Gina Gershon as Donatella Versace in House of Versace.
Portraying a real-life person on screen—especially when that person is still living—can be daunting. In House of Versace, a new Lifetime Original Movie, Gina Gershon gives a fearless performance as one of the fashion world's most talked-about icons, Donatella Versace. Based on Deborah Ball’s book, House of Versace: The Untold Story of Genius, Murder, and Survival, the inspiring film retraces Donatella's life—from the death of her brother to her battle with drug addiction to her transformation of the Versace brand. Also starring Enrico Colantoni (as Gianni Versace) and the incomparable Raquel Welch, the film premieres October 5. Here, Gershon talks about the challenges of the role and what she learned from the experience.
What first appealed to you about the project?
GINA GERSHON: When I read the script I found it to be a really interesting family drama, a real redemption story of a woman who is under the shadow of her brother, who's this genius, gets thrown into this world through a tragedy, and has a downward spiral from all the pressure . . . [She then] gets herself together and finds her own voice to become what she is today—thriving and doing great. I found her journey really appealing and and interesting.
Playing a real-life person must be different than playing a fictional character.
GG: You have a responsibility to anyone who you're playing if they're a real person. It's more difficult to play someone everyone thinks they know . . . People know the way Donatella looks, the way she walks, the way she talks . . . I guess the trick is to make her look the way we know she looks and walks and talks, but then bring the humanity in of who she really is.
How did you prepare for the role?
GG: I didn't have that much time. I watched a lot of her videos, read all of her interviews, and listened to her voice a lot. We have a lot of mutual friends, although we've never met . . . I have so much respect and admiration for her.
How do you see Donatella as different or similar to yourself?
GG: Well, I feel like we're very different in a lot of ways, and there are certain ways where I really understood her and there are similarities. I think she's a real perfectionist, very detail-oriented, I think she's ultimately a party girl and likes to have fun. She has a good party spirit. All of her friends say, 'Oh, she's so funny and she's so generous and fun-loving.'
What did you learn from the experience?
GG: [People] get obsessed with the way she looks and how she's been transformed and they're like, 'Oh, how did you transform?' Making your face and your body, that's the easy part. As an actor, you're just putting on makeup and wigs, changing your look, changing your walk. That's part of the fun, especially if you're a character actor. The thing I hope viewers come away with is not so much her extravagance or the way she looks, but really, what she has achieved and who she is, because it's really impressive. In general, we focus so much on looks, age, and the way people dress and and all these things, and I think we need to focus more on what people actually do in their lives.