By Jeff Pfeiffer
Impeachment, the third installment in executive producer Ryan Murphy’s award-winning, ripped-from-the-headlines American Crime Story anthology franchise, premieres Sept. 7 on FX with the first of its 10 episodes. It tackles the Bill Clinton scandal, the national crisis that led to the first impeachment of a U.S. president in over a century, with Clive Owen portraying the embattled president and Edie Falco as his wife, first lady Hillary Clinton.
The limited series primarily tells this story through the eyes of three women at the center of the events: Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein), Linda Tripp (frequent Murphy collaborator Sarah Paulson) and Paula Jones (Annaleigh Ashford). All were thrust into the public spotlight during a time of corrosive partisan rancor, shifting sexual politics and a changing media landscape (sound familiar?), and Impeachment shows how power lifts some and disposes of others in the halls of our sacred institutions.
“As an audience member,” Feldstein, who is also a producer on the series, says, “you feel each of these three women. 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.”
Anyone who lived through these events can certainly attest to the complication surrounding them. But Feldstein believes that the fact that she was so young at the time — just about 5 or 6 — put her in a great position to take on the role of Monica Lewinsky.
“Because I was extremely young when this happened,” she says, “I was not taking in the story from an adult’s perspective. I learned this story through my research, through reading every book, watching every tape. … I was about as blank of a slate as you could possibly have, given that this is such a known story and it’s a huge American historical moment. 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 I do — as now sort of an extension of Monica in the world — I do often 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 for me to unravel that and redeem her.”
Working toward that redemption, Feldstein says that it was a “great gift” for her knowing, when she received the scripts for Impeachment (executive producer Sarah Burgess is the series’ head writer) that “every word that I was saying was approved and had been to Monica first. … By the time it got to me, I was sure that everything in there was something that she felt comfortable with, she felt was real to her life and felt represented her.”
Feldstein was also in contact with Lewinsky herself, but their relationship was less a consultation and became more of a friendship, according to the actress.
“Monica and I had one in-person meeting before the coronavirus,” Feldstein explains, “and we had a beautiful kind of ‘get to know you.’ And because of the coronavirus, throughout the process she was not able to be as present on-set, and so, honestly, we had more of a friendship than we did 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 just kind of be around her spirit and text her, [or] send videos to each other. We have more of a friendship than it was ever me calling her to consult her on a specific scene or anything like that. … I made it very clear to her when we started filming that I saw myself as her bodyguard. 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.'”