Once she dug into the books, news articles and transcripts about Monica Lewinsky, actress Beanie Feldstein realized she had more to do than just play the former White House intern on screen.
“It was very clear that I saw myself as her bodyguard,” Feldstein says. “I was like, ‘I’m putting my body in for you. I’m going to protect you. I have your back.’”
While Feldstein and Lewinsky met once before filming started on “Impeachment: American Crime Story,” most of their conversations were through phone calls, texts or videos. “She was incredibly giving,” Feldstein says. “We thought we had just sort of a complete trust in one another. And it became more of a friendship than it was a ‘Monica, what were you feeling at this moment?’”
Like the producers of “Impeachment,” Feldstein saw the limited series as a way for Lewinsky – and others – to be heard. After news surfaced that President Bill Clinton had a relationship with Lewinsky, there was a desire to silence her.
“She did not have a voice during this entire, really, unbelievably overwhelming, series of events,” says Executive Producer Nina Jacobson. “To have been silenced and culturally banished for 20 years, there was no way we could make this show and not give her a voice. It would have felt utterly wrong.”
Lewinsky, as a result, is a producer of the limited series. She consulted on certain scenes and refused to comment on ones that didn’t involve her. “It’s not like she was having a heavy hand in other characters’ storylines,” says Executive Producer Brad Simpson. “She gave us just regular producer notes on those. She’s smart – and a student of TV – so she had really great notes throughout the process.”
While Bill and Hillary Clinton figure into “Impeachment,” they’re not the focus. Instead, adviser Linda Tripp and accuser Paula Jones share the spotlight with Lewinsky. “They are not in the driver’s seat of their own careers or lives,” Jacobson says. “The only person who really is – at the start of the story – is Monica, because she is an affluent young woman who is smart and charismatic and going places. But they are all trapped in their proximity to power.”
Tripp, who met Lewinsky when they were both transferred to the Pentagon, wanted to get back to the White House where she felt she had influence.
“Impeachment” details that tenuous friendship and how Tripp tried to use Lewinsky to get where she wanted.
Jones became an ancillary character in the story because she came forward and said she had been sexually harassed by Bill Clinton when she was an Arkansas state employee.
Even though it’s called “Impeachment,” the series is about the events that led to Clinton’s impeachment. “By the time he was impeached, just like the Trump impeachment, it was already preordained that he was going to be found not guilty in the Senate, just the way it was with Trump,” says Simpson. “We wanted to come in through the women.”
The case, he says, was “the beginning of some of the hyper-partisanship and the tribalism that we see today. I do think one of the things (the series) does show is that this incident set a standard where somebody can lie and they can just hold on to office.”
While some have viewed Tripp as a villain in the story, Sarah Paulson, who plays her, disagrees. “I certainly think her choices are questionable at least. But in terms of her being unlikable, I just don’t share that view.”
Instead, she says, “Linda’s consistently feeling forgotten and unseen and invisible…and forsaken in her work environment.”
That she made an “unconscionable choice” in dealing with her friendship with Lewinsky could be justified. “She believed so wholeheartedly that she was doing something for a greater good,” Paulson says.
Lewinsky, whom she betrayed by tell others about her relationship, “is deeply loyal to everyone that she comes in contact with,” Feldstein says. “Linda is actually quite charismatic. That’s very important to understanding why these two developed such a deep relationship. They’re both women that want to not be invisible. They’ve been ousted to the Pentagon and they both need each other. The central relationship (in 'Impeachment’) is not Monica and Bill. The central relationship is Monica and Linda.”
Because they just finished filming “Impeachment,” Paulson and Feldstein say the story is too fresh for them to view it with objectivity.
But, Feldstein says, “I understand completely what we were up against as far as what people thought of her at the time. It was deeply important to me to unravel that and redeem her. But nothing really surprised me.”