As the premiere of FX’s “Impeachment: American Crime Story” approaches, Beanie Feldstein is gearing up for the spotlight as she steps into the shoes of Monica Lewinsky. The latest installment in Ryan Murphy’s anthology franchise, which is set to kick off Sept. 7, follows the Clinton sex scandal and the impeachment trial of 1998.
With production wrapping the day before, Feldstein and co-stars Sarah Paulson and Annaleigh Ashford, who play Linda Tripp and Paula Jones, respectively, were joined by executive producers Sarah Burgess, Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson on Friday to discuss the series during an hour-long virtual panel as part of the summer Television Critics Association press tour.
Feldstein recalled meeting with Lewinsky before filming was originally set to begin early last year. (The pandemic ended up delaying production several months.) “Monica and I had one in-person meeting before the coronavirus. It was about a few days before the world shut down, actually… We had a beautiful get-to-know-you,” Feldstein shared. “Because of coronavirus, throughout the process she was not able to be as present on set, so honestly we have more of a friendship than we do a working relationship.”
“She was really giving with me, in that she would answer anything I had questions about but it was easier and more useful for me to be around her spirit and text her and we would send videos to each other. We have more of a friendship than it was ever me calling her to ever consult her on a specific scene or anything like that,” she continued, adding that Lewinsky, who is a producer on Impeachment and a main source for the writers, was “incredibly giving.”
“I made it very clear to her when we started filming that I saw myself as her bodyguard,” the “Booksmart” star said. “I was like, ‘I’m putting my body in for you. I’m going to protect you. I have your back. I know your heart. And that’s my job.’ With that we sort of had a complete trust in one another and it became more of a friendship than it was, ‘Monica, what were you feeling in this moment?’ I asked her about nail polish. I asked her about little detailed things that are fun to fill in and make things feel very specific and fully painted. As far as emotional beats, I think she knew I really had her back.”
Feldstein noted that she was very young when the scandal took place, which proved to be a blessing in disguise. And much of her knowledge of what happened took place through the copious amounts of research she did, which included listening to Lewinsky and Linda Tripp’s taped conversations, reading Lewinsky’s 1999 memoir, Monica’s Story, and watching numerous video clips.
“I was as about as blank of a slate as you can possibly have, given that this is such a known story and it’s a huge historical American moment,” she said. (Feldstein was born in 1993.) “Because of my age at the time, I was really taking this in for the first time, so in that way I didn’t have my own preconceived notions, but now, as an extension of Monica in the world, I do get people’s stories and thoughts about her and I understand completely what we were up against as far as what people thought of her at the time. It was deeply important to unravel that and redeem her. Nothing really surprised me [about Lewinsky].”
Paulson and Ashford completely transformed their physicality to portray their real-life characters. Paulson revealed that it took on average over three hours every day for her to become Linda Tripp, while Ashford said it took about 30 minutes for them to put on nose prosthetics for her to turn into Paula Jones.
Clive Owen, who plays President Clinton, is also nearly unrecognizable in the brief look at him in character and producers said he was “at the top of that [list] from the very beginning.”
“Who has that physical presence? Who has that height? Who has that charisma? Bill Clinton was somebody that a lot of people found desirable also. His hands, his physicality. We sent the episodes to Clive and we had an hour-long conversation with him and he signed on,” Simpson said, sharing that Owen worked with an accent coach to perfect the Arkansas drawl. “We knew we were going to have to do a little bit with him. We did some stuff with his nose and made him look a little bit older. He’d proudly say he used his own little belly for the show.”
While the central conceit for the series focuses on Lewinsky and Clinton, Feldstein considers the dynamic between Lewinsky and Tripp to be the central relationship of “Impeachment”.
“It has been just an incredible journey of two women and… as an audience member, you feel each of these three women and you understand them and yet you’re screaming at them through the screen, ‘Stop, stop, stop!,’ in all different ways and I think it’s because they’re all deeply trusting and deeply mistrusting of the right and the wrong people. And it gets very complicated for all of them,” she said, also referring to Ashford’s Jones.
The newest installment is based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book, A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President, and features Lewinsky’s involvement as a producer. Lewinsky was a 22-year-old White House intern during Clinton’s presidency and “Impeachment: American Crime Story” aims to go inside the national scandal that made Lewinsky, Tripp and Jones key figures in the country’s first impeachment proceedings in over a century. The story will unfold through the perspectives of the women involved.
“Impeachment: American Crime Story” premieres Sept. 7 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX. For more, watch below.
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