‘Impeachment: American Crime Story’ Bosses, Stars Discuss Tackling the Clinton/Lewinsky Scandal

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We finally have a better idea about what Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s Impeachment: American Crime Story is going to look like. FX ended their time at the Television Critics Association’s 2021 summer tour with a panel on the third season of American Crime Story. And this dive into the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal isn’t what you may expect.

Much like American Horror Story, each season of American Crime Story follows a different all-consuming crime we’re collectively guilty of committing in our nation’s history. Season 1 tackled the trial of the century with The People v. O.J. Simpson. Season 2 told the story of a depressingly little known murder spree that plagued the gay community with The Assassination of Gianni Versace, a season that chronicled Andrew Cunanan’s arguably preventable reign of terror. Now Season 3 is on the horizon, and it’s telling the most scandalous presidential tale in recent history.

Impeachment stars Beanie Feldstein as Monica Lewinsky, the intern who had an affair with President Clinton. Additionally this season star Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp, Lewinsky’s friend; Annaleigh Ashford as Paula Jones, a civil servant who came forward with sexual abuse allegations against Clinton; Margo Martindale as Lucianne Goldberg, one of the key players in Clinton’s impeachment; Edie Falco as Hillary Clinton; and finally Clive Owen as the man himself, Bill Clinton.

At TCA 2021, executive producers Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson, and Sarah Burgess attended the panel along with star and EP Sarah Paulson and stars Beanie Feldstein and Annaleigh Ashford. The group spoke at length about how they altered this story to make us accountable for the first woman shamed on the internet.

  • Jeffry Toobin’s book was optioned for American Crime Story back in 2015. One of the oddest details about Season 3 is that this show about sexual abuse is based on a book by a man accused of sexual harassment. Last year Toobin was suspended from The New Yorker after exposing his penis on Zoom. When asked about Toobin’s involvement, EP Brad Simpson emphasized that his book was just “one of the sources of the show.”
  • Monica Lewinsky served as the main consultant for the show. “We relied on her for specificity and veracity, and we also relied on the many many many books and docs and grand jury testimonies that were written and processed about this,” Simpson said.
  • Series writer Sarah Burgess heavily utilized Lewinsky’s book, Monica’s Story. “I went through every page of it with Monica,” Burgess revealed. That intensity helped actor Beanie Feldstein portray the public figure. “When I received the scripts, I knew that every page I received had been approved and went through Monica first,” Feldstein said.
  • Having Monica Lewinsky involved in this season was important to Ryan Murphy. Typically when it comes to dramas involving real people, showrunners and EPs are careful not to consult with the actual people at the center of these stories. “In terms of having the person involved, it’s a first for us. It was something that was important to us from the beginning, important to Ryan [Murphy] from the beginning,” EP Nina Jacobson said. “To have been silenced and really culturally banished for 20 years, there was no way we could make the show and not give her a voice. It would have felt utterly wrong.”
  • Sarah Paulson doesn’t believe that Linda Tripp was unlikable. One of the most controversial parts of American Crime Story‘s TCA panel had to do with Paulson’s portrayal of the late Linda Tripp. When asked if she intentionally made Tripp seem unlikeable, Paulson said, “I don’t feel that way…. I certainly think her choices are questionable, but in terms of her being unlikeable, I just don’t share that view.”
  • Beanie Feldstein developed a friendship with Monica Lewinsky. Feldstein revealed that she only had one in-person meeting with Lewinsky before COVID-19.  “We have more of a friendship than we do a working relationship,” Feldstein said. “She was incredibly giving. I made it very clear to her when we started filming that I saw myself as her body guard. 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.”
  • Beanie Feldstein knew very little about the Clinton affair before this project. The actor credited her age as a reason why she was able to do this role justice. “I was about as blank of a slate as you can possibly have,” Feldstein said. “Because of my age at the time, I was experiencing this for the first time.” The actor also revealed that she was doing research for the role up until this Wednesday, August 18.
  • Annaleigh Ashford did not speak to Paula Jones. Though Lewinsky was consulted, Linda Tripp, Paula Jones, and the Clintons were not. “I have not talked to Paula Jones. I thought about that quite a bit in the last few weeks as we come closer to these stories being told,” Asford said. “I think that Paula Jones’ perspective is going to be sort of surprising to people… I always felt there was a childlike quality to her. There was always somebody else at the wheel.”
  • Both Annaleigh Ashford and Clive Owen got dialect coaches. Though she admitted that she can’t get her voice as high as the real Jones, Asford revealed that she worked closely with a dialect coach. And she wasn’t alone. Clive Owen worked closely with a coach to nail his Bill Clinton twang. “You believe that he’s the most charismatic person in America when you’re watching him, because he is that charismatic,” Simpson said.
  • The prosthetics for Linda Tripp took Sarah Paulson three and a half hours. Conversely, transforming Asford into Paula Jones took significantly less time. Her transformation lasted about 30 minutes each day and mostly revolved around shaping the tip of her nose and adjusting her wig.
  • Clive Owen, Sarah Paulson, Beanie Feldstein, and Annaleigh Ashford were all at the top of the list for casting. “We had a very short list of actors when we thought about Bill Clinton, and Clive [Owen] was at the top of that list,” Simpson revealed. “We get the rare thing where your first choice says yes.”
  • Filming Episode 6 was the “most rewarding” experience Feldstein has had as an actor. It took Feldstein 25 days to film Booksmart. Conversely, it took 23 days to film the episode about Operation Prom Night, which completely revolves around the FBI trying to keep Lewinsky in a hotel room.  “The truth is stranger than fiction when it comes to that day,” Feldstein said. “Ryan was remarkable at leading me through that experience… Every time it got hard I just said to myself, ‘This is for Monica.'”
  • Impeachment: American Crime Story will intentionally not be sexually graphic. “Because the graphic sexual detail was the headline in 1998, it felt like something the audience already knew,” writer and EP Sarah Burgess said.
  • This season isn’t really about Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. “The central relationship is not Monica and Bill. The central relationship is Monica and Linda,” Feldstein said. “As an audience member you feel each of these women. You understand them. And you’re screaming at them stop, stop, stop.”
  • Brad Simpson doesn’t believe Hillary Clinton will watch Impeachment. “When we first started developing this show, which was in 2016, we though that Hillary would be president,” Simpson revealed, adding that of course he was curious about what the Clintons think of the show. “But I don’t imagine that she’ll watch no matter how empathetically we portray her.”
  • It was important to Lewinsky that her character retain her agency throughout this miniseries. “She looks back and sees (the relationship) as consensual, but there was a power dynamic that she was too young to see,” Simpson said. He also noted that he’s noticed younger generations have been more celebratory and understanding of the real Lewinsky. “There are going to be some people whose minds we’re not going to change. This is America.”
  • The point of Impeachment isn’t to pit Trump’s impeachment against Clinton’s. Repeatedly the EPs emphasized that the purpose of this miniseries is to tell the stories of the women who were sidelined during this scandal. In the process it also chronicles the rise of hyper-partisanship through support for Clinton during this controversy, the birth of a new wave of media, and the rise of a new way of talking about abuses of power. According to Simpson, the question of this series is, “the acceptance of lying, even if they’re on your team, is that a gateway to where we are now?”
  • Bill Clinton won’t be the only one on trial. This tease came from EP Nina Jacobson: “Bill Clinton is not the only one who is impeached over the course of this series.”

The first episode of Impeachment: American Crime Story premieres on FX Tuesday, September 7. New episodes will be added on FX on Hulu the following Wednesday, September 8. 

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