“How am I doing? I don’t even know how I’m doing. I’m on fire, man. What can I say?” Ricky Martin told Deadline today, after receiving his first ever Emmy nomination for Ryan Murphy’s FX series The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. Picking up their own nominations amongst the series’ 18 overall nods, Versace stars Edgar Ramírez, Darren Criss and Finn Wittrock seemed to share Martin’s sense of excited bewilderment.

Documenting the murder of the titular fashion icon (Ramírez) at the hands of spree killer Andrew Cunanan (Criss), the latest installment of Murphy’s true crime anthology series was a dream project for those involved. “It’s a difficult thing to say because obviously [Cunanan] is a very tragic figure. I’d like to think that if I was in any position to have stopped the horrible things that happened, if I was there, I would have tried to do something,” Criss explained of his thinking in portraying an infamous real-life killer. “But unfortunately I wasn’t there. So all I could do is try to bring a kind of positivity to this darkness by telling a story in a certain way, raising certain questions that we can ask 20 years later about not only him, but ourselves and our society.”

“Regardless of awards season, this is an opportunity that I have worked and waited for my entire life. Actors are really only as good as the parts they can get, and the people that believe in them, and the complexity of the characters that they’re playing,” Criss added with reference to his troubled character, who finds himself at the center of the series—more so than Versace himself. “The thing that makes Andrew interesting is not the stuff that is dark or scary or uncomfortable; it’s the breadth of colors that exists on his palette. That’s what actors really crave.”

Like Criss, Martin was happy to see some light come out of the darkness of Versace and Cunanan’s experience. “Today, I realized that my peers in The Academy voted for justice — because at the end of the day, this is what the story was about,” he said. “It’s focused on the justice that is needed [following] this horrible crime. This is the way I see it, period.”

For the actors ofVersace, portraying real-life figures was a challange. “As happens every time you play a real-life person, [the challenge] is not to yield before the pressure of playing someone that a lot of people knew—especially someone like Gianni whose work was so impactful,” Ramírez said. “Playing a real-life character, it’s not about imitating. It’s not a photograph—it’s a painting.”

While Criss contemplated the psyche of a killer—attempting to manifest all of Cunanan’s complexity—Martin gave himself up to the darkness D’Amico experienced following the death of Versace. “We walked on set every day extremely vulnerable, but at the same time, we all felt protected because we were being directed by Ryan, and by an amazing group of directors,” he said. “It just felt right.”

Celebrating the success of Versace, each of the series’ stars tipped their hat to its mastermind, Ryan Murphy, discussing what makes him so unique and vital as a storyteller. “He works harder than anyone else in the business and continues to keep a group of people around him who are continually impressive. With every new project, you’re going to be challenged in a new way and surprised,” Wittrock said.

Added Criss, who also worked with Murphy on Glee, “He really gravitates towards sides of the story that we wouldn’t typically hear, or haven’t heard in the past. He finds what’s not only most accessible about those stories, but as a showrunner and a showman, he knows how to make those things attractive.”