Becoming Donatella: Penelope Cruz On Playing Donatella Versace And Getting Her Blessing

Credit: Jeff Daly, Associated Press

Darren Criss, Edgar Ramirez, Ricky Martin and a score of others have us glued to our TV sets every Wednesday night as the story of spree killer Andrew Cunanan (Criss) unfolds, leading up to his assassination of Gianni Versace (Ramirez) and subsequent suicide in July 1997. While Versace’s murder may still be in the minds of viewers of my generation, little was known of his earlier victims or the ins and outs of the Versace empire. With Gianni’s sister Donatella probably the main player in the drama that many are most familiar with, having taken over the business following Gianni’s death, finding the right actress to portray her was paramount for Ryan Murphy and his fellow producers for The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, and really they couldn’t have done better than the powerhouse they hired… Penelope Cruz.

A lot has been made about the Versace family’s issues with the series, labeling it “a work of fiction” ahead of its US premiere last month, Murphy refuted the claim and shared that Donatella had actually sent Cruz flowers ahead of the premiere. Murphy has also shared that before signing on the dotted line, Cruz spoke to Donatella about taking on the role. Now Cruz has opened up on that exchange.

“I said, ‘Ryan, I admire you so much, I would love to work with you, but I am kind of shocked that I am who you called for Donatella. First, I have to make one phone call,’” Cruz related to Net-A-Porter. “I said to Donatella, ‘This is keeping me up at night because it’s such a big responsibility to play someone who’s not only alive, but someone I respect so much’. And she told me, ‘If somebody’s going to do it, I’m happy that it’s you.’ Her words gave me the freedom to do this. I think she could hear in my voice that everything was going to be done from a place of respect.”

And this respect for Donatella can be seen in every scene to date, perfectly encapsulating the fashion designer in her walk, her voice, her sheer presence. Cruz explained part of her preparation for the role: “Her voice is much lower than mine, and I worked for months and months with the voice coach Tim Monich. I was not interested in doing a caricature, an imitation; I want you to feel her there. Everything about Donatella is rock and roll – even when she’s just sitting in a chair, she does it with an attitude.”

We have a break from the series this week, but the story continues when it returns on Wednesday February 28. The series premieres in the UK on BBC Two the same night at 9pm.

Clare Sidoti
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