Gina Gershon Goes Donatella for House of Versace
by Michael Logan
This is so not the Maya Rudolph version. Gina Gershon plays uberdiva fashionista Donatella Versace in Lifetime’s House of Versace (Saturday, Oct. 5, 8/7c), a bio-flick packed with high fashion and epic tragedy. The film kicks off in 1996 in Milan with Donatella serving as creative muse to her brother, superstar designer Gianni Versace (Enrico Colantoni). When Gianni is slain by a serial killer, Donatella is forced to take his place as head couturier to keep the company afloat. All that grief and pressure soon has her strung out on booze and cocaine, and profits slide 60 percent. Cue the family intervention and a forced stint in rehab. TV Guide Magazine spoke with Gershon about the challenge of playing Donatella minus the Saturday Night Live shtick.
TV Guide Magazine: What was your first thought when you were asked to play this lady?
Gina Gershon: My gut reaction was, “Are you kidding? I’ll get killed for doing this!” because she’s such an iconic personality. My friends didn’t help. Some said, “Oh, my God, you can’t do that role!” But others were going, “Gina, you absolutely must!”
TV Guide Magazine: What turned it for you?
Gershon: It was the script that really got me. This is no Saturday Night Live takeoff or two hours of Donatella just being fabulous and flamboyant and whooping it up, though there’s certainly some of that, too. It’s the story people don’t know.
TV Guide Magazine: And so damn dramatic. Between her brother’s murder, the 48-hour coke binges, her husband dumping her and the near collapse of the company, this gal goes through hell!
Gershon: It was scary! This is the first part in a long time that actually made me very nervous. I wasn’t sure I could get into her. I didn’t want to do a caricature. It’s a huge responsibility to do this right. This is certainly no comedy, though I think that’s what people will be expecting. It’s a compelling family drama, thus the title House of Versace. Donatella’s life goes from tragedy to redemption, and I didn’t know any of that! I came out of this with so much respect for her. It wasn’t easy living in the shadow of her brother, Gianni, a true genius, and trying to find her own voice. She was considered his muse, but that’s a bit demeaning to chalk her up as only that. She was — and is — so much more. The fallout on her family, especially her children, is what really interested me. I really understood why she spun out of control.
TV Guide Magazine: Weren’t you spoofing Donatella when you played Fabia on Ugly Betty?
Gershon: The writers might have based that character on Donatella but I wasn’t doing her. Well, it may have been a mish-mash but I was mostly basing my performance on that Italian porn star…oh, what was her name? You know the one — she got into politics and became a member of the Italian parliament. Chichen Itza or something like that?
TV Guide Magazine: Raquel Welch plays Donatella’s Aunt Lucia and the resemblance between you two is wild!
Gershon: I’ve gotten that all my life! Growing up, people would always ask if we were related. They’d say, “You look just like her!” And I’d be, like, “God, I wish!” I was so excited when I found out Raquel was going to play the aunt. When we met it felt instantly like family. I really adore her. And how gorgeous is she in this movie? Stunning!
TV Guide Magazine: The whole movie looks amazing. Definitely a huge step up from the usual Lifetime flicks.
Gershon: Before I signed on, I needed to know this would be big with the production values. “Who’s doing the sets? Who’s doing the costuming? The makeup? The wigs?” I was all over that! And I was very pleasantly surprised by the team they had lined up. They really went big. You must. You can’t do Versace on the cheap!