At 46 years old, Ricky Martin is a first-time Emmy nominee for his stirring performance as Antonio D’Amico in Ryan Murphy’s anthology series The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. The longtime singer has been acting on and off since his mid-‘80s Menudo days, including two notable stints on Broadway. On TV, however, he’s come a long way from his beefcake role on General Hospital in 1994 and shaking his bon-bon on Murphy’s FOX series Glee 18 years later.
“When they told me I was nominated and the list of incredible actors that are in the same category, what can I say, man?” Martin asks ET, referring to his fellow nominees for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, including his ACS co-stars Edgar Ramirez, who plays Gianni Versace, and Finn Wittrock. “I feel like a little kid.”
As Versace’s lover, Martin was tasked with carrying much of the drama’s emotional weight in the show’s present timeline. In the first episode alone, for which the actor is nominated, D’Amico discovers Versace has been shot and faces scrutiny from detectives and a withering dismissal by Penelope Cruz’s Donatella. “I had no easy scenes throughout the whole series!” Martin attests. “They were all deep, they were all emotional and dark. I went through fear and uncertainty; I fell in love with Gianni in every scene.”
Martin’s preparation for the role included speaking to D’Amico himself about “what he was going through mentally, physically, spiritually” in the aftermath of the killing. “Antonio was extremely generous in sharing with me what triggered every emotion,” Martin recalls. The FX series also shot on location in Miami, where the cast had the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in Versace’s famously opulent mansion. “I lived as Antonio for a couple of months,” Martin says. “I slept in the room where they used to sleep and I had breakfast where they used to have breakfast, so I used it all.”
Martin also channeled a certain level of outrage at the negligence and bigotry that the series suggests allowed these murders to occur at all. “I used to live in Miami and I remember being afraid of going out for a bike ride because I knew there was a killer roaming the streets,” Martin recalls. “What kicks in is more anger -- it’s not how he died, it’s how we allowed it to happen,” he says. “The level of ignorance, the fact that [Andrew Cunanan] wasn’t on the list of FBI’s most wanted, and the fact that the FBI just said, ‘Yeah, it’s a gay man killing more gay men, let’s turn the other way.’”
Exposing such injustice, Martin says, was another reason he was eager to join the series. “We need to be loud and we need to talk, because history tends to repeat itself,” he says. “The fact that marriage was not an option back then, and [D’Amico] was treated like another criminal in that investigation is extremely sad.”
Of course, telling the story of a world-famous icon coming to terms with his sexual identity hit close to home for Martin, too. “We all have different histories, we all have highs and lows in our lives, but emotions tend to be the same,” he says. “When we shot the scene where Gianni comes out and he introduces [Antonio] as his partner, I remember what it was like for me when I was in the closet and I was hiding my lovers.”
Looking back on his time in the closet, Martin, who is now married to artist Jwan Yosef and is a father of two, is circumspect. “Everybody was asking me about my sexuality at a time that I was not ready and I was confused,” he recalls. “It’s a process that’s easier for some than others; I consider myself really lucky because I was able to accept and share with the world in my 30s.” Martin, who came out publicly in 2010 on his official website, says he’s gained new appreciation for how stories like Versace’s can impact those who are still struggling with their sexual identity.
“As of now, I already consider myself a winner,” Martin says. “Because I go to the Middle East, I go to Asia, I go to little towns in Latin America, and people ask me about this story, and I open that door and I talk about the importance of equality.”
Does he wish he’d been honest with himself and his fans sooner? “You can open that door and dwell, like, ‘Damn, I wish I would have come out in the ‘90s,’” he says. But Martin isn’t one to get stuck on the past. “What can I do now to make a difference? That’s what really matters.”
For now, he’s reading scripts and hopes to find another project with social impact. “I am a storyteller, even in music; when I go on stage, I tell stories,” he says. “At the end of the day, all I want is for people to connect and to open up their minds.”
The 70th Primetime Emmy Awards, co-hosted by Saturday Night Live’s Colin Jost and Michael Che, will air live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Monday, Sept. 17, starting at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on NBC. Check out the full list of nominees and ET’s ongoing Emmy coverage here.