Tim Stack
June 23, 2017 AT 10:30 AM EDT

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Ryan Murphy was adamant that Darren Criss — best known for his five seasons on Murphy’s Glee as sweet, bow-tied Blaine — play the Andrew Cunanan, the twisted serial killer in The Assassination of Gianni Versace. A Talented Mr. Ripley-type character, Cunanan charmed his way into wealthy circles before his violent break; he’s far from a one-note monster.

It’s unquestionably the biggest and most challenging role of Criss’ career so far. “Actors are only as good as the parts they get. You can only be as good as those moments you get,” Criss says. “This is one of those ship-coming-in moments where Ryan has really given me this massive opportunity, and I’d like to think I am up for the challenge. There’s zero anxiety.”

It’s a definite about-face from the squeaky clean Blaine, but Criss says he treats all roles with equal intensity. “I don’t like quantifying one [role is] harder or easier or funner or more significant than other characters,” says the 30-year-old. “Blaine, by comparison, could be put into a cartoonish box. The very patter of Glee exists in a different world than the one we’re dealing with. But all the same, I treat that silly hairdo and the clothes he wore and the way that he spoke and the things he believed in with the same currency that I treat someone like Andrew, who was a real person and had real friends and family.”

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To sell his creative team on his vision, Murphy sent Smith and executive producer Brad Simpson to see Criss in the touring production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. “Once every night he jumps into somebody’s lap and makes out with them,” says Simpson. “In the middle of the show, he jumps in the audience and rips my glasses off and makes out with me. It was very charming and a very Cunanan thing to do, to be a little devilish. Cunanan charmed people and then turned them off. We’re talking about a serial killer people liked.” Criss jokes: “I casting-couched the s— outta that! In my defense, I didn’t know it was Brad Simpson. I’m glad I didn’t know.”

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