It was announced this week that actor Darren Criss will be appearing in the third season of anthology series, AMERICAN CRIME STORY. Set for release in 2018, Criss will be playing Andrew Cunanan; a notorious serial killer who killed five people – including fashion designer Gianni Versace – before taking his own life in 1997. This project will also reunite Criss with Ryan Murphy; executive producer of the show and co-creator of the previous show Criss appeared on, GLEE.
Several thoughts come to mind when I think of this project. The Asian Oscar Bait podcast previously did an episode on Cunanan, who was part Filipino. While pitching his life story as a potential biopic, co-hosts Matthew Eng and Melissa Powers did note how they were (understandably) uneasy about the possibility of a white actor playing him in AMERICAN CRIME STORY. How fortunate it is that a part Filipino actor be cast to play a part Filipino character.
That is meaningful to see, especially given the actor who has been cast to play Cunanan. Criss, who is Filipino through his mom, has played a wide variety of roles both for stage and screen; such as Harry Potter in A VERY POTTER MUSICAL, Blaine Anderson in GLEE, and Hedwig in HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH. This will be his first role where he’ll actually be playing someone who is part Asian like him.
I am, however, hesitant as to how the show will approach exploring that aspect about Cunanan, especially with Murphy guiding the way. While I’m optimistic about the portrayal of Cunanan’s sexuality to be on point, Murphy doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to Asian characters. Apart from not making Criss’s character on GLEE mixed race Asian (which I saw to be a missed opportunity), the characters portrayed by co-stars Harry Shum Jr. and Jenna Ushkowitz declined in quality over the course of the series.
But with the fact that Criss and Murphy have a history of working together, I hope that collaboration between the two and the rest of the showrunners will ensure portraying the complexity of the character that was Cunanan. We’ll have to see as the season enters production, but so far, they’ve made a smart move by not casting a white guy for a character who is part Filipino.