Darren Criss on the 'extended after-party' for 'Versace' series: 'It feels like such an undeserved bonus' (Exclusive)

Darren Criss is in the midst of an "extended after-party" and "American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace," and he wouldn't have it any other way.

The actor, who won an Emmy for his turn as Andrew Cunanan on the FX mini-series earlier this year, is gearing up for the show's "victory lap" at the Golden Globes on January 6, where the Ryan Murphy-created show is up for four awards. AOL caught up with the actor at the launch of the Clorox What Comes Next Project, where Criss explained that he still hasn't been able to take stock of his career-altering role.

"I don’t know if I’ll be able to [reflect on it] until it’s really gone by. I still feel like I’m in the thick of it," he said. "It’s funny, because it was so exciting just working on the 'Versace' series. That was thrill enough to have a job that required so many things of me and involved me with so many people and things that I always dreamed to be a part of. It’s one thing to have a great story, it’s another to have that great story to be populated by complex characters, it’s another thing to have those people brought to life by incredible actors and written by great writers."

Among those involved in "Versace," the second of the "American Crime Story" anthology series? Penelope Cruz, Ricky Martin and Edgar Ramirez, which is a group that anyone would want to be part of. But, for Criss, it wasn't just about who he was working with, but it was also about the meaningfulness of the work and how viewers reacted to it: That's where he finds that the true fulfillment has come from.

"Then there’s the back-end of the social issues they talk about, because you want it to be asking important questions," he explained. "We’re not just making spectacle, but we’re starting a discussion, which is invigorating as an artist and a human being. Then there’s the other thing which is, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe that people are actually watching this!’ All these things could be in the pot, but it still might not work or reach people. You never know, because there are so many things that are out of our hands, and it’s just amazing that, even without just one of these things, I don’t know if we’d be here right now." 

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Darren Criss out and about
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Darren Criss out and about
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Darren Criss poses during the SAG-AFTRA Foundation conversations on Broadway with Darren Criss at The Robin Williams Center on December 10, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM - DECEMBER 07: Lea Michele and Darren Criss perform at the National Indoor Arena on December 7, 2018 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by MelMedia/GC Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - NOVEMBER 11: Darren Criss attends the E! People's Choice Awards - Press Room at Barker Hangar on November 11, 2018 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 29: Darren Criss performs at The Masonic Auditorium on October 29, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 18: Darren Criss performs onstage at the amfAR Gala Los Angeles 2018 at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on October 18, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Alberto Rodriguez/amfAR/Getty Images for amfAR)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 18: Darren Criss (L) and Katy Perry attend the amfAR Gala Los Angeles 2018 at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on October 18, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Perrier-Jouët and Absolut Elyx)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 17: Darren Criss attends Justin Tranter And GLAAD Present 'BEYOND' Spirit Day Concert at The Sayers Club on October 17, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for GLAAD)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 07: Darren Criss attends the 4th Annual Elsie Fest, Broadway's Outdoor Music Festival at Central Park SummerStage on October 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jenny Anderson/Getty Images for Elsie Fest)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 07: Ben Stiller, Zachary Levi, and Darren Criss attend the 4th Annual Elsie Fest, Broadway's Outdoor Music Festival at Central Park SummerStage on October 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jenny Anderson/Getty Images for Elsie Fest)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 07: Darren Criss performs onstage during the 4th Annual Elsie Fest, Broadway's Outdoor Music Festival at Central Park SummerStage on October 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jenny Anderson/Getty Images for Elsie Fest)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 07: Darren Criss attends the 4th Annual Elsie Fest, Broadway's Outdoor Music Festival at Central Park SummerStage on October 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jenny Anderson/Getty Images for Elsie Fest)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 26: Darren Criss performs onstage during WE Day UN at Barclays Center on September 26, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
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By "here" he means being at the tail end of the awards circuit for one of the most celebrated shows of the year, something that has taken the experience to completely new heights.

"Just being there was so exciting, that this kind of extended after party that we’ve been able to experience this year after is such an undeserved bonus," he added. "As a work family, we poured a lot of heart and soul into this, and there’s usually a disconnect between how enthusiastic and proud you are of something and the way the rest of the people, much less people who throw out accolades, feel. So to have those be matched is very encouraging. As the year dwindles down and award season dwindles down -- we’re coming up on our final victory lap -- no matter what happens at these particular events, just being there with the family that we’ve created has been a fun little summer camp."

Criss' time on "Versace" represented his second time working with Murphy, who has proven to be one of this era's most defining television auteurs. The first time, of course, was "Glee," the show that made both Murphy and Criss household names, on which Criss played a capella aficionado, Blaine Anderson. Though he clearly values his experience on the long-running Fox musical series, Criss saw his relationship with Murphy totally evolve this time around into something that he's always hoped to find in his career.

"The fact that I have somehow managed to all a-- backwards into the Ryan Murphy players company makes me feel so lucky," he said. "When I was a kid, I always idolized said companies and thought, ‘If I could just be the Johnny Depp to Tim Burton or the Kirsten Dunst to the Sofia Coppola or the Jason Schwartzman to Wes Anderson; if I could just have my crew! To have it happen without me even noticing almost, where all of a sudden I woke up and I was collaborating with one of the great creators of our time, it was insane."

"This was the first time that Ryan and I got to work together in that capacity," he went on. "He wasn’t really a collaborator on ‘Glee,’ he was more my boss. We had a friendly relationship, but getting to be in the creative trenches together really solidified our working relationship in a new and really exciting way, and I have such admiration and respect for him. Maybe I’m flattering myself, but I feel like there’s a mutual appreciation of each other’s abilities that encourages the other person."

Mutual appreciation and respect for others' work ethics and dedication is something that Criss often looks for with the projects that he takes on. For the What Comes Next Project that he launched with Clorox last week, the actor is helping to empower a group of five young people hoping to make a difference through the power of clean.

"My artist’s heart has to always look for the real, human, emotional value behind the thing that’s in front of us," Criss explained of why he chose to partake in the venture. "That’s what I’m always looking at in music and writing and characters. That’s my insatiable actor’s curiosity."

"Nothing inspires the world community like seeing young people doing things for the rest of the community," he added. "The What Comes Next Project ticks a couple of boxes: It’s inspiring to young people who see it as a call to action, and it’s also a call to action for adults, where you go, ‘Jeez, I didn’t know I could do so much with so little.'"

Learn more about the What Comes Next Project here.

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