Max Greenfield made his The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story debut in a blink and you’ll miss it scene in the premiere, but come episode two, airing Wednesday, Jan. 24 on FX, viewers will learn a lot more about Greenfield’s character Ronnie.
Ronnie, a real person featured in Maureen Orth‘s book Vulgar Favors, the show’s source material, is an HIV-positive man Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) meets in Miami after he has already killed four people. Ronnie’s a very different character than viewers are used to seeing the Emmy-nominated New Girl star in, from type of person right down to looks.
Greenfield said he’s on board with the dramatic transformations.
“I quite love it. What’s wonderful about working with [Ryan Murphy] is all of his department heads are incredible. You have wardrobe, hair and makeup and it sort of seems like we all work together under Ryan’s direction and by the time we end up on set, the acting part is the only thing left to do, and so much easier because we’ve created this external character in such a specific way. You’re like, ‘Oh, I know this guy,'” Greenfield said with a laugh. “It feels very collaborative that way, and to me it’s my favorite way to work.”
Read on to hear more from Greenfield about his Versace experience, including thoughts on the war of words between FX, Random House and the Versace family.
What kind of research did you do to get into character for Ronnie?
One of the wonderful things about Ryan is he’ll talk to you about a character and he speaks about characters in such depth, that when you go to do your own sort of work on it you have so much important information to go on, and you know sort of exactly where you then want to go. I think for Ronnie, my focus was the time period, which was 1997. It was a year or two years out from when they had figured out what the correct medication was for patients with HIV, and it left this group of people who were now living with HIV, where they had once thought—and accepted—that they were going to die. And having that feeling be so fresh for so many of these people who are now living with this disease—trying to listen to the people who experienced that was really what I tried to focus on.
Had you read Maureen Orth’s book or did you after you got the part?
I read it later.
I assume that could cloud any kind of character stuff you were doing.
Yeah, I mean I knew I was playing a real person. I knew that physically we don’t really resemble one another, I just thought that what I had read on the page in terms of the scripts, was so—what I felt like was meaningful, was all really there. And I wanted Ronnie’s story to really add to the overall themes of the show, rather than try to focus on playing a real person.
Did this role require you to go to dark places? You were saying this was a time before there was this treatment. Did playing Ronnie affect you in anyway?
I mean, it certainly was a learning experience. [Pauses.] Yeah, there was such a sadness to this guy. You listen to people who still to this day are living with HIV, who had it at the time, and 20 years later some of them still talk about this idea that it’s still hard for them when they wake up to think that they’re not dying, that they might have another day. They lost so, so many people, and why are they still here? You know what I mean? It was a gut-wrenching, overwhelming time.
Had you followed Andrew’s case in real life when it was happening? Do you remember the story?
No, I was 17 when it happened. I was a senior in high school, I didn’t live in Miami. I remember hearing about it, and had no clue that there were multiple murders, that there was a whole backstory to it, but yeah, I didn’t know anything more than the headlines.
What do you make about the Versace family going back and forth with FX and Random House about the authenticity of the show?
I have not followed it. You know, look, it’s a really sensitive subject. It’s an odd thing. I found that doing press for this show has been very different from most of the press I’ve ever done for anything because there are real victims of this story, and the way that Ryan has chosen to show it—there aren’t a lot of fun elements to this. This is a very harsh look for many different perspectives on homophobia and issues that make a lot of people really uncomfortable. I think the hope is that you can watch it, it’s in your face, it is, I think, extraordinarily thought-provoking and I think—I hope—that it brings up a discussion that makes some these issues less uncomfortable for people and opens up a dialogue. But it is hard to talk about it…You get asked, like, ‘Did you wish that you had any scenes with Penélope Cruz?’ And you’re like, ‘No!’ I’m doing my job,’ and I was just, like, trying to honor this story and honor the way Ryan wanted to tell it.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story airs Wednesdays, 10 p.m. on FX.