How Monica Lewinsky's Involvement Powered FX's "Impeachment: American Crime Story"

By Behind the Scenes in Hollywood Archives
Cover image for  article: How Monica Lewinsky's Involvement Powered FX's "Impeachment: American Crime Story"

The latest installment of Ryan Murphy's ongoing American Crime Story series, Impeachment: American Crime Story, focuses on the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton and his relationship with then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The series features an all-star cast that includes Beanie Feldman (Lewinsky), Clive Owen (Bill Clinton), Edie Falco (Hillary Clinton) and Annaleigh Ashford (Paula Jones), to name a few, as the players in what became one of the biggest moments in America's political history -- and the first time in over a century that a U.S. President had faced impeachment.

Leading the cast is Sarah Paulson (pictured below), who as Linda Tripp (the catalyst in exposing the Lewinsky/Clinton affair) once again delivers a transformative performance. To many, Tripp was the most polarizing player in the Clinton impeachment saga. She was commonly viewed as an opportunist, extremely unlikeable, and very selfish, but Paulson's portrayal injects her with an essence of humanity and purpose. After walking in her shoes, she finds the public's disdain for Tripp interesting. "I don't feel that way" she admitted during a recent Television Critics Association press conference promoting the series. "I certainly think her choices [were] questionable, at least. But in terms of her being unlikeable, I just don't share that view.

"For full disclosure, we just finished shooting and I'm still feeling incredibly protective of this woman that I tried to inhabit for the last 10 months," Paulson continued. "I think with Linda -- and you will learn this as the series goes on -- there was a breach [of trust] early on, inside her own family. The consequence of that in terms of who you become depends on a lot of factors. As Linda's life goes on [she's] consistently feeling forgotten, unseen and invisible. She feels she's devoted so much of her life to the institutions that she finds to be obviously fundamental to our way of life and of paramount importance, and to be treated with extraordinary respect. I think [when people are] feeling forsaken in her work environment they can go two or 20 ways. Linda went [with] a kind of unconscionable choice by way of friendship (with Lewinsky). But she believed she was doing something for a greater good."

"We have always been fascinated with these women who exist in the margins of power," added series executive producer Nina Jacobson. "They are not in the driver's seat of their own careers or lives. The only person who is at the start of the story is Monica. This was her first job out of college. She is an affluent, young, smart and charismatic woman who's going places. But they are all trapped in their proximity to power. The fact that Linda has very passionate feelings about the institution she's devoted her life to, and at most all she'll ever be, is not even a footnote in anybody's story, [all] because the women are not driving their own lives. They drive this story for us, [yet] they weren't able to drive their own lives. I can't hate a woman who rebels against that; I can only appreciate a woman who rebels against that prescribed role and just can't stand how unbearably irrelevant she feels."

Tripp's recalling of the events were detailed in the release of A Basket of Deplorables: What I Saw Inside the Clinton White House, posthumously published following her passing from cancer in 2020. Lewinsky's story has been told many times via a slew of books; by Lewinsky herself in the memoir Monica's Story and a tell-all 2002 HBO documentary Monica in Black and White. Her participation proved invaluable to this American Crime Story production. "Monica was our main consultant in terms of outside consultants this season," revealed series exec producer Brad Simpson. "Once she became involved as somebody who was there for all of this, we relied on her for specificity and veracity. We also relied on the many, many, many, many books, documentaries and grand jury testimonies that were written and processed about this."

"I had the great gift, when I received the scripts, [of knowing] that every word I was saying was approved and had been to Monica first," added Feldman (pictured at top). "What was amazing is that they would go through the scripts with her, and she would give feedback and notes. By the time [they] got to me, I was sure that everything in there was something she felt comfortable with, felt was real to her life, and felt represented her. The way they collaborated with Monica was very personal and intricate."

"In terms of having the person involved, it's a first for us," added Jacobson. "It was important to us, and Ryan, from the beginning. Monica is a woman who did not have a voice during this entire, unbelievably overwhelming series of events. The thought that she was literally muzzled by her own lawyer, Ken Starr, and was like, 'You can't even talk to your friends because they could be subpoenaed.' 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. [Monica's] contributions were invaluable. It was not easy for her, and it was not always easy for us. But it was worth every moment."

One factor that helped Feldman immensely in portraying Lewinsky was meeting her. "Monica and I had one in-person meeting," she recalled in closing. "It was about three days before the world shut down, and we had a beautiful kind of 'get to know you.' Because of coronavirus, she wasn't able to be as present on set. We had more of a friendship than a working relationship; she was really giving and would answer any questions I had. I made it very clear to her when we started filming that I saw myself as her bodyguard and was going to protect her, have her back and I knew her heart."

Impeachment: American Crime Story premieres September 7 at 10 p.m. on FX and streams the day after on FX on Hulu.

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