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Ricky Martin on ACS: Versace, Coming Out, and ‘Normalizing’ Open Relationships

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There are obvious parallels between Ricky Martin’s life as an international celebrity and Gianni Versace’s brand of glamour and hedonism. Both sold sex appeal as part of their brands while living as gay men. In the FX show American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Versace makes a conscious decision to publicly come out in 1995 during an interview with The Advocate. Martin came out in 2010, saying that the act made him feel free and liberated: “I could say I love myself completely,” he told Oprah afterward. In ACS, Martin plays Antonio D’Amico, the supportive, longtime partner of the late fashion designer.

“Unlike Darren [Criss, who plays serial killer Andrew Cunanan in the series], I brought all my emotions back home with me,” an exuberant Martin told a group of reporters after the TCA panel. In a brief but warm interview with Vulture beforehand, Martin discussed his conversations with Antonio D’Amico, the homophobia of the police interrogation, and how he wrestled with his own coming-out process.

Did you meet Antonio D’Amico, the person you’re portraying?
A couple of times we met. It was difficult for me to find him, but then I found him. It was like, “FBI, find Antonio!” Because I just wanted to do justice to his story, you know? I’m telling the story of someone who is alive, and I cannot jump in front of the camera without having an interaction with him. So we found him, and he was so open and so vulnerable. I told him, “Antonio, I just want to do justice to your love for Gianni. And I want you to tell me what your love was about, for the audience to see what it was about.”

I want to normalize relationships like this. It’s good for the world; it’s good for me as a gay man with kids. It’s important that we shed some light on power couples like this, even though he was quiet and behind the scenes and he was just there supporting his man for 15 years. I also believe there was a level of homophobia going around in his family where he was hiding, even though he says, “My relationship was very open and free with Gianni.” So I used that as well in front of the camera, and for that, I will always be very thankful.

What kind of insight did he give you into his relationship with Versace?
He told me about Gianni’s character, and he told me about how he would react when there were different situations that would arise in the day-to-day. “Gianni would not pick up his clothes from the floor. He would take a shower and he would leave his shirt there, so it was me after him, picking up,” and “He was extremely organized with everything that had to do with Gianni the Enterprise. Extremely organized, very focused and extremely on top of things with everything! But in his personal life, he had me picking up after him.”

The silent person behind the scenes.
The silent person behind the scenes, yeah. One of the toughest scenes that I shot [was] the first, the interrogation when the FBI is investigating Antonio. It was a very excruciating scene for me. I mean, this guy was opening every door that was a secret from Gianni’s and Antonio’s relationship. I’m talking about bringing men into our lives. I’m talking about bringing escorts. That exposure is very heavy, and it can be extremely uncomfortable for me, for the family, but I’m here doing a job, and the story, once again, needs to be told, for people to see the level of unity between these two. The level of commitment after 15 years. The level of security between them and trust between them is so solid. We want to normalize another kind of reality for open relationships. And that’s what we’re doing. There’s absolutely nothing wrong. We’re just two very self-secure men that are completely in love with each other, that trust each other to the maximum level, and here we are. But the scene was very intense and painful. Excruciating. It was a long day.

How much do you feel like homophobia was a part of that?
Ignorance! Oh my god, every question was so ignorant coming from this guy. And I’m like, “What are you talking about? He’s my boyfriend, my partner.” But even for me, in the ’90s, it was difficult to say the word “boyfriend.” I wish I could have said “my husband” back then, in order for people to understand. But before that interrogation, it’s still confusing, even now, if you have a boyfriend that brings escorts to you for you to have intimacy with. But that is the reality for many men and women, and I cannot say only in the gay world. There are many relationships that are open.

What’s your relationship like with Penélope Cruz? Because you have an adversarial relationship in the show, but I assume that’s not how it is in real life.
First of all, we’ve worked together many, many, many times, philanthropically. We’ve done fundraisers together. We were sponsors of a very beautiful orphanage in Calcutta, so we did fundraising galas, and we’ve known each other for a long time. It’s funny because as I am shooting the scene of the investigation, I hadn’t seen Penélope. She walks onto set already dressed up as Donatella, and of course, I am drained and I’m tired and it’s been hours of this excruciating interrogation, and all of a sudden she walks in and I just go like [Martin holds his hand out]. I want to hold you, but I want to hold my friend. But I go like that [holds his hand out again] and Ryan goes, “Great idea! We need this for the shot, so stay there, and you cannot hug him. You hate him.” She came back to me and goes, “Rick, I saw you devastated. Your eyes were swollen. I needed to give you a hug.” And I’m like, “And you didn’t.” “But I wasn’t allowed to!” “You didn’t.” “I wasn’t allowed! It was better for the acting.” I’m glad we didn’t hug because all that made even more of [an] impact for the series.

You used the actual emotion that you felt. 
I wanted to hug you. I really wanted to. But Antonio, after being interrogated for nine hours, he’s filled with blood. The first person that he sees that he knows is her, and even though they don’t have a good relationship, he’s like, “Hug me, I need someone to hug me.” And it took it to the next level. And Penélope is amazing. I was very honored to work with her.

The scene where Gianni decides to come out to the interviewer and then he brings you with him was really emotional for me.
And for me. You have no idea.

What was it like to shoot it?
Well, you know, for many years I lived in the closet, and you will never know how easy it is to be out of the closet until you actually decide to come out of the closet. If I knew how easy everything was going to be afterward, I would have done it way before. So, I went to that moment and I went to the relationship, where I held my partners pretty much prisoners of my closet, so as an actor it was very easy for me to get somewhere emotionally. And I felt a joy, and I felt the love come from my partner. Honestly, I went to my real life where I was hiding them, and then the other side of the coin, my partner is exposing our truth, our reality, and it felt amazing and I cried. But it was joyful, and when I held Edgar — Gianni’s — hand, I wanted to kiss him, and we did. He was nervous. It’s one of the most beautiful scenes, I think.

It’s so joyful and empowering too.
And at the end of the day, I had no idea that he was going to bring me in, it just happened. I was like, “What’s going on here? Is this really happening? Oh my God!”

Because it’s not just “I’m a gay man,” but “This is the man who’s been with me for so long.”
It’s the love, and he needs to be recognized, acknowledged.

Gianni Versace has a line where he says, “Is the brand of Versace braver than the man?” when Donatella didn’t want him to come out. And I wondered if you wrestled with that question yourself in your life?
Yes. Everybody, people that I love, people that were really close to me told me, “You come out, this will be the end of your career.” You know, “Girls won’t buy your albums, they won’t buy your T-shirts, they won’t buy your concert tickets,” and that kept me from coming out many years. Because you work so hard to get to a place in the entertainment business and then they tell you if you talk about your nature everything’s gonna collapse. So you say, “Okay, no. Okay, let’s just not talk about it then.” But then there’s this emptiness; it doesn’t matter what you created. Living with this emptiness, it’s not how I want to live. And then one day you find the strength, you don’t know from where, and you just do it for yourself, you do it for your kids, and then with social media you realize the power and how important it is for us in the LGBTQ community to normalize families like mine, and then it wouldn’t be an issue. I mean, Harvey Milk said it many years ago, “Guys, you need to come out, ’cause then it’s normal.”

But I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a megacelebrity whose brand relied on sex appeal.
Yeah, you know, back then, Donatella or someone would say, “The board of directors advises not to …” and to me, it was “The record company advises not to,” which was BS. Doesn’t matter. What’s important is what you need to do to become a better person, and with this — I go back to this scene — and how important it was to present this moment where you see this amazing fashion icon, a monster, strong, being vulnerable and afraid of sharing something as beautiful as your nature. You know, that scene where he holds me in the hallway before he walks into the room, that he gives me a kiss? He was trembling. And we all go through it at a certain point.

Did you ever meet Versace?
I never met Versace. I was invited to the house a hundred times to different events. I never met Donatella. I never met him personally. At the time I had a campaign with Giorgio Armani, so everything was Armani and Giorgio Armani outfitted two of my tours, but I was invited to the villa and I never went. So I used the fact that it’s my first time in this villa and it felt amazing.

Did you date back in the 90s, early 2000s?
I was working like crazy in the ’90s. I had girlfriends, I had boyfriends, I had dog friends, I had cat friends. But my career never sabotaged my intimate life.

It didn’t?
It didn’t, it didn’t. Now, I think I could have lived more intensely and I could have had more experiences that the closet kept me from.

Did you have a partner?
No. I had my girlfriend, who was a woman that I dated on and off for nine years, and she’s like the Gala for Dalí. Dalí had Gala. And I had this woman who was amazing. Unfortunately, we don’t talk anymore, but she was amazing, and she was powerful and she knew about me. She knew I was gay, but we were together.

She knew?
Yeah, she knew. She knew and we were together. It was one of those things, but we broke up around ’97, ’98, and then I just worked. I worked so hard. I dated, but nothing as serious, as formal as Antonio and Gianni.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Ricky Martin on ACS: Versace and Coming Out