Veteran Hollywood actress Gina Gershon—famous for her roles in Showgirls and Face/Off—doesn’t have omnipresent bodyguards or handlers or an assistant tagging along. She rides solo—flying under-the-radar, totally incognito.
This morning, for instance, the 51-year old actress went casual in a shirt and overalls, wearing her raven hair a little messy under a grey, slouchy beanie. She’s makeup-less, but her skin is fresh and dewy behind a pair of oversized sunglasses.
“I’m off to the woods upstate right after this,” she said, explaining her “grounded” look for the day.
But there’s something about Gershon that commands the room. It might be her undeniable self-confidence or charisma. It could also be that she’s tall with an insanely toned bod. As subdued as her look may be today, she’s proven that she’s a master of transformation as evidenced by her upcoming portrayal of Donatella Versace in the TV movie, House of Versace.
The movie, based off of the novel by Deborah Ball, chronicles the family drama, the rise, fall, and, well, rise of the Versace brand, and Donatella’s role in the company after Gianni’s murder. (Although Donatella and the company aren’t so into the movie.)
While noshing on oatmeal, we chatted about her chain smoking on set, the thought of Donatella actually watching the movie, and how her friend and designer Pamela Skaist-Levy was the reason why she decided to take on the role.
Fashionista: The film is obviously a roller coaster of emotions. Tell me about how you went through it all.
Gina Gershon: You just have to go through them one scene at a time. It’s pretty intense what she went through. It’s a redemption story, it’s great. You know when you have to be low in some scenes. I have so much respect for her [Donatella Versace] as she was put in a very difficult situation when a person you love so much drops dead. And she’s also running this company that she’s never done before. Her style is a little different from his [Gianni's]. They come from the same DNA but she comes out on top. Especially when you’re under the shadow of a strong vision—Gianni was a genius—and then putting in your own spin.
There also must be pressure playing someone who’s actually alive.
I’ve played a couple of people who have been alive and I met with them and it was either their story or about them. There’s a danger to it, you’re playing these people and then you’re like, you want to start protecting them subconsciously. I’ve never met Donatella, surprisingly, we have a lot of friends in common. This is based on a book, House of Versace, which in the end of it, it’s a family drama. There’s a lot of things in her life that she’s open about but I’m sure it’s still a very strange thing. Without meeting her this is my impression of what I read, talked to and videos, watching her and getting all of her down. Hopefully she doesn’t watch this and is like, “That is so not me! hate it.” I really tried to give her as much dignity and respect as I could.
Did you want Donatella Versace to like this character?
I can’t imagine being completely objective if she even watches it. Listen, I would love it if she called and was like, “I watched the movie and it was fantastic.” I would love for her to like it. It’s a Lifetime movie. I’m sure she would have liked a million-dollar movie directed by Scorsese for her life story, and look, so would I. Is it going to capture the family drama, the models, the clothes perfectly? You know, it’s the TV version of it. I’m not saying anything bad about it, but it is what it is. It’d be great to have Naomi [Campbell], Christy [Turlington], and all of those girls. But it’s not about that, it’s about family. They’re a strong, strong, South Italian family. Everything we’ve seen has been caricatures.
What do you think about the SNL parody of her?
I’ve seen Maya [Rudolph] do her impression, but I really didn’t want to base it off of that. There are so many videos out there, so I really studied her. But there are none of when she was younger, she was very shy, you know? You see her hiding behind Gianni on the catwalk. It’s really kind of sweet.
When you were trying to get down her quirks and speech, what was the process like?
You have her speaking I can hear it. You feel a responsibility to go for her voice. If I had it my way I’d have subtitles so you don’t understand what she’s saying at all. She mumbles a lot which is really charming and funny and, of course, on TV, they’re like “No, we have to understand you.” I’m like can’t we have subtitles? They definitely didn’t go for that. I tried. You just listen to it. I had to smoke so many cigarettes to get to it to get my voice so low. I’m on the set, almost every set I was smoking. I ended up smoking real cigarettes because the fake ones hurt my lungs. They’re herbal-y and oily; I couldn’t stand the taste of it.
So how many cigarettes did you smoke in a day?
I’m one of those annoying smokers. If I have a break I’ll get sick. When I write I’ll roll my own. If you’re a real smoker, you’ll roll your own because all the bad stuff like the ammonia is in the filter.
When did you get the script?
It was a couple months ago. I didn’t find out about it maybe before three weeks beforehand. Three weeks to try to lose 10 pounds. My first reaction was like, there’s no way I’m doing this. I can’t touch this. Because someone like Donatella are going to be very opinionated. Everyone’s going to have an opinion. People are going to say this isn’t gonna work, that isn’t going to work. Pamela Skaist-Levy from Skaist Taylor I remember telling her. I was like, “I’m not going to do this.” She was like, “no, no, no this is genius, you have to do it!” So really I did it because Pam told me to.
Talk to me about the fashion on set, the costumes, was it actually Versace?
The Versace people were not being very helpful. I found a couple of really good vintage pieces myself. The Gianni stuff. And then the costume designer you know, tried, to emulate some things. The reason why it’s Versace is because of the insane cut. I was like, no, well, this shouldn’t have a corset, or this or that. I was like, don’t shoot this dress too long. That was me being the protective person coming out. Like, Gianni would turn in his grave if he saw these. It wasn’t oddly about the clothes.
Tell me about your own fashion sense.
I tend to wear a lot of people I know. Tom Ford is someone I’ve loved forever and he’s a friend. I wear Skaist Taylor because I love Pam we’ve been friends forever. If I like the people and hang out with them I want to wear them.
So is it also going back and forth with your stylist?
I never use a stylist. I’ve used one once and it was such a waste of time and money. It was for a premiere. She came back with all of these cookie-cutter actress outfits and I felt like she just did not get it. You pay them so much money and I was looking at all of the clothes and I was like I will not wear any of this stuff. It ended up being a very expensive assistant.
Are you sick of being known for Showgirls?
Not sick of it but it’s been shot how many years ago? You know I’m glad that it affected people in a way, I just don’t know what else I can say about it. It’s been lifetimes ago. It was the first big movie that I was in and it opened the door for many other things.
That movie plays on television all the time, do you catch yourself watching it?
I actually watched it the other day and I hate watching it. I want to go in and fix things like, the accent was so off. The director wouldn’t let me use an accent but I was like, she’s from the south, Texas, she has an accent. He didn’t let me use an accent and some parts I was like, look, the accent was off, can we do this again? He was like no, we’re moving on to the next thing. When I watch myself I just wanna change things. With House of Versace, I’m sure I’ll be like, ugh, I want to change this or that.