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Gina Gershon smoked too much while playing Donatella Versace

Gina Gershon, star of the Lifetime movie "House of Versace," talks about playing Donatella Versace and the only thing that pisses her off about "Showgirls."

Gina Gershon portrays fashion diva Donatella Versace in "House of Versace." Credit: Getty Images Gina Gershon portrays fashion diva Donatella Versace in "House of Versace."
Credit: Getty Images

No one will ever call Gina Gershon not fearless. In the ‘90s, she threw herself at “Showgirls,” then followed that up with the lesbian neo-noir “Bound.” Last year she performed an unprintable NC-17 act on a chicken wing in “Killer Joe.”

Playing Donatella Versace in the Lifetime movie “House of Versace” — which premieres this weekend — isn’t on par with any of those. But she dives into the part with appropriate relish, nailing the fashion icon’s walk and outsized charisma.

Some people say you were doing a Donatella Versace impersonation when you were Fabia, the porn star, on “Ugly Betty.”
Everyone assumes she was Donatella, but if you look closely you realize she has nothing to do with her. This is the first time I’ve ever played her.

What was it like playing her seriously, then?
She’s a remarkable woman. I think we all are familiar with her larger-than-life personality and her extravagance and her parties. But when I read the book and learned about her redemption story, I thought she was pretty fascinating. I would have wanted to play this character whether it was Donatella or not.

You’ve never met her. How did you prepare?
Luckily there’s a lot of video on her, and documentaries where she’s getting ready to do a show. There’s this one French documentary that I watched obsessively. Any interviews I could read or anything online — anything where I could watch and see her talk and walk. It’s all about finding her walk and the way she wears clothes — super high heels, tight skirts, long hair and cigarettes. She has a lot of physicality going on. Her physicality is quite different from mine.

How was doing her accent?
She has a very specific accent. It’s very deep and it’s very slurry. She has that lazy southern Italian accent. I had to clean it up a little bit for television. Weirdly enough, they want you to be understood on television. But if you’re really doing the accent, it should be in subtitles, because half the time you can’t understand what she’s saying.

What’s different about doing a TV movie versus a theatrical film?
Time and money. If you’re making a real movie, you have a lot more time and you usually have a lot more money. Although these days, who knows? A TV movie, especially Lifetime, makes them quickly. I found out about it and the next thing I knew we were shooting and next thing I knew it was coming out. To do Donatella’s life properly, you need a miniseires. There’s too much material there. You wind up doing one intense scene after another. In a movie you do two or three scenes, if you’re lucky, in a day. On a TV set you’re doing seven of those scenes a day. It was intense.

How were the dresses?
Tight! [Laughs] It was right before summer. I had to do my little Donatella diet. I needed to lose a couple pounds anyway. I had to lose 10 or 11 pounds. It was perfect — right in time for bikini season, so I thank her for that. I was a little mad she smokes as much as she does, because that kind of killed me after awhile.

You weren’t smoking real cigarettes, were you?
I was. The fake ones hurt my chest more than the real ones do. There’s something in them that my system doesn’t agree with. So I just smoked. It’s not like I can’t smoke. I’m one of those annoying smokers who smokes if I’m drinking. But if you’re playing someone who’s smoking, you end up smoking a couple packs a day. That wasn’t the most pleasant thing. I respect her and like her, but I hope she stops smoking as much as she does.

Raquel Welch is in this, too. When she was younger she was notorious for being difficult on sets.
I love Raquel. She was the best. And you know what, she knows her lighting. She knows all that stuff. She comes to set and she’s ready to go. She’s a real professional. I dig her. I couldn’t have been happier that she was there.

We have to ask a "Showgirls" question. What do you think of it now?
There are people who think it’s the best movie ever made. Great. I’m glad they like it. [Laughs] I can’t tell how many people go up to me and say, "Oh my god, I love this movie so much!" [Paul] Verhoeven’s a really good filmmaker. That movie, I think, was overshadowed by the NC-17. That movie should have been an R. Then it wouldn’t have gotten as much crazy press. Whatever. I didn’t direct it. I was in it.

It's strange, the cult that's grown around it. Some people, like legendary French filmmaker Jacques Rivette, think it's a genuine masterpiece. But then there's this camp side, with box sets that have tassels and shot glasses.
Listen, the only thing that pisses me off about that movie is they never sent me a game. [Laughs] I don’t know where my loyalties are. That’s where I get annoyed. How come never sent me the Cristal Connors game? My only bitterness about that is I never got a doll.

 
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