Darren Criss is humbled by his recent Golden Globe nomination for his chilling performance in The Assassination of Gianni Versace as the serial killer Andrew Cunanan, who shot the Italian fashion designer.
“Actors are really only as good as the parts they’re given and the moments they are granted. There was only so much I could do on my own,” he tells PEOPLE exclusively.
“Wiser hands are playing a big part in what you get to do. This was such an outrageously giving opportunity to me and I’m so indebted to everybody who had faith in me to do this. It means a great deal to me,” Criss says.
Earlier this year, the dark role got the 31-year-old actor his first Emmy win.
After getting cast in the true crime anthology, which was a far cry from his past role as preppy singer Blaine Anderson on Glee, he previously told PEOPLE, “I had a friend tell me when I got the part, ‘You’re playing the gay boogeyman.’ ”
When it came to playing Cunanan, Criss wanted to make sure he was portraying all of the complex aspects of his character, which included everything from killing in cold blood to singing Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” at the top of his lungs in his car.
And becoming the grim character allowed him to shine.
“This was the first time I was in a position of any type of leadership on a show,” Criss tells PEOPLE. “For this particular project, it was a relief to be able to set the tone. When you have so much great material and you have a crew that’s working long days and everybody is away from their families and you’re repeating very gruesome things over and over again, it’s nice to know that I’m in the position to crack a few jokes and keep people light-hearted and help them disassociate from all the darkness that we were in.”
As Criss hopes to inspire other artists, he has also recently extended his efforts outside of the film industry. After teaming up with Clorox for the What Comes Next Project, he has “had the joy of seeing firsthand the positive impact” younger generations can make by helping their communities.
“The project highlights youth leaders that have created positive change in their community through the power of cleaning, from a young person that has started a free laundry day for homeless folks in his community to a young woman that cleans a lot of the animal shelters,” he says of the partnership.
“People are finding things that they are passionate about and using cleaning as a way to start a new and create an environment for success for their communities. I was very moved by that. These are the kind of people you want to look to. I’m learning a lot from these kids.”
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