November 29, 2018 at 12:00 PM EST

This was the year Darren Criss went from a teenage dream to an American psycho.

The 31-year-old actor first bounced and snapped his way into our hearts in Glee’s second season as out gay high schooler (and hair-pomade enthusiast) Blaine Anderson, who memorably covered Katy Perry’s ode to young love. Blaine and boyfriend Kurt (Chris Colfer) quickly became pop culture icons to the LGBTQ community.

“The greatest thing about playing Blaine is the fact that this character is so much bigger than myself,” Criss told EW back in 2010 shortly after his debut on the Fox phenom. “What he can stand for and bring to so many people is so much more significant and powerful than me just finally having a steady job.”

Ruven Afanador for EW

Andrew Cunanan, whom Criss played on FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, exists on the opposite, darker end of the spectrum. While Blaine was fully comfortable being his true self, Cunanan, who in 1997 murdered five people including designer Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramírez), struggled intensely with his own identity and image. Criss gave a transfixing performance, capturing the serial killer’s seductive charisma and calculated cruelty.

“I think my main interest playing someone like Andrew is, as much as we like to distance ourselves from people we put in the ‘horrific’ box, we have so much in common with these people,” says Criss.

Ruven Afanador for EW

Glee co-creator and Versace executive producer Ryan Murphy fought for Criss to play Cunanan.

“I thought there was a great dramatic actor inside there waiting to come out,” Murphy told EW in March. “He took his responsibilities very seriously, and the best thing I can ever do, having the gig I have, is believing in people and giving them opportunities to shine. I am proud of him and I always knew he could do it.”

Murphy’s instincts and Criss’ talent led to an impressive Emmy haul for Versace this past September with seven wins, including Criss’ for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie.

“It’s one of the greatest acting gigs I’ve had in my career thus far for myriad reasons,” says Criss, who is currently on tour with his former Glee castmate Lea Michele and will costar with Woody Harrelson, Luke Evans, and Mandy Moore in Roland Emmerich’s 2019 historical drama Midway.

“The people involved, the story they’ve talked about, the questions it raised, the complexity of the character — everything that was on the menu was almost unfathomably awesome to me,” Criss says of Versace. “It’s so heartening to know that my pride and excitement and enthusiasm for this project is felt by other people.”

—Additional reporting by Maureen Lee Lenker

For more on Darren Criss and Entertainment Weekly‘s 2018 Entertainers of the Year, pick up the new issue when it hits stands on Friday, or buy it now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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