The third episode of FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story focused on the brutal murder of Chicago businessman Lee Miglin (Mike Farrell) by Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss). But it also told the story of Miglin’s marriage to his wife, Marilyn, played by Judith Light in a bravura performance.
Almost unrecognizable, Light is haunting as a woman who tries to hold in all her emotions until finally she cracks. EW talked to the actress about the performance and what she hopes the world can learn from this story.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get involved in this?
JUDITH LIGHT: I have wanted to work with Ryan [Murphy] forever. I just think he’s really extraordinary. This literally came out of the blue through a friend of mine who is a brilliant writer who’s working with Ryan. He said, “There is this part and I think you would be amazing in it.” And it was my friend Jon Robin Baitz who wrote Other Desert Cities and because of him and Joe Mantello, I got the Tony! [Baitz is working with Murphy on the second season of Feud] So when Robby wrote to me, he said the script Tom Robb Smith wrote is amazing and it’s Ryan and they’re such incredible people and I want you to know them and I want you to work with them. I come from reparatory theater and so when people have their rep companies wherever they are, their teams that work together beautifully, to do the kind of work that Ryan has done, you wanna get an opportunity to work with them.
It was crazy because it was last minute and I had to change my entire schedule around. They were so incredible with me. I said to them, “Look, I have to give a speech at the opening of the AIDS conference in Washington D.C. as part of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.” They all said, “Got it. Go do it, girl, and just fly to us after that.” They were really extraordinary in making this all work. My agents said, “You HAVE to make this work!” I had all these people supporting me to have this come to fruition and I’m so excited. It was a most special experience.
Were you aware of the Miglins and this part of the story?
No! No! No! I knew the story about Gianni Versace because I’ve been an advocate for the LGBTQ community for so long. I knew the Gianni Versace part of the story and I knew about Andrew Cunanan. My parents lived in Ft. Lauderdale so I knew about all of that and I knew about the level of homophobia and the discounting of the gay community particularly at the height of the AIDS pandemic. I knew all about that but I didn’t know in detail what had preceded this killing spree and this rampage and then really didn’t know about it till I read this script and I read the book.
So you read Maureen Orth’s Vulgar Favors. What other research did you do?
Yeah. You look at that script and it’s the map and it’s the landscape. I didn’t need to be searching for anything else. It was all given to me.
Did you ever consider reaching out to Marilyn Miglin? Or did they discourage you?
No. First of all, nobody said anything to me. I don’t think it works to reach out. They gave me all the help and all the information I needed. I work on a character from an artistic perspective and from a psychological perspective and that’s how I work. I don’t need to know everything that goes on. Also, this is a very sensitive subject. I think it’s right to be careful in the way you relate to people and deferential.
What do you think of this marriage? Was it a marriage of friendship?
I literally have no idea. We also don’t know what is needed from somebody, in our personal needs when we get together with someone. You know how you look at some people and you go, “What are you doing together?” You would never do that with Lee and Marilyn. You don’t know what draws people together. We have no idea. I will tell you, particularly now in light of everything that’s happening in relation to women in business and around the world, this powerful woman with a real business head and sense had the support of someone who loved her and honored her and supported her. That I think is such an important topic when we’re relating to this relationship. Look at what she had and look at other women around her who had not had that and particularly at that time. This is huge! So you have to honor him and have to honor her for seeing what they had. The other stuff is private and intimate and who knows? We have no idea.
How was it working with Mike Farrell?
I loved him. You talk about somebody who was an artist and he was so kind and so gentle. He loves to do the work and we were connecting on all these different levels. I had such honor for him and such respect for him for so long. I think he’s remarkable. I just adored working with him. We would just have these little things. There’s one part of the episode where I’m honoring him, speaking about him. It was all truthfully as Judith about Mike as it was I think about Marilyn in relation to Lee — who he is as a person is just extraordinary and so kind and so gracious. So we would just do these little improvs with each other before I went out and to do the speech so we were connected in that kind of way. It was very special with him. And we practiced ballroom dancing together and that was great!
That final moment where you remove your make-up and finally crack is so emotional. What was that like to shoot?
There are all kinds of adjectives you can give to all of that stuff. It was challenging. I was concerned. It was interesting because when we shot it, I had been nominated for an Emmy and I think I had flown back and the next day I had that scene on that next morning. Lemme put it this way: To a person, there was this outpouring of support and generosity and Gwyneth Horder-Payton, who was the director, was taking me through all of it and all the steps and how we did the pieces of it. She allowed for me to figure out where I was going to be emotionally and how I was needed to move throughout the scene. It was just this kind of generous dance of everyone doing their work to support everyone else’s work. That’s all I can tell you. It took a long time to do it and we did it over and over and over again. There was a lot of dialogue that had to be memorized and that was a lot to deal with. But, as you can see, it’s written so beautifully. It was there and by the end of the time every one of us felt incredibly satisfied with what we had done and how we had worked together.
What do you want people to take away from this episode and this story?
I hope for what Ryan hopes for which is to make sure that we are facing the cultural devastations of what happened in a world where homophobia is still rampant. We have not handled that issue within ourselves or our culture or in the stories we are telling and that’s why we have to tell these stories. The LGBTQ community is a most extraordinary, powerful, dynamic community that has been shoved aside. Whenever you make anybody “the other” in order to make yourself feel more secure in any way shape or form, that you shove people back into a closet because you don’t feel comfortable, that is a top note and so important to talk about in the viewing of this. This didn’t have to happen. If the world were a different place, a safer place, a kinder place, a place where people could get help and talk out their issues and their problems and I don’t mean to make it sound simplistic but I really do believe that if we related to each other that we are one human family and we understand what it feels like to feel and be empathetic to other situations these things would not have to be happening.