that allowed a serial killer to gun him down is showing how much hasn't changed since his death. Edgar Ramirez helped today's audience to understand the profound loss the world suffered that fateful day by portraying the fashion genius in Ryan Murphy's The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, and has earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series for his efforts.
"You can play a biographical character, a character that really existed and had a huge impact on the world we live in, but that impact and that legacy doesn't automatically translate into a great character," Ramirez said of the pressure to play Versace in TV Guide's Best Performances video series. "In the end, what you're doing is a recreation of what the life of that character might have been. It is never a picture. It is never a photograph. It is a painting. It is an approximation to what the life of that character should have been. That's where the creative work kicks in."
Ramirez's captivating performance was buoyed by Penelope Cruz, who played Gianni's sister Donatella in the limited series. While they are depicted mostly as loving siblings, Assassination also showed how tumultuous their relationship could be, especially when Gianni became ill and Donatella was forced to manage his fashion empire.
"I enjoyed the exploration of the family relationship. Gianni was trying to groom Donatella to be a greater version of herself, and by doing that, by caring for her he was also hurting her," Ramirez said. "Penelope and I are very close to our families. There was a connection that existed there already so that we could understand the complexity of that type of relationship. We both understood that in order to discover our characters, in order to understand our characters, we needed to understand the other."
The push-and-pull of their love led to Ramirez's favorite scene of the series, in which Gianni and Donatella create a dress together to prove that she is ready to take over. Donatella comes up with the idea of using a dress as a weapon, and Gianni shows her how to turn into something real.
"The scene where we make the dress as a pact was one of the most beautiful scenes I've ever performed in. It was so subtle, so full of silence. It is actually defined by the silence. The finesse of that scene and the way it was directed — it was beautiful," he said.
However, Ramirez's most emotional moment in the series comes a little later, as Donatella and his staff become fully aware of how sick he is. Gianni loses his hearing in the middle of a fight and Ramirez was charged with showing an incredibly vulnerable private moment of a man who was so publicly strong at all times.
"That is a scene that basically puts everything out in open about his frailty," Ramirez explained. "I put ear buds in my ears so that I could hear less and less in the scene. When you do that you listen more to your own voice than to other people, and that is a terrifying feeling."
The 70th Primetime Emmy Awards air Monday, Sept. 17 at 8/7c on NBC.