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Gina Gershon on Donatella Versace, Tight Dresses, and the Cigarette Diet

Gina Gershon has just come from the dentist, and part of her mouth is still numb. “I’m sorry if I’m talking funny!” she announces. “I can’t feel part of my face! Is there food on my shirt? I’m worried I’m drooling.” A cap on one of her molars needed replacing, but she’s fine, aside from being hungry. “I can’t chew anything!”

Fresh off a plane from Paris, where she attended Rick Owens’s step-themed show (“They were just, like, these motherfucker warrior women!”), Gershon is in the throes of publicity for her forthcoming Lifetime movie, House of Versace. In the spirit of her role as one of the world’s most recognizable designers, we met at Jeffrey, an upscale boutique in the meatpacking district. She arrives in a black beanie, an army-green jacket, skinny jeans with ankle zips, and Isabel Marant booties — or as she calls it, her "dentist outfit.”

Like many celebrities, Gershon, 51, doesn’t really “shop,” although she admits that she did just buy a pair of Roger Vivier ankle boots in Paris. “The truth is, I have a lot of good friends in the business, and I can just call them up and ask if I can have something to wear,” she says, pausing to admire a pair of over-the-knee Chanel boots. Her go-tos include Zac Posen, who supplied the maroon gown she wore on the cover of her recent book, In Search of Cleo: How I Found My Pussy and Lost My Mind. “He’s been so nice to me,” she continues. “I’ll be like, ‘Can I come over real quick? I have a junket to go to,’ and then I’m like, ‘boom-boom-boom.’ And it’s done.”

Other designer friends include Tom Ford, the Dolce & Gabbana boys, and Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor, the former co-owners of Juicy Couture. “I’ve known Pam since I was 15,” she says, fingering the lapel of an Alaïa fur jacket. “She’s actually responsible for me doing the Donatella movie.” Gershon was initially wary of the role, for “all the obvious reasons.” When pressed for details, she explains, “It seemed like it could be a really bad situation. It’s tricky playing someone who’s so iconic, and who has such a specific look. You can only lose. And I didn’t want to make a caricature of her.”

But her peers — specifically Skaist-Levy — disagreed. “Pam was like, ‘Are you crazy? You are doing this.’ She was insane, calling me every day, ‘You’re doing this, just do it, don’t even think twice.’ She was very adamant.” Gershon grudgingly read the book that the script was based on, Deborah Ball's House of Versace: The Untold Story of Genius, Murder and Survival, and changed her mind. “I was pleasantly surprised,” she says. “Donatella’s story is extraordinary, and the circumstances of her life were not her choice. She almost lost the company, almost lost her family, but then she gets herself together and comes back stronger than ever. I admire her so much as a woman.”

Gershon has never met Donatella, but hopes to someday. “We do have a lot of mutual friends, and the first thing everyone says about her is that she’s really funny. Really funny. You can even tell from interviews — she’s smart as a whip and funny as shit. I really tried to get that across.”

The designer herself has not commented on the film, but her company has made its disapproval quite clear, refusing to lend clothes to the wardrobe department and issuing a stiff statement this weekVersace has neither authorized nor had any involvement whatsoever in the forthcoming TV movie about Mrs. Versace."

Gina as Donatella.

Gershon is graciously respectful of their position. “It’s got to be very difficult. I’d actually love to hear Donatella’s comments about it, because she’d probably make me laugh. I think we would actually be friends. But maybe she won’t even watch it. I have no idea!”

To prepare for the part, Gershon dropped over ten pounds and smoked like a chimney to give her voice that famous gravelly rasp. “I kept hearing her in my head, like, “Oh, you’re still too fat to play me.” How did she lose the weight? “You know, tons of cocaine,” she jokes. “I worked out a lot. And I ate less.” It helped that she had to squeeze into skin-tight dresses on the set every day, many of which were vintage and very, very small. “You don’t really have a choice when you’re wearing these teeny-tiny things. And I hate to say it, because it’s so unhealthy, but smoking really does cut your appetite.”

Gina Gershon.

Speaking of teeny dresses, Gershon is in the market for something to wear to an upcoming movie premiere. “Do you mind if I try this on?” she asks, holding up a fitted Roland Mouret shift. An enthusiastic salesman named Charles hustles her into a fitting room and zips her into it. “Is it too tight?” she asks, fluffing her hair and standing on her tiptoes in front of the mirror. “No, it’s hot,” Charles insists. She also tries on a draped, black Alaïa frock with long sleeves, but deems it too funerary: “It’s very sitting shiva. A sexy sitting shiva dress.”

Shopping concluded, we wander out onto 15th Street. She is regaining sensation in her mouth, and considers finding some soup. With her beanie back on, she doesn’t look like a celebrity, although her dark, distinctive eyebrows arch above her sunglasses.

“I watched a ton of videos of Donatella, and the way she holds her face and her neck is totally different from most people,” she says, pausing on the sidewalk to demonstrate. She juts out her jaw, rearranges her lips, and drops her voice an octave. “Like this,” she croaks, transformed. “I almost started morphing. When we finished shooting, I practically had to stick my jaw back into my face. It was really nice to finally get back into my own body.”

At the end of this week, Gershon will fly back to L.A., where she’ll watch her movie’s premiere on Saturday. “I’ll see it with Pam and Gela and some other girlfriends,” she says. “I just want to collapse. We’ll have a hoot.”

Photos: Joseph Viles/A&E; Slaven Vlasic/2013 Slaven Vlasic

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