alexa BlackBook: Style Icon: Edgar Ramirez Fashions a Vivid Portrayal of Legendary Designer Gianni Versace for ‘American Crime Story’
On the cover: Versace blazer, similar styles $2,650 at Farfetch.com; Turtleneck, $650 at Versace.com
A FEW months before fashion designer Gianni Versace was murdered on the steps of his Miami Beach villa by serial killer Andrew Cunanan, then-20-year-old Edgar Ramirez visited his parents in the sun-kissed party city. “If you walked on Ocean Drive, you could feel the vitality and the energy,” the Venezuelan actor tells Alexa of those freewheeling days in 1997. “It was exhilarating, it was exuberant.”
Ramirez, now 40, is revisiting that glamorous — and tragic — time. The actor plays the legendary Italian couturier on FX’s 10-episode The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, premiering on Jan. 17.
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It’s a departure for the square-jawed screen star, who has become a Hollywood go-to for variations on masculine archetypes: a deadbeat ex-husband opposite Jennifer Lawrence in Joy; a CIA operative in Zero Dark Thirty and Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Durán at the center of Hands of Stone, a biopic also starring Robert De Niro and Usher.
While Ramirez transformed himself into fighting shape for Hands of Stone, dieting and training for hours a day in Panama City gyms, he went in the opposite direction for his fashion-designer role. The normally fit leading man packed on 20 pounds, the Italian way — by indulging in endless plates of pasta — and used prosthetics for the first time. Sporting a receding hairline, graying coiffure, three-day stubble and a generous physique, he bears an uncanny resemblance to the late designer.
Cutting the weight is proving less enjoyable. “Now is when the fun part is over,” he says with a slightly gloomy tone in his voice. “Because I gotta lose it.”
Jacket, $2,895 and pants, $750, both at Valentino, 693 Fifth Ave.; James Perse T-shirt, $60 at MrPorter.com
His preparation for the part also included speaking to close friends of Versace, whose private life stood in stark contrast to the glorious excess of his brand’s image. “[People] remember the lush exuberance of the clothes and the sex appeal and the sexuality and the models and the parties,” Ramirez says. “But on the real, personal side, he was not a party animal. He used to go to bed very early and get up very early as well. It was very interesting to discover that side of him.”
Ramirez gained a newfound respect for the refined artist during his preparation. “He was a very cultivated man. He used to say that in order to be a fashion designer, in order to be an artist in general, you have to be very cultivated, you have to be very well-informed,” he says. “He wanted to be a musician before he became a fashion designer, so he took inspiration from a lot of different sources. It was great for me to try to act for a mind like that.”
It’s not a stretch for Ramirez to embody worldly charm. His mother was an attorney and his father was a military officer, which means he spent much of his childhood traveling the world and speaks five languages fluently. If he takes a journalistic approach to researching his characters, there’s good reason: He studied to be a political reporter at university in Caracas before pursuing his love of the performing arts. In 2003, his matinee-idol good looks helped land him a role in Cosita Rica, a Venezuelan telenovela. His Hollywood breakthrough came with a role in the 2005 action flick, Domino, and since then he has forged a reputation for portraying swaggering macho characters with both intensity and intelligent nuance.
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The opportunity to share an unseen side of Versace is part of what drew him to this new project, in addition to working with American Crime Story executive producer Ryan Murphy.
While there is plenty of romantic passion in American Crime Story, it’s also a familial drama. The central relationship is between Gianni and his sister Donatella, played by a cigarette-smoking Penélope Cruz in tight dresses and a platinum wig. In the 20 years since her brother’s heartbreaking death, Donatella has taken over the brand’s creative direction and built it into a global luxury powerhouse, but here we get a glimpse at their early behind-the-scenes partnership, which could be — shall we say — lively.
Ramirez says that both he and Cruz, who is Spanish, understand the fiery temperament. “We can relate to volatile but strong and beautiful family relationships,” he continues with a laugh. “That’s a world I understand. Like when someone from another culture asks about you and your family, ‘Are you fighting?’ And you’re like, ‘No, this is how we talk!’”
Ramirez treasures the strong bonds he formed on set with his fellow actors. “Penélope and Ricky [Martin, who plays Gianni’s partner Antonio D’Amico] and I became good friends and it was great, there was a lot of compassion for each other,” he says. “It was really beautiful. Penélope is very family-oriented, there was a very great connection between us.”
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While Ramirez loved the flashy Versace wardrobe, off-camera he favors low-key, timeless pieces that look stylish, never trendy; so much so that GQ magazine dubbed him “the king of good taste” earlier this year. “I love design in general,” says the star, who cuts a slick figure on the red carpet in narrow suits and classic tuxes. “I love architecture and, of course, fashion. There’s nothing random about how we dress or how we project [ourselves].”
When asked what he does during his time off, Ramirez falters because, well, he can’t remember the last time he had any. But, for an actor, that’s a good thing. “There are no off days,” he says with a laugh. “It’s great to be working and doing what you’re passionate about. I don’t take that for granted at all.” He had just touched down in Los Angeles from Miami, where he presented at the Latin Grammy Awards. The following day, he’ll head to Argentina to film the thriller La Quietud, all while promoting American Crime Story.
On Dec. 22, Netflix fantasy crime drama Bright opens, with Ramirez playing a blue-haired elf, alongside Will Smith’s human LAPD officer and Joel Edgerton’s orc cop. He’s also slated to appear again with Robert De Niro in an as-of-yet untitled flick directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz of Hands of Stone fame.
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Suddenly, Ramirez remembers what he likes to do with his free time — although with a schedule so jam-packed, maybe it should be obvious. “When I have a day off, I sleep,” he says. “I love to hibernate.”
Still, he insists that his off-duty time isn’t that different from anyone else’s. “I try to relax. It depends where I am and what activities are available. Exercise, work out, try to catch an art exhibition, whatever is available. Nothing out of the ordinary, honestly,” he says. “What we do is extraordinary, but that doesn’t make you an extraordinary person.”
Photos by Williams & Hirakawa, Fashion Editor: Serena French, Stylist: Anahita Moussavian, Grooming: Barbara Guillaume at Forward Artists using Oribe, Tailor: Erik Gavrilov for Sew Ponies