Darren Criss is best known for playing the Boy Who Lived, Harry Potter, in A Very Potter Musical and the a cappella-singing Warbler Blaine in Glee (producer: Alexis Martin Woodall). But his latest character is a real and infamous person. Darren Criss plays Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (writer: Maureen Orth). Cunanan, as Time reported, Cunanan killed fashion designer Gianni Versace after allegedly murdering four other men in 1997. While this version of the beloved Criss is very different from his other, cuddlier roles, the Glee actor is more suited for the part than you might initially think.
Criss fans most likely first encountered him in the Harry Potter parody, A Very Potter Musical, which he created in 2009 with his theater company at the University of Michigan. His big break came shortly after when he landed the role of the bow tie-wearing Blaine on Glee — a TV show from the most famous person behind American Crime Story, Ryan Murphy. Criss worked with Murphy again briefly in American Horror Story: Hotel (story editor: Crystal Liu) and showed his range on Broadway and in the national tour of Hedwig And The Angry Inch, but The Assassination of Gianni Versace marks another major — and darker — turning point in the 30-year-old's career.
As for Cunanan, he didn't even live until the age that Criss is now. As Maureen Orth — the author of the book that The Assassination of Gianni Versace is based on — wrote for Vanity Fair, the 27-year-old Cunanan committed suicide about a week after murdering Versace. But American Crime Story will also dramatize what led Cunanan to this point, including the four other murders he allegedly committed before Versace's. According to Orth, Cunanan had a genius-level IQ and was charismatic. "He was young and attractive, entertaining, good company — what's not to like?" an acquaintance of Cunanan's told Orth.
But, according to Orth, Cunanan also was a liar, who reportedly used his relationships with older men to fund his lavish lifestyle. Orth also reported that he had extreme, violent sexual tastes and drug problems. Eventually, Cunanan turned to murder. The Washington Post reported that his victims before Versace were his friend Jeffrey Trail, his former boyfriend David Madson, 72-year-old real estate developer Lee Miglin, and a cemetery caretaker William Reese. As the Time article referenced earlier notes, Cunanan's motives for all five of his murders are still not clear.
While Criss has played gay characters before, the actor told Out magazine in 2011 that he's straight and The Daily Mail reports he has been dating Mia Swier for seven years. But this casting is fitting when it comes to their backgrounds since Criss is, like Cunanan was, half Filipino. (As Orth wrote, Cunanan's father was from the Philippines. Criss discussed with Teen Vogue how his mother is also from the island nation.) And both Cunanan and Criss were raised in California — Cunanan in the San Diego area and Criss in San Francisco.
Orth wrote for Vanity Fair that she believes that Cunanan "would have relished being portrayed by Darren Criss, who shares his striking good looks, his outgoing charm, and his half-Filipino heritage." And it's Criss' charm that helped him land the part. As Entertainment Weekly reported, Murphy wanted Criss to play Cunanan, but sent others from the American Crime Story production team to see Criss in the musical Hedwig to convince them.
"Once every night he jumps into somebody's lap and makes out with them," American Crime Story executive producer Brad Simpson told EW. "In the middle of the show, he jumps in the audience and rips my glasses off and makes out with me. It was very charming and a very Cunanan thing to do, to be a little devilish. Cunanan charmed people and then turned them off. We're talking about a serial killer people liked." Criss said, "In my defense, I didn't know it was Brad Simpson. I'm glad I didn't know.”
As 48 Hours reported, Cunanan was voted "Most Likely to be Remembered" in his senior year high school yearbook. So if you feared that Criss would be too likable and alluring for the role of an alleged serial killer, that is true to at least part of who Cunanan was. But that's where the similarities between the actor and Versace's murderer end.
"I did as much research as humanly possible," Criss told EW about preparing to play Cunanan. But, "there's not a whole lot of preparation you can do. The only thing you can really do is being available to all emotions at all times. At any point, [Cunanan is] ready to fire off in any direction." And you can see Criss channel all of Cunanan's emotions when The Assassination Of Gianni Versace premieres on FX on Jan. 17.
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.