Once Donatella Versace had given her blessing for Penelope Cruz to play her in Ryan Murphy’s latest American Crime Story, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, the actress had the not inconsiderable task of doing a fashion and cultural icon justice. But as she explains, in drama, just as in health and beauty, sometimes less really is more.
What was your initial feeling when Ryan asked you to play Donatella?
Penelope Cruz : I had an inner conflict and was a little scared. I thought maybe about saying no, but then I am a big admirer of Ryan’s work. When he called me, I wanted to say yes but it was a difficult choice, one of the most difficult I have made in my career because I knew what a great undertaking this was, and how sensitive and raw these events still are for the family.
I knew Ryan would insist on total respect and wouldtread very carefully, but there was still so much to consider, but speaking with Donatella really confirmed that it was the right thing to do.
Are you friends?
Penelope Cruz: I don’t have a close relationship with Donatella but we have worked together and known each other for many years and I have nothing but utmost respect for who she is and for the Versace family.
Were you nervous to approach her about it?
Penelope Cruz : I was not nervous. Maybe I should have been but we knew each other and she knew of the plans to make this project about her family. Ultimately, she was very generous with her stories about her life and experiences, and that made it simple for me. We opened up to each other, it was a beautiful, emotional conversation and I was so very blessed to have that audience with her.
Is it more difficult playing someone when you know them?
Penelope Cruz : Yes I think so. Playing someone who is real and alive is a huge responsibility, but playing someone who you’ve met is very intimidating.
You’ve worn their designs on the red carpet, so you’re obviously a fan?
Penelope Cruz : Of course, I adore their designs. They are timeless, and every time I have worn them, I feel transported and so regal. They are pieces of art, beautiful creations.
Have you learned anything new from the world of fashion having ‘lived’ one of the characters?
Penelope Cruz : The really interesting thing for me was to see that with fashion, health and beauty, sometimes the more subtle approach produces the better approach. We have so much come at us from various different places these days – social media, television, magazines – and so many messages being fired at us; but really the most beautiful clothes are the simplest, and the most beautiful thing about a person is that person beneath the make-up.
Have you changed your approach as the years have gone by?
Penelope Cruz : Yes, I have. Nowadays I am much more about how health and nutrition keep us looking good. You have to build from the inside and I’m a firm believer in that. And it’s the simple things, at times, like drinking water and not smoking – the effects can be quick and impressive.
That’s not to say make-up can’t still transform you, physically and mentally. That’s really important – feeling good from the inside is vital and only one person can do that.
After nearly 30 years in the business, how do you look at your career then and now?
Penelope Cruz : I feel very lucky to be in a place in my career where I am still given wonderful opportunities work with talented directors and actors, I feel very blessed. And I think the more work I do, the more interesting opportunities I’m getting which is wonderful. I have to pinch myself sometimes and I promise myself to never take it for granted.
Watch Penelope playing Donatella in American Crime Story Season 2: The Assassination of Gianni Versace below.
Did you enjoy this? Here’s what Helena Christensen told us about traditionally beautiful people being ugly on the inside. This is what Julia Roberts had to say about turning 50 recently and Julianne Moore isn’t worried about ageing – find out why.
Lede image: Photo by Matt Sayles/AP/REX/Shutterstock